“We want the union to suspend the strike and get back to the negotiating table, but if management’s hand is forced to close the university indefinitely, we will not hesitate to do so…” – Mthembu

On Tuesday, 27 February hundreds of DUT staff from Durban and Pietermaritzburg gathered at Curries Fountain Sports Centre where Fees Must Fall student activists joined them for a protest. Just across the ML Sultan Campus, DUT management gathered for a closed meeting to discuss solutions to the staff strike that has reached its seventh week of negotiations over a salary increase deadlock. This, just after DUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Thandwa Mthembu, urged staff to suspend the strike and return to work on Thursday, 22 February.

While students and staff protested outside his office on Thursday, 22 February Mthembu said that the university ‘simply does not have the money required by the staff’. He warned that the institution ‘may have to kiss this
year goodbye’ if the impasse over staff salaries was not resolved soon. “If we accede to 10%,a R400 housing allowance and a R9 000 once-off bonus, R62-million would be required to meet the demand,” said Mthembu.

“As we speak the 6.5% that was presented as council’s last offer, already puts us in the red by R12 million.”

Striking staff posed their response on Tuesday with a placard that read: ‘VC, is your R3.6 million salary ‘sustainable’? Others held posters which stated ‘the truth is you’re a liar’, and ‘VC crashes DUT bus’. Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Buti Manamela issued a statement after Tuesday’s closed meeting, saying that he was excited with the results of the discussion. “The parties have made a breakthrough, they have agreed to resume negotiations tomorrow through the bargaining process,” said Manamela.

It was emphasised that students could still register and would be accommodated. “The situation should get back to normality before the end of the week and all those students who could not register because of the strike will be given an opportunity to register. The university will be revising its academic program which will put into place interventions to ensure that students are able to catch up from the loss and everyone is committed to ensure that we return the institution to normality,” said Manamela.

“The unions will be reporting to their workers, following that we will be seeing the resumption of negotiations and the resumption of academic work,” said Manamela.

This echoed the vice-chancellor’s hope that the university would not shut down as stated on Thursday last week just before staff presented a memorandum, calling for his resignation. “We want to resist the call from those who desire a total shutdown of the university. A total shutdown will hurt our students as this will result in the closure of residence and suspension of student registration. We want the union to suspend the strike and get back to the negotiating table, but if management’s hand is forced to close the university indefinitely, we will not hesitate to do so,” said Mthembu.

Representing the unions and staff strikers on Thursday was Crisis Committee Spokesperson Milton Estrice who told staff: “We run this place, we will always be here. We have a plan of action. We remain united and focused.” According to Manamela, negotiations were set to resume on Wednesday and academic work is expected to resume soon.