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CPUT set to reopen campuses after violent fee protests — but now industrial action looms

CPUT set to reopen campuses after violent fee protests — but now industrial action looms
Students gather at Cape Peninsula University of Technology before a march to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme's (NSFAS) head office on 24 May 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology has announced its return-to-campus plan for staff and students following the emergency evacuation of campuses after protest action escalated earlier this month.

Students at Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) five campuses have been protesting against the discontinuation of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances for students enrolled in courses with fewer than 60 credits. In addition, students have been protesting over a lack of accommodation on campus, the high cost of living in Cape Town, poor quality of food at the university’s dining halls and a lack of security on campus.

But even as students are set to return to campus, the university is facing industrial action from staff after wage negotiations deadlocked.

The students’ protests continued despite an order granted by the Western Cape high court in Cape Town which interdicted students from conducting themselves unlawfully on CPUT campuses.

Following the violence, the university decided to immediately close all campuses and evacuate students.

Read in Daily Maverick: Cape technikon closes campuses after violent protests and arson and CPUT concludes residence evacuations amid chaos and a fatal bus crash

According to university spokesperson Lauren Kansley, a task team was formed to present a plan for the most effective and beneficial return to campus for both staff and students. 

After deliberating on a range of scenarios presented to sectors of the CPUT community, the Senate and Executive Committee of Council have given final approval to the following:

  • The academic staff and student recess period originally scheduled for 24 June — 14 July 2023 will now be brought forward to begin on 24 May 2023. Recess ends on 2 June 2023 and all students are expected back by then;
  • Teaching and learning activities will continue from 5 June 2023 to close off Semester 1;
  • Mid-year assessments (FSAs) will commence on 19 June 2023 to 7 July 2023. Detail will be shared by faculties;
  • The institutional calendar will be changed to reflect Term 3 now starting on 31 July 2023 instead of 17 July 2023; and
  • Upon their return to campus, students will have an adjustment/catch-up period which allows for academic and other support before the study and assessment period commences.

“This scenario has been painstakingly planned, and we believe it presents the best solution (with minimal disruptions) to the rest of the 2023 academic programme,” said Kansley. 

“It also factors in Work Integrated Learning (WIL), postgraduate study concerns, and above all else the safety and security of all staff and students.”

She said that the dates do not apply to the Faculty of Education as the academic calendar for this faculty aligns itself with school term operations.  

“The utmost care has been taken to explore all options, and once again we thank our university community for their trust and patience as we evacuated and as we now start to recover the academic programme.” 

The university did not say how the students will be returned to campus. When they were evacuated, the university hired buses to transport them to their destinations in different provinces. Some students remained at their residences. 

The student representative council could not be reached for comment. 

Wage negotiations deadlock

CPUT is not out of the woods yet — the university is facing industrial action as staff are set to down tools after salary negotiations hit a deadlock. 

The staff, including administrative workers, technical officers, managers and lecturers, are represented by four unions, while non-unionised staff are also set to take part in pickets on CPUT’s campuses.

The unions are demanding a 12% increase across the board, or CPI (currently at 7.1%, according to StatsSA) plus a 5% salary increase. They are also demanding a R700 housing allowance increase, post-retirement medical benefits for all staff members and the amendment of the current promotion policies — the unions want staff with more than a decade of service to be moved to the next percentile.

The negotiations went before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and since no agreement has been reached, the CCMA shared picketing rules with the unions, giving a go-ahead to the action. DM

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