Mass arrests at UJ outsourcing protests

Protests at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) escalated on Friday, with the arrest of 13 people this morning and a further, estimated, 150 people this afternoon. This came after the university sought a police interdict to prevent disruptions on the campus. LEBOGANG MOKOENA reports.

Protestors were apparently required to remain 700m from campus. When those who had gathered to protest at the university’s Kingsway campus refused to move, police loaded them into vans and took them to Brixton police station for processing. Wits SRC president Shaeera Kalla, a prominent leader in the recent #WitsFeesMustFall protests, was among those arrested.

Cynthia Fana*, a member of the UJ Fees Must Fall/End Outsourcing group, said the protestors consisted of a mixed group of workers, UJ students, and students from Wits University who had joined the protest in solidarity. “They were standing at the main gate, they were singing, they were very quiet,” she said.

Those arrested are being charged with public violence and contravening an interdict, she said.

More students are believed to be on their way to Brixton police station to support those who have been arrested.

“Most of us are trying to converge at Brixton [police station]. We have some groups coming in from Wits, also in solidarity,” she said.

The president and secretary-general of UJ’s SRC were yesterday suspended by the university on Thursday.

“Apparently it’s because of a statement he made the previous day when he came to join the workers. They’re saying he incited violence among the workers,” said suspended SRC secretary general, Mmangaliso Mkhonta, adding that the SRC was “not intimidated by the suspensions”.

“We believe these workers are fighting for a righteous cause,” he said.

Cleaning staff at the university have been protesting this week to demand an end to outsourcing. The protest was apparently sparked by concerns over pensions offered at a new outsourcing company, to which workers had recently been transferred.

Elizabeth Mnguni, a cleaner who had joined the strike, said she was unhappy about being transferred from private cleaning company Elite to the new employer, Servest.

“We were not well informed about being moved to another cleaning company. This was only done about a week ago. I have been working for UJ for 16 years and I want to be employed under UJ, not Servest. ” Mnguni said.

Another cleaner, who asked not to be named, said said she was concerned about whether she would be able to get money from the providence fund offered by their former employer, Elite.

“We are underpaid. I would be happy if we are paid out money from the pension fund,” she said.

The strike began peacefully on Monday with workers occupying UJ’s Kingsway campus administrative building and requesting the university to respond to their demands, but later turned violent. Workers allegedly burnt down a guard house, overturned dirt bins and left taps running in the bathrooms. Students were also evacuated from facilities on the Kingsway campus after workers began banging on the library doors.

While some students have joined the protests in solidarity with the workers, others say they felt inconvenienced by the strike.

Thabiso, an informatics student at the university who asked not to use his last name, said the inability to access the library is time consuming.

“I could not access the library and I need to use textbooks. I am writing my exam on Monday. When I heard that we must evacuate, I felt disturbed as I have a lot of studying to do and do not have the needed books at home”, he said.

Police and extra security were called in and there were several scuffles on campus, in which students and workers were pepper sprayed and struck with nightsticks.

The university and National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) have agreed that insourcing would mean a significant improvement in working conditions for workers and a task team has been set up to develop a plan to enable insourcing.

Vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg said on Thursday that the scrapping of outsourcing would be resolved before the end of the academic year.

*Not her real name

Lebogang Mokoena is a journalism student at the University of Johannesburg. She is a humanitarian at heart and a female skater with a dream to live life crafting words with ink.
– Featured image By Aurobindo Ogra, via Wikimedia Commons