Interview with Shaeera Kalla, former SRC president at Wits University, interviewed by Kyla Mc Nulty

Firstly, thank you again for your time and consideration in corresponding with us.

Please briefly introduce your schooling and political background:

I went to school in Pretoria and became very involved in politics from a young age attending protests and marches. I read a lot, mainly on Middle East Politics and South African issues. History was my favourite subject in school although I did observe how watered down the history we were taught was, this led me to do reading outside of what was prescribed. During my first year at Wits I joined the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Workers Solidarity Committee and SASCO. It was very important to draw a distinction between a politician and a student activist- and I identified with the latter rather than the former, although once I ran for SRC in 2014, that is when the distinction was needed most.

2. On 8 October 2015, Wits SRC released a statement calling the 10.5% fee increment passed for 2016, “a deliberate and anti-progressive decision to once more entrench the financial exclusion of poor students...”

To your knowledge, what has been the awareness and action amongst the SRC and other student leaders at Wits around this issue prior to the 10.5% increment?

At Wits the FeesMustFall movement was started by the SRC under my term, a month of planning went into this. We got student volunteers and subcommittee members involved who were part of three planning groups namely, Media, Mobilization and Research. The SRC took a deliberate decision to systematically shut down the university on 14 October 14, the first day of the protest under WitsFeesMustFall banner. The strategic thinking that informed the shutdown was to physically and symbolically show the inaccessibility and exclusionary nature of our higher education institutions. We also built on the momentum of the October 6 movement which was a coordinated protest to End Outsourcing by 2016, the All Residence Council, and the Workers Solidarity Committee were some of the first groups to fully endorse the SRC stance on Fees. As the weeks went by the only force behind this Fees Must Fall movement has been the unity and determination of students, at our campus, nationally and even internationally.

[The October 8 statement] was released after we had been outvoted in Council, which we did foresee as a possibility especially given that we had been arguing against the 10.5% increase for almost 4 months and had built up quite a good case against it. In this time we did our own research and asked the university to provide proper analysis on 1. Why exactly fees needed to increase by such an exorbitant amount and what was the university doing to cut costs elsewhere 2. Why such a big upfront payment (10 000) was needed given that approximately 20 000 of the 33 000 students at our university were on some form of financial aid and questioning the reason for an upfront payment given that the university’s only justification for one was that government subsidy only comes in April and the university needed this money from upfront payments to cover costs during that 3 month period- so we asked for a proper 3 month projection of how much money the university needed to cover costs for 2016 3. A full analysis on outstanding fees to understand our students better and argue for more fair standards in terms of the payment of fees- this included international students who are forced to pay 70% of their fees upfront. The questions we were asking were quite technical but they needed to be, given that we had a student research task team set up to do our financial analysis going into council. An honours accounting student came up with some projections for us and we also consulted other stakeholders within the university- this period of consultations really opened my eyes to the complete lack of transparency within the university. In our meeting with the CFO Linda Jarvis and accountant Daniel Gozo, we were arrogantly dismissed when we asked for this information, with Daniel saying it would be impossible to give projections. We felt that the entire consultation process was a means to keep us busy and not really engage on an intellectual level on how unsustainable these fee hikes are- it was very clear that the university saw poor students as only a liability and really did not care about the accessibility and financial burden these increases were causing. When we got to council on 2 October which would be my final council meeting and which I had invited Nompendulo to accompany me to as the incoming President (she had just observer status in the meeting as she would only become a council member in November when her SRC term officially started.) We held up our argument and also pointed out that we were not provided with the crucial information we were asking for but given that there are only 2 student seats on council, the chair quickly opted for us to vote on the matter and so apart from 1 academic, Professor David Dickinson, and the student representative for the Post Graduate Association everyone else voted for the increase. I left council determined to do something- we had lost the battle within the university structures and the one thing left was protest- I made the decision, alerted my deputy president Omhle Ntshingila and the rest of the SRC and alerted the incoming SRC through Nomependulo. Planning for the Wits Fees Must Fall protest had begun.

The SRC is represented on the Finance Committee and Council of the University. During these meetings the budget for 2016 was discussed, and a proposal was set for the increase in both fees and the upfront fee payment. Throughout the whole process the SRC felt that there was a lack of transparency. Finally a figure 0f 10.5% was imposed with great unhappiness from the SRC. The SRC had throughout this process raised pertinent questions that were not satisfactorily answered and this left a lot of outrage with the SRC as there were no justifiable reasons given for why fees were increasing at such an exorbitant amount, given that fees are already too expensive. The only logical way that this outrage could be displayed was through a protest.

We knew however that a protest in the corner of the university which made lots of noise but affected no one would not be effective at all. Hence we made a strategic decision to disrupt the academic program of the university by a complete and systematic shut down. The shutdown was further symbolic in that it physically depicted the inaccessibility of higher education in South Africa.

The protest was premised on a non-violent systematic shut down on our campus. To understand the violence you must consider both sides, firstly students feel extremely insulted by being disrespected by a Wits management who refuses to listen to student demands. The tension is a build-up of justified outrage, the university is a violent space symbolically for poor students, when protesting peacefully we had cars ram into us, we were beaten, threatened with guns and knives, tear gassed and pepper sprayed. Universities have still not acknowledged the silent violence innate in the commodification of our institutions and should be held accountable for inciting this violence.

