On an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, a moment of history was made at the University of Cape Town. Workers and the university management signed a landmark agreement to end outsourcing on campus. But the battle for insourcing has been waged for many years, so why has UCT management only now changed its mind? RAâ€
As a student, I sometimes saw workers protesting beneath the ivory pillars of Jameson Hall. In their red t-shirts and black slacks, theyâ€
That was at least three years ago, and transformation is now rapidly manifesting at one of Africaâ€
The insourcing victory is however very different.
In every student struggle this year, students have boldly taken on issues that affect themselves and their peers. The UCT Fees Must Fall movementâ€
Just last year, the UCT Council initiated a review on outsourcing. The findings of that report â€“the Report on Outsourcing at UCT (14 April 2014) â€“ recommended that the university increase the minimum wage. Council refused the recommendation, because it â€œwas not affordableâ€.
Earlier this month, before the student movement took off, the university once again released a statement, saying insourcing was unaffordable â€œwithout raising student tuition fees significantlyâ€. Â But here we are, two weeks later, and miraculously, UCT has agreed to insourcing.
What changed in the past two weeks was that middle class students â€“ with their social capital to draw headlines, and their influence as students to shutdown the university â€“blockaded the campus, and even took the protest to Parliament. Students donâ€
Already, workers have been arrested for joining the students. I spoke to Kula outside the Wynberg Magistrates Court, where he had joined a large group of UCT workers and students standing in solidarity with fellow protestors arrested last week Tuesday. The majority of workers outside that court hadnâ€
UCT and the outsourcing companies have a hand in the poverty in which these workers live. The university bases its outsourcing minimum wage on the archaic Supplemented Living Level (SLL), which was established by the apartheid regime to calculate how many rands a household requires to afford a â€œmodest low level standard of livingâ€. Yes, in democratic SA, markers that calculate â€œlow levelâ€ living standards are treated as legitimate. As Budlender and Lorenzen write, the SLL grossly determines living conditions such as how long adult men can re-use their underwear.
While UCT employed this system, workers like Kula were working ten years to earn what could have been made in a few months.
Outsourcing was introduced to UCT in 1990 and became a fixed system at the university in 1999. Workers have continually addressed the university about their wages, but their voices werenâ€
Enjoying our coverage of the #FeesMustFall protests? Please help us to keep doing what we do by donating to our crowdfunding campaign here.
Image credits: Ra’eesa Pather/The Daily Vox
Editor’s note: The headline of this column was changed on the morning of Friday 30 October.