Durban – Thousands of students were left frustrated on Monday when they could not register for the 2017 academic year as University of South Africa (Unisa) staff embarked on a go-slow.
Prospective and returning students were turned away from about 11am after a certain number had been reached.
This was apparently also the case on Friday, at about the same time, when those who stood in the queue were told the staff had reached the cut-off time for the day.
Simphiwe Zwane, a South African Students Congress (Sasco) member stationed at the Durban campus to assist in the registration process, said about 500 prospective and returning students were turned away.
“The administrative staff went on a go-slow following a strike in Pretoria on Friday. They are at loggerheads with employers over wage increments. When the Durban staff embarked on the go-slow, the throngs standing in the queue were told to leave after a certain number of applicants were reached by 11.
"We have been deployed to assist in different centres to guide students on where to go for their different applications and queries,” Zwane said.
Exacerbating the problem, he said, was the computer system that was constantly off-line and contributed to slowing down the registration process.
“It’s an ugly scene in the mornings as people start trickling in at the crack of dawn, only to be turned away by 11am without being assisted. Since Friday, the registration process has not been smooth,” he said.
Roy Kasseepersadh, a parent from Verulam, said his daughter had initially received no joy with registering due to the poor service at the university.
They had arrived at Unisa early on Friday to query her registration, which had been processed online for approximately two weeks.
“There were hundreds of people inside and outside the venue. While were standing in the queue, one man came out and told all of us there would be no more entry allowed through the (university) gate as they had run out of tickets. People were told to go home and return on Monday,” Kasseepersadh recalled.
“This was unacceptable given that some arrived there as early as 4:30 am. We were told there was a go-slow,” he said.
His daughter, who did not want to be named, said she was frustrated when her online registration had not been processed.
She said each time she checked her online registration status, it would say “registration still in progress”.
On Friday, her luck turned around when she met a couple who had an extra ticket and gave it to her, allowing her to join the queue inside to finalise her registration.
“If you don’t have a ticket you can’t get into the premises and have to return another day. This is bad because those of us who work can’t continuously take days off. What about those who travel long distances only to be turned away? It’s just not how they should be handling the process,” she said.
Sibongakonke Radebe, also from Verulam, said she tried to register for a teaching diploma on Monday.
“I arrived at about 11:45am to be turned away because a certain number had already been taken inside for processing,” said Radebe.
Katlego Motlagodisa, a student convener from the Students’ Forum 4 Service Delivery, said they are expected to meet with all Unisa student unions on Friday to look at the impact of the go-slow on student enrolment.
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said an impasse between the employer and employees over the wage increment had led to the go-slow.
He confirmed the university and staff had reached a stalemate on salary negotiations for this year.
Ramotshela said the matter had been referred to The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for mediation.
“In the meantime, union members have resolved to embark on picketing activity during the lunch period. This activity is not intended to, and should not, disrupt the normal operations of the university,” he said.
Academic and Professional Staff Association (APSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said they had initially demanded a 12% increase, which they had dropped to 10%.
“The employer offered 5.5 % and that’s where the deadlock sits. If today’s meeting with the CCMA fails, it will go for conciliation, then arbitration and the last resort will be a full-blown strike,” said Boitumelo Ben, APSA general secretary .
Registration for the first semester of 2017, for new and returning students closes on January 27, with payment due on January 31.
Anneke Venter, APSA deputy chairperson said employees from different sections of the university were involved in the go-slow.
She said staff and union representatives believed the university had not negotiated in good faith. The APSA council would meet on Thursday to discuss the wage issue.
“We just hope an amicable solution is reached without any more delays,” she said.