Turning Points:

Council?On the 16th of October, Council signed an agreement with students where they committed to holding a university assembly, in which all stakeholds especially those who have traditionally been systematically shunned, namely workers and students, would be represented. This university assembly would ratify the decisions taken by Council to ensure their accountability and transparency in decision making processes. Council not only changed the agreement that was signed, they also relegated and did not honour the agreement by not coming to the University Assembly.

Luthuli House

Students at Wits collectively decided that we would take a memorandum to Luthuli House in preparation for the meeting at Union Buildings which we had taken a decision not to attend, the reason for this being that our demands were clear, there was no need to discuss them over tea. Furthermore we wanted to again radically change the power relationships that exist between Council and students for example and the State and its people. We wanted the President to address the issues directly, with reasonable plans and timeframes given in response to our very reasonable and legitimate demands.

Union Buildings

At the Union Buildings this was the first time that students from different universities were brought together, there was a united student voice saying that our higher education system is oppressive, remains untransformed and is inaccessible to the poor black student. What this also highlighted was the divide that exists between the previously advantaged white universities which remain privileged and the previously disadvantaged black universities which remain disadvantaged. It was the final nail in the coffin of the failed concepts of the Rainbow Nation and the Born Free- concepts our generation has been suffocated and misrepresented by. The announcement of a 0% increase would have been a victory if met with a clear and timely commitment to the unfulfilled promise of Free Education. The fact that some saw it as a victory further highlighted the divides that exist, what good is a 0% increase when we cannot even afford higher education at the level it is currently set at? As comrade Shir’a Jeenah so aptly puts it, “The flames had frightened away the smoke that masked a divide–a difference.”

Why the Protests Continued

Despite the majority of students at Wits not wanting to continue the protests, the right thing to do was to continue. I remember going to a Workers Solidarity Meeting with workers where I explained the nature of the WitsFeesMustFall protests, workers agreed to mobilize and support us and this is what they did even at the risk of losing their jobs. At the gates of our university they stood steadfastly with us, without fear. It is a shame that a majority of students refused to do the same for workers when our demand for an end to outsourcing at our universities was left unaddressed by our President.

3.  Why would you say the 10.5% fee increase that took place this year was so pivotal to student protests at Wits?

When I took the decision to protest at Wits we needed to mobilize specifically for Wits, some of the arguments we used in our meetings with management were that this figure was unjustifiable to students- it was also way above inflation and already the fees were unaffordable for the majority of students at Wits. Every SRC every year has to discuss fees but with the 1 Million1 Month campaign we had run earlier this year we were not naïve to the crisis higher education funding on the whole is in: had spent lots of time observing and analysing the inadequacy of financial aid schemes and the structural crisis higher education was in. We witnessed students having to choose between meals and paying their outstanding fees- this is not a choice we felt anyone should have to make. The 10.5% was pivotal at Wits but other universities had no fee increases at all- like TUT, they were fighting for basic issues whereas others like Stellenbosch (the TG of their SRC contacted me for some advice) were fighting something like an 11.5% increase- which was higher than ours. After the huge success of the 14 October shutdown and protest and the national support from our universities who were also starting their own shut downs we knew we could no longer limit it to Wits and we needed to alter our national demand from a 0% increase to focus on Free Education. The 0% was seen as a symbolic demand as a commitment to the realization of Free Education.

4.  17 October 2015, saw you sign what looked to be a very positive commitment from the institution to engage students to address their grievances about the fee hike and other issues. Should the Wits Council not have reneged on the agreement at this historical tipping point do you think #FeesMustFall and the entire nationwide protest would still have taken place?

Yes I do think it still would have taken place especially given that from the very beginning the university changed the wording of the agreement by removing the word “ratify” which changed the meaning of the agreement completely, apart from that being illegal- changing a signed agreement. The bottom line is that the university was never going to be able to deliver a 0% increase without government intervention so protests would have continued and escalated. There was no University Assembly, hence the University did not reach any agreement with the SRC or students as we signed to commit to on Oct 17 in the early hours of Saturday morning- we planned to have a meeting where decisions would be ratified by a university assembly- this agreement in itself shifted power away from Council directly into the hands of students, it was revolutionary. The University tried to fuel divides amongst students, leading students to believe the SRC signed an agreement with management is where the divide started. They then were forced to admit the SRC had not met with management or signed any sort of agreement, but by then it was too late. The biggest threat to them maintaining the status quo is a united student body. Anyone who feeds divisions is not serious about realizing free education and an end to outsourcing and I don’t think blame can be put on one political group alone for this- this is also why it is important that the movement remained non partisan throughout. This does not mean we ignore political differences, but rather that we stand united for free education and an end to outsourcing in spite of our political differences.

