Dear colleagues and students
I wish to inform you about developments on campus, particularly over the past two days.
A group of people (who are not staff of the university) have been picketing at Bremner building for the past few weeks and interfering in University of Cape Town (UCT) operations. On Tuesday, 10 September, and Wednesday, 11 September, the group disrupted classes on upper campus. The group also disrupted kitchens and classrooms, and instructed UCT staff and students to leave the buildings. In several cases the disruptions meant that food could not be served to students, and a voucher system had to be rolled out to ensure that students do not go hungry.
This group of around 60 people are employees of companies outside UCT with which the university has contracts for the provision of services. They are employees of Bytes Document Solutions, Protea Boekwinkel, Food and Connect, Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, Protea Hotel Mowbray, food vendors and the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO).
The UCT executive has repeatedly indicated to the group, and previously in public statements, that UCT is not able to address the demands of the group or to engage them on their labour issues as they are not employees of UCT.
UCT recognises people’s rights to embark on protected strike action that is lawful and peaceful and that complies with the picketing rules which have been agreed to by the union and the university. However, UCT cannot accept that a group of people who are employed by independent companies comes onto our campus and disrupts our classes and operations. The group are violating picketing rules. These disruptions have a negative impact on our academic programme and on our students and staff.
In addition, the disruption of classes places additional stress on staff and students to catch-up, and in some cases may lead to a situation where a student or a class may not be able to finish their academic commitments successfully. UCT is six weeks away from year-end exams, and we should be able to concentrate without interruption on the work that is necessary to conclude the academic year.
UCT wishes to make it absolutely clear that the protest from this group is not related to any protest against sexual and gender-based violence, any labour issues at the university or any other issues that there may be at UCT. It is simply a group of employees of independent companies wishing to force their demands on UCT. This has been made worse by a group of students joining them. The fact that they are disrupting our operations and trying to force people from their classes and workplaces is not acceptable.
It is our responsibility to protect the continuity of the academic programme and we are therefore considering our options to deal with this matter.
To staff and students, I wish to appeal to you to remain committed to the academic programme and to focus all your attention and time on making the year a success. I thank all staff and students who are committed to this.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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