5. What role did the SRC play in initialising the #FeesMustFall movement at Wits?

As the President of the SRC at the time it was my decision to protest against the Fee increase at Wits. The SRC planned the protest for almost a month; we had three task teams set up: a research task team, a mobilization task team and a media task team. We kept our plans to shut down the university under wraps because we were aware that the university was arranging for private security. We orchestrated the entire shut down starting on the first day, Oct 14. It must be reiterated though the shut down itself was planned by the SRC and on the first morning at 6 am it was only about 20 students- SRC members and subcommittee members who started the shut down of the university, we knew that a protest in the corner of the university would not make a difference- to shake the core of the system we needed to render the academic program untenable. We also used match sticks to block lecture hall entrances. We decided to tactically pause the shut down around 8 am the first morning to allow students to come in- from there we went to disrupt classes and by 12 students were mobilized at the empire gate entrance. Once the crowd was gathered we witnessed political opportunism and had to make calculated strategic decisions in order to uphold a united from for students, we had to remain non partisan entirely despite being a PYA SRC that initiated the protest. The SRC strategically gave space Wits EFF Chair Vuyani Pambo because we wanted all students to feel like they could identify with the struggle, even minorities like the EFF.

6. What disappointments did you experience with Wits University while campaigning for #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing as standing SRC president?

Changing agreement

Refusing to negotiate with students but freely speaking media

Making threats

Not negotiating with elected SRC

Making false statements saying that the SRC received information knowing full well that information was not given when asked, during the negotiation process

Freezing of SRC account

7. Around 19 October 2015, #WitsFeesMustFall had grown to become #FeesMustFall, and resulted in nationwide protest and a #NationalShutdown of various tertiary institutions. Students were operating as a collective, under banners of #FeesMustFall, #EndOutsourcing and #NationalShutdown, inspiring national debate and raising awareness on these issues.

What was your experience of being in the centre of the movement, ‘on the ground' so to speak, while the movement was gaining national and even international traction?

It was remarkably inspiring to see how quickly protests spread to other universities around the country. We were not shocked because these issues are not limited to one university- there is a fissure in the education system. There was a national communication Whatsapp group and various other groups where we kept updating each other on the developments at our various universities.  The days were extremely busy, we had to be on the move. Students would come and ask us about various issues- suggest ideas, we had debates and discussions and study sessions inside Solomon Mahlangu House, formerly known as Senate House. The most challenging moment for me was controlling crowds- I eventually did figure it out but it did not help that I could not sing the way in which Mcebo, Ulo and Vuyani could. I remember being so overwhelmed and humbled on Friday when we had our mass meeting and the Executive Committee of Council (EXCO) was present- it was the same meeting where an agreement was signed between myself and the Chair of Council Dr Randal Carollisson, and when we began to address students they got up and sang “u Shaeera lo My President” that moment gave me so much strength and made me proud that students had so much faith in their elected leadership. Every night we slept in Solomon House on the floor and woke up with renewed energy. Skype meetings had been scheduled with students from the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. It was crucial to keep up to date with what was going on at other universities because a shut down at Wits alone would not be sufficient in the struggle for Free Education. We had to all be on strike at the same time and we started to notice very quickly the different attitudes of students at historically black and historically white universities respectively; we can definitely say that there were two Fees must Falls going on- one for the rich and one for the poor. Historically black universities did not get much media coverage, whilst historically white universities did; in this way Wits was to TUT what Paris was to Beirut. The 1 Million1 Month campaign we ran in the beginning of the year led to us raising close to R5 million and was in itself a form of protest. This once again highlighted the inadequate funding of higher education that has become normalized in South Africa and 5 million was a drop in the ocean. This normalization is only a further perpetuation of the race based inequality in South Africa inherent in our universities. Sankara said the hand that feeds you controls you, we want systematic and structural change, we cannot treat poor students as charity cases, fundraising helps us survive but it does not enable structural change and cannot be done alone.

8. 22 October 2015, saw thousands of students, workers and other protesters march to Luthuli House to hand over a memorandum that was received by Gwede Mantashe. Please give us a brief overview of that day in history.

Students at Wits collectively decided that we would take a memorandum to Luthuli House in preparation for the meeting at Union Buildings which we had taken a decision not to attend, the reason for this being that our demands were clear, there was no need to discuss them over tea. Furthermore we wanted to again radically change the power relationships that exist, between Council and students for example and the State and its people. We wanted the President to address the issues directly, with reasonable plans and timeframes given in response to our very reasonable and legitimate demands which were 3. 1. A 0% increase as a symbolic commitment to free Education 2. End to Outsourcing on our campuses and 3. Immediate realization of Free Education.

9. Would you give comment on what the third force narrative is?

I think this is a serious copout and is absolutely ridiculous. As a nation we must realize that Free education is not some dream cooked up by young people- it is a promise that our ANC made to us and it is yet to be fulfilled, there is no third force- but one in every two South Africans is under the age of 25 and the youth are being failed – we have every right to be outraged. There is no third force- only a youth ready to shake the core of an unjust system and this is just the beginning.

10. Controversy followed the movement at Wits after a meeting between ANC delegates and particular Wits students on the 25 October 2015. Please give an account of the meeting, regarding who the delegates were and the students who had attended, who provided the mandate to meet with the ANC, and what were the goals and objectives of the meeting?

This issue is formally clarified in the statement we released which also addressed a response to the VC’s 9 point plan but that was an interesting evening. On that particular evening members of the national PYA structures (no ANC officials as the rumours boasted- except Thuthu Zuma who is not an ANC official but rather the daughter of President Jacob Zuma and also a member of the PYA and student at Wits) and past SRC members including 3 past PYA SRC presidents met with a few of us especially those in the PYA led SRC. This meeting was informal and it took place in an open space in the Anthropology Museum in central block just around the corner from Solomon House- the same room was being used as a store room for food and toilet paper that had been donated, and soon after the meeting started a student from Solomon House from the Wits EFF came to me and expressed concern that students were angry and under the impression that a secret meeting was being held- she urged us to tweet about the meeting because students were on their way down to disrupt the meeting. I brushed this off as I explained that students can come and see that there is nothing secret about the meeting and we have every right to meet with our membership, both myself and Ulo are openly members of the PYA and even ran for SRC under the PYA. The student said she would relay the message but before she could a group of about 20 students came marching into the meeting. The chairperson of SASCO national asked that our privacy be protected and the meeting be allowed to continue- the students demanded to see the agenda, but there really was no set formal agenda or minutes so they resorted to forcefully tear out pages from the notes several people in the meeting- including myself had written. The number 40 k (which is the rumoured bribe) actually came from my note book- I had written down that number to keep track of donations- next to it was the name Karabo, the new SRC Treasurer General. It was clear that those who disrupted the meeting were looking to tarnish the SRC’s reputation and create a conspiracy about a secret meeting. When I think back on that evening it is almost comical how it was orchestrated- that a simple meeting with your members can turn into something that seems sinful and akin to selling out. No decisions were made at that meeting- it was a feedback meeting on how the protests were going and where support was needed. It is also important to note that we made a decision not to take money from political organisations even in the form of donations.

11. After the 0% fee increment was announced, many students halted protests to continue with the academic programme from the 28 October 2015. A minority of students, yourself included, continued to protest to end outsourcing and for free, quality education, even though the university, your fellow students, law enforcement, and the general public were becoming hostile to your efforts.

The majority is not always right. Sometimes we do what is easy, not what is right. I went to workers in the weeks before the protest and asked them to support us, the date we chose was also strategic in that Numsa had successfully applied for a Section 77 Strike at NEDLAC and therefore every worker could participate and outsourced companies could take no disciplinary action or dismiss workers for taking part. Workers struggle is intrinsically intertwined with the student struggle- workers did not need to be convinced to support us- they just did. How could we then abandon them and not continue the strike until the university addressed our demand for an end to outsourcing? Abandoning the most marginalized in our university would have been a cowardly act.

Wits SRC Statement: Student Demands and Response to the Vice Chancellor’s 9 Point Proposal

The SRC has been in attempts to consider the various views of the student body at large and would thus like to reiterate and clarify our position. We have noted that the university has released a statement saying that a resolution has been reached together with the SRC. We must however clarify that there have been no meetings between management and the SRC at any point.

A PYA Meeting that took place on Sunday the 25th of October 2015. We must clear up the controversy that this has unfortunately caused. Both the current President Shaeera Kalla and incoming President Nompendulo Mkatshwa were present at the meeting, and many rumours have come out of this. The SRC affirms the right of all student organizations to freely meet. Having said that, it has been made clear that the only firm decision making platform for the #‎FeesMustFall movement have been mass student meetings called by the SRC. Furthermore, the issue of the R 40 000.00 must be firmly clarified. The discussion at the PYA meeting was around various donations (for food, drink and transport) made to the cause for the continuation of the protest. There are rumours that seek to tarnish the SRCs integrity and we would like to assure the student community on the fact that we have acted in the best interests of our students and will continue to do so! We remain committed to our student movement and we trust that the university will act on the demands made in this statement; if not we will be forced to take further action.

The Vice Chancellor has released a 9 point proposal to students and we want to urge students to be critical of this, we have included our analysis of this proposal with a list of demands from the SRC. First and foremost the university stated that this 9 point document stems from taking into account all of the representations received from students and the University community. We fail to see how this is possible given that the SRC has still not gone into any negotiations with the university, and a University Assembly has still not sat as Council failed to come and meet students as signed in our agreement last week.

Below you will find the points from the VC’s proposal and our response and demands. 

1) “There will be no increase in fees for 2016. This means that academic, residence and any other fees will not be increased. The President of the Republic has agreed to underwrite the cost of this, provided that the University makes some contribution. “

SRC RESPONSE: The fact that there is a 0% fee increase is due to government intervention, if the university has contributed to this we want to know how in the interest of transparency. In addition to this, we call on the University management to charge zero interest on outstanding fees.

2) “The University is prepared to address the increase in the upfront fee payment. We demand that the upfront payment fee does not increase.”

SRC RESPONSE: The upfront payment fee has constantly been used as a systematic mechanism to exclude poor students. NSFAS, bursary and other deserving students should not pay the upfront fee payment at all. We demand for the continuance of the Upfront Fee Payment Plan for all students who are unable to pay the total amount.

3) “The University recognizes that the protests have adversely affected the ability of students to write their examinations. It therefore commits to restructuring the academic programme and examination timetable. The examinations are postponed for now and a new examination timetable will be put forward as soon as possible. The new timetable will essentially be similar to the original timetable but will have new dates.”

SRC RESPONSE: We demand that exams be postponed for two weeks; furthermore students must not be tested on any work that they have not already been taught up to now. 
Any tests or assignments missed because of the protest action must either be written off or deadlines restructured. 
We also demand that residence students are not billed further despite the extension of their stay because of the delay of exams, that is both for food as well as accommodation. 
The VC must negotiate with external accommodation providers so that students do not bear the financial burden of the extension of the academic year. 
Furthermore, the status of international students and the possible extension of visas needs to be supported and championed by the university management.

4) “The University recognises that outsourcing is an exploitative practice. The University commits to establishing its own internal commission. This is in addition to the President’s commission. The internal commission will be chaired by the Chairperson of Council and will comprise the Chairperson of Finco and representatives from all stakeholders, including students, unions and others. It may also include an independent expert. This commission will investigate the effects of outsourcing services on the University, the cost structures associated with insourcing and possible alternative models.”

SRC RESPONSE: We are not going to accept this stance by the university to again undermine the struggle of workers at Wits University. We demand that: 
• Unfairly dismissed MJL workers be reinstated 
• Back-pay for Campus Control Night Shifts 
• Resolve labour rights for workers in the Matrix Building 
• Agree to end outsourcing within an agreed upon timeline, and in the meantime the University must subsidize a minimum wage of R 6500.00 
• University management must do its part to end outsourcing by cutting senior salaries by 50% and not having their offices cleaned until outsourcing is put to an end; we the students have done our part to end outsourcing, management must now show the same level of commitment to end exploitative practices of outsourcing 
• We demand the university adopt the October 6 Workers Charter 
• We also want to secure and ensure that all workers be paid for the duration of work missed during the university shutdown and strike

5) “The University undertakes to find financial resources to support the children of all workers employed in currently outsourced services, provided that these children qualify for admission to the University.”

SRC RESPONSE: We want the university to in addition to this, immediately commit to upskilling the workers through providing bursaries for those who would like to study at this University or to undergo other training, including completion of basic education.

6) “There will be no disciplinary processes against students who were involved in legitimate forms of protest.”

SRC RESPONSE: In alignment with the agreement signed by President Shaeera Kalla and the Chairperson of Council on Saturday 17th October 2015 we demand that any student, worker or academic involved in any form of protest must not face any disciplinary charges whatsoever.

7) “The University commits to drawing up a workers’ charter.”

SRC RESPONSE: There is already a Worker’s Charter drawn up by workers themselves, we demand the university adopts this.

8) “The University agrees, in principle, to make every effort to resolve any other outstanding issue that the students may want to address in good faith.”

SRC RESPONSE: Issues of transformation at this university have not been addressed. The SRC reaffirms its historic perspectives on transformation of higher education, which summarize the experiences of the struggles of Black students in general, Africans in particular, who come from the working class, this document deals with a number of important issues in this regard which we want the VC to implement moving forward: 
https://drive.google.com/…/0B3EGsrZp-1fWdW81c2NvbEtuU…/view…

9) “Should the students agree to these measures, the University will commit to calling a General Assembly.”

SRC RESPONSE: We demand that the university commits to holding University Assemblies which will be made up of council members, along with workers, students, academic and support staff.

Document put together on the decolonisation of Wits:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3EGsrZp-1fWdW81c2NvbEtuUmc/view

12. Please describe how the worker-student alliance came about at Wits?

There has always been a historic alliance by all progressive forces on our campus, these include but are not limited to students, progressive academics and the outsourced workers.  The formation of the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee took place more than 15 years ago when the University took the very deliberate decision to outsource certain sectors of the Wits staff. This alliance pre dates my time on campus, and the fight against the exploitation of outsourced workers on our campus has been carried by many former student leaders, but I have seen a strengthening of the specific relationship between students and outsourced workers. This is because during the last few years we have seen things like the Royal Mnandi Occupy Concourse Hunger Strike organized by the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee, the Tokiso Report which was an independent investigation into the exploitation of outsourced workers on campus, MJL, workers experiencing racism and victimization by their employer. All of these factors compounded with the working class student struggles have seen a bond form between workers and students which is quite powerful.

SRC statement from 27 May 2015

Wits SRC Statement: MJL workers and students occupy the Vice Chancellor’s Office

The Wits Student Representative Council notes with great despondency the unjust treatment of the formerly MJL workers at the University who have lost their jobs following months of unacceptable working conditions allowed by the University management. The issue of MJL workers is not a new issue to Wits, outsourcing companies abuse workers, and the university seems to allow this with impunity claiming that absorbing the MJL workers would set a “dangerous precedent” for the University to intervene every time workers rights are in question. This is a toothless excuse, because if the University was responsible in who we outsource to we would not find ourselves in a situation where these MJL workers have not been paid their full wages for months, the company’s owner has not paid UIF, tax and Provident Funds despite subtracting this from their salaries, for years now.

The Tokiso Report

In 2001, Wits outsourced all support services at the University and retrenched an estimated number of about 650 employees in this process. Many have described this as a shameful time in the history of the University. According to the Tokiso Report, “...one of the professors ... said that his saddest day at Wits was seeing people queue up to get a job having worked here for so long. This has hung over the university community.” Previously workers were not allowed to be seen doing anything other than work in public spaces and facilities around the university, from the lawns to the toilets. Contractors raised that these orders were made by the university’s Services Department, that contract workers could not use the toilets, eating and changing facilities of staff and students on campus. The quotation below from the Tokiso Report reflects many submissions from outsourced workers, academics and students:

“Everything must be clean, but we must not see those that are cleaning.”

Background

The Report is clear that outsourced companies are meant to submit Labour Legislation Compliance Verifications to the University to ensure that they are compliant and workers are not being abused. When the meetings between the legal office and university management began at the start of the year the university acknowledged that this was a problem and had committed to assisting the workers but by April the attitude had changed and the workers were thrown to the curb. This exploitation being brought to light is the reason why these workers are now further robbed of their dignity, because the university then ended its contract with MJL and they are now unemployed since the company itself was bankrupt; the termination of the contract is in no way to. The SRC has been in constant communication with the workers and unapologetically takes a stance beside the workers in solidarity as we jointly call on the restoration of their jobs and working conditions for the greater good of the university community which workers are a vital part of.

The University argues that absorbing these workers would set a “precedent” for future cases like this. This excuse is unacceptable because cases like this should be the exception, not the norm. Outsourcing is the source of gross exploitation in many instances but even if the university is saying that it cannot end outsourcing due to budget restraints, there is an obligation to outsource responsibly, and to ensure that companies that have university contracts are following the law.

MJL Occupation of the Vice Chancellor’s Office

On the 27th of May 2015, a number of workers peacefully occupied the Vice-Chancellor’s office after the Office of the Vice-Chancellor had failed to respond to all emails previously sent by the workers to meet before their access cards were shut off on Monday 1 June. It was during the course of this office sit-in wherein the Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib out rightly refused to engage with workers because students who were there in solidarity were present and the workers wanted them to be in the meeting. The Vice Chancellor cannot be the one to deny who the workers want to represent them, that is completely unacceptable. In this same head lock, Professor Habib further rejected the notion of recognising Wits Workers’ Solidarity Organisation (WWSC) as a committee representing the views of the dismissed workers.

Students in Solidarity with the Workers Treated as Criminals

The Vice Chancellor refused to make meaningful verbal engagements until only three workers of the fifteen were present and currently the workers and students find themselves faced with threats of being handed University court orders for the peaceful occupation. Both the Acting President and the Secretary General of the SRC were not allowed onto the 11th Floor, and at 6pm they left with a few students to buy food to sustain those inside who had not eaten since that morning. Upon arriving back the lifts were shut down so they could not go up to the 11th Floor to deliver the food. The staircase was also under lock down, eventually only the students who were initially in the Office of the Vice Chancellor were allowed to go back up to deliver the food. The way in which we were treated was unacceptable and is seriously concerning, at no point was the occupation violent or threatening and yet we were treated like criminals in our own university. The issue of workers tells much about the state of transformation at Wits. The struggle continues and we encourage all students to show support, these are our mothers and fathers and we cannot allow them to be blatantly exploited by an unjust system.

Read SRC Statement on October 6 Protest

Wits SRC Statement: endorsing and supporting the October 6 Movement and calling for an end to outsourcing

As the Wits SRC we stand in full support of the October 6 Movement and call on University management to stop the exploitation of workers by insourcing labour and ensuring ethical business practise.

We note the difficulty that workers at Wits University have faced because of outsourcing. There has been a lack of accountability on the part of management and in many ways by the third party companies.

Workers are discriminated against and exploited through these practises, as was the case with the MJL Electrical Workers who were not paid by their employer for months at a time and ultimately lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Outsourcing has resulted in workers being paid a pittance, loss of benefits and more importantly loss of job security for workers, some of whom have worked here at Wits for longer than many of us have been students or lecturers.

These are our mothers and fathers who ensure that our university space is comfortable for us: that our campus is clean; that the lawns we sit on are well tendered and cared for; that the bathrooms we use are clean and hygienic; that our lecture theatres are spotless; that the food we eat in the dining hall is well prepared.

There are countless aspects of this university that run and function on this hard work. Workers at Wits are important stakeholders, just as our university cannot run without students or lecturers; equally it cannot run without accountability to workers as members of university communities. 
An end to the outsourcing of workers on campuses in South Africa. We demand that insourcing should be a principled commitment of a decolonised African university.

Please join us in solidarity with the workers:

TIME: 12pm – 2pm
DATE: 6 October 2015
VENUE: Starting at Wits Great Hall to the Main Entrance on Jorrison Street

Issued by Shaeera Kalla – President

13.  What steps has the University taken to actualise their commitment to insourcing?

  • A Task team has been established to determine the financial implications of insourcing and ways to implement it.
  • A Commitment in principle to end outsourcing has been given
  • All workers will be registered
  • All children of workers will be given the opportunity to study at the University for free – given that they qualify academically

14. How are the workers, students and any outside parties helping to facilitate this process?

  • Workers and students are both represented on these committees, the composition of the task team is very much worker led which is important, this is their struggle.
  • Due to agreeing in principle, the task team ensures that pressure is put on the University to act decisively and promptly without delay

15. Is the #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing movements at Wits still receiving funding? If so, from where, and where will funding be focused?

At this point in time, no funding is being received, but once a decision has been taken on the way forward with these movements fundraising will start again, at the moment the only fundraising is through the SRC, for its humanitarian fund which aims to assist students who are financially excluded to settle their outstanding debts so that they can graduate or continue their studies.

There are however many individuals who have expressed interest in getting involved with fundraising.

16. On the 6 November 2015, 163 workers and students, including yourself, were arrested at what was described as a peaceful nightvilgil at UJ. What was your experience of this event, and the subsequent cases made against protesters?

We were arrested around mid day on Friday the 6th of November, for a peaceful protest at the gates of the University of Johannesburg, our plea was simple, outsourced workers have been exploited and abused for too long, the solution is one and that is to insource all outsourced work. At UJ we were met with a draconian right wing Vice-Chancellor whose sole objective was to silence the voice of young people on campus and also to silence the voice of the workers and cleaners on campus- who are the most marginalized stakeholders in any university community. We spent more than 24 hours behind bars at the Brixton police station, but the solidarity and support from countless activists outside kept us going. We were fed, sent blankets and drinks by our comrades on the other side of bars. In the cell revolutionary songs were sung. During this event the police made a point of operating at a snails pace to prolong the time spent incarcerated. They woke us up in the middle of the night countless times to line us up and count us in the cold. We were held under charges which changed during the course of the night and on the following Monday morning Judge at the Johannesburg South Magistrates court throughout the state’s case and all charges against us were dropped and furthermore that the bail conditions we were released under were nonexistent- police gave us these conditions verbally and basically we were not allowed to be in groups bigger than 14 people until after our court appearance and we could not attend political meetings.

Read what I wrote on the experience

When I was young I was always told that in the new South Africa a cell was a place for bad people, for people who have broken the law of the land, for criminals, murderers and rapists. I never thought that I would see the inside of a cell. For to be on the inside of a cell implies that I have done something bad, that I deserve to be in the same space as criminals, murderers and rapists.

Sitting in the cell made me think, ponder and introspect about this. What bad thing have I done? During this time there was one thing that kept ringing in my head; and that was “Senzeni Na, Sono sethu ubumnyama” (What have we done, is our crime merely to be black?).

Sitting in the cell made me very angry and emotional about what happened. I felt the pain of our mothers who know not a life but one of poverty, a lifetime of having being made to feel perpetually worthless. I wonder is this the life that is deserved, the life on the land that their forbearers lived on and their forbearers before that.

Sitting in the cell despite this inescapable pain, our mothers remained brave and resilient. Mam Lebogang patted me to sleep as if she bore me from her own womb, Mam Maria made sure I had eaten before she put a morsel of food in her own belly, and Mam Ntokozo sang and danced to keep our morale high, using empty 5 litre water bottles as drums she sang, “They probably did this in 76’ but we have 100% fruit juice and pizza so we’re going to take it up a notch!”, this is of course a loose translation based on my very basic understanding of isi Zulu, ngiyafundza kancane.

Sitting in the cell can be a very hopeless and helpless experience. During this time one goes through a full range of emotion, empties a full bank of memories to just seek hope. If I must be completely honest, our experience of jail was by far not the harshest one; this is because we had so much of support behind us, comrades stayed up all night and sang in solidarity; we heard you.

When we were hungry there was warm biryani and pizza, and the saddest part about this, much like saddest part of the occupation of Solomon House, is that many had never even tasted pizza before, many were not used to getting 3 meals a day.

When we were cold there were blankets that our comrades collected and brought inside despite great difficulty and frustration at the hands of the police officers. I will never forget late at night how a first year student, Comrade Palomino Jama came in and in my sleep, covered my cold body with a blanket.

When we were woken up on several occasions abruptly and rudely several times by the police in the middle of the night we tried to go back to sleep but we were very unsettled.

When we woke up in the morning Comrade Naadira Munshi along with TUT and UJ students served us bread and hot tea. This support kept us strong.

Memories that came flooding to my mind were the stories of those who have seen the four walls of a cell before.

I remember reading about the strength of Mama Winnie Mandela when she was arrested and abused at the hands of the white man when under house arrest in the town of “Brandfort” in the Free State. Her fight was to restore the dignity of the millions of black people.

I remember the story of Bantu Stephen Biko and his arrest and how this led to his violent death in a cell like this. He was fighting for a cause much the same as to what we are fighting for today, was it not Biko who taught us that the most powerful weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed?

I wonder what Comrade Chris Hani thought about sitting in a cell like this one, I wonder if he was here; would his revolutionary conscience have allowed him to join us in this struggle for he did once declare “We need to create the pathways to give hope to our youth that they can have the opportunity through education and hard work to escape the trap of poverty.”

All of these men and women mentioned above were called hurtful names, were labelled, and demonized. For the sole purpose of fighting for something bigger, for challenging an unjust system, for standing up when it was not fashionable to do so, yet history absolved them, history praised them; history raised them to mythical status because they fought, challenged and stood up.

In many ways history will absolve Mam Lebogang who slept next to me in the corner of the cell, she was suffering with swollen feet, an eye infection, and a headache, Mam Maria who sits here because she knows her family are doomed to eternal destitution as long as she is paid a wage so low that there is no escape from the pangs of poverty.

Turning our backs on the vulnerable, oppressed and marginalised in society is a cowardly act. As a youth fighting for change, we must see our struggle for what it is: our struggle began with a demand for a 0% fee increase as a symbolic commitment to Free Education; for an end to outsourcing and the restoration of the dignity of our mothers and fathers on our campuses; and for free, quality higher education. Yinde lendlela esi hamba yo, sizimisela uku hamba lendlela no ma kunzima sizo fika ku Free Education.

The great friend of my ANC, Comrade Fidel Castro says “A revolution is not a bed of roses, it is a battle between the past and the future” Let us not find ourselves on the wrong side of history.

Tomorrow on the 9th of November our struggle continues at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court at 8:30am. #‎Brixton141

17. Please comment on the students ‘right to write’ during the protests of #FeesMustFall.

Individual students are well within their rights to propagate their right to write, however for as long as our university is one which is unequally skewed in the favour of the white privileged rich then in my opinion the greater struggle triumphs over individual rights and this struggle is to make our university equal and accessible to all. I remember receiving hate mail and a petition directed to me specifically as President of the SRC to me specifically via change.org which had around 5000 signatures calling for an end to protests.  Suddenly in this phase of our protests we began to see many, many more white faces at our mass meetings.

See link to Petition: https://www.change.org/p/wits-src-shaeera-kalla-wits-src-to-end-protests...

18. What has your experience been with the policing of protests throughout #FeesMustFall?

This a post of mine on November 14

Throughout the last month we have been provoked, baited and brutalised in response to our expressions of legitimate grievance. We have had guns and knives pulled on us. We have been driven over and pepper sprayed, teargassed, and shot at with rubber bullets. This has not been done to disperse us for our own safety, this has been done to deliberately hurt us, to deliberately stop us from standing up for what is right by using fear and police brutality.

Witness the police brutality by watching this video, shot last night at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), where we gathered for a Peaceful Vigil to highlight and oppose the very same brutality enacted by private security and SAPS officials that we were met with last night!

*When the signing stops*

video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3qiXOXgpwM&feature=youtu.be

19.  Are there important differences between police and private security policing to note?

Both were aggressive towards students, Private security in the first 3 days:

Disclaimer: Image was provided to Shaeera to express her feelings in response to question about about private security forces on campus.

20. Various students have accused the state for surveillance of their phone lines, social media and even tailing them. What is your current understanding/experience of surveillance of student leaders in the movement?

There were rumours that we were under surveillance, however in my experience I cannot confirm nor deny these.

21.  Please give comment on your successor for SRC president, Nompendulo, and the current direction of the SRC.

A former student leader once told me “every generation gets the leadership that it deserves, and this leadership is a reflection of the mass it leads” Nompendulo will be merely carrying on the fight. The strategy is the same, towards the immediate realization of free and quality higher education and the end of outsourcing on our campus. Students have entrusted the President and her collective to make tactical decisions that will take us to the strategic goal and I wish her and her team the best of luck. It is difficult being a woman in leadership, we cannot be naïve to think that the world we live in is not inherently patriarchal and racist.

Read my message to her and final statement to students:

Coming to the end of a term on the Student Representative Council gives one time to reflect, to think, to ponder. One gets a chance to question decisions that were made. To analyse whether they were the best decisions and how they have affected us. The critical question that needs to be asked is whether we have left the students' movement in a better position than when it was entrusted to us as a collective. History will answer this; I trust that it will be objective.

To President Mcebo Freedom Dlamini, we started this journey together. We fought, we strategised, and we continue to stay committed to restoring the dignity of the black child. As you told me when I took this office midway through our term, “pick up my gun and carry on fighting,” and that is what we did.

This year has proven to be exceptionally challenging. We have been confronted with crisis upon crisis yet we put our heads down and worked harder, thought deeper and remained strong in our fight and for that I must thank every single member on the SRC. Apart from the general duties of an SRC, we have raised millions of Rands for poor students, we have maintained the solidarity between workers and students, we have fought xenophobia on our campus and we have shut down Wits. "We," here does not refer to us as the SRC alone, it refers to the collective student body. We have done this together, side by side with our sub-committees, house committees, other leadership structures and all students who were involved on our campus beyond the books.

I must make special mention to my Deputy President and my rock in the toughest of times, Mbokodo, Ms. Omhle Ntshingila, you have held our team together. The job of a Deputy is the most unrewarding (I know, I was one) but you have provided me with a shoulder and a klap as and when needed most.

This year has highlighted the power of a mobilised youth voice. Let it be known and forever remember that a mobilised youth can shake the core of an unjust system, and this is just the beginning. The challenge to all students is to maintain this unity, for without it we are surely doomed to failure. The easiest thing to do in times of difficulty is to demonise and label the other side, we must transcend these dichotomies that divide us and deter us from succeeding, for it is only when we do this that we will truly control the way the wind changes.

To my successor President Nompendulo Ulo Mkatshwa, I say “pick up my gun and carry on fighting". You now bear a great responsibility. Remain resolute and steadfast in your fight. May you be guided by the courage of Mama Winnie Mandela, the compassion of Mama Albertina Sisulu, the fighting spirit of Comrade Leila Khaled and the wisdom of Mama Charlotte Maxeke.

To look at where we started from and how far we have come since, Wits (and I daresay, South Africa) will never be the same again. Go and write those exams. Go forth and conquer that Edge. We will meet again on the picket lines inside Solomon Mahlangu House to finish what we have started. As Sankara says: "You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future.” We are all mad, and it is madness which will bring about the change we so desperately need.

Thank you for your trust in us.

Aluta Continua. The Struggle Continues.

https://www.facebook.com/shaeera.kalla/posts/10203700725438370\