Videos: Criminal cases, arrests and staff deadlock amid UP strike

A scuffle broke out at the University of Pretoria as staffers demand wage increases. Police dispersed the crowds by using stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Three criminal cases have been opened as the University of Pretoria (UP) and its National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu)-affiliated staff stalemate rages on.

The two parties have disagreed on wage increases, with staff demanding 7% while UP offers 4%.

Police confirmed they are investigating three cases.

On Monday, a scuffle broke out and police threw stun grenades and tear gas, and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

The incident occurred at the Hatfield campus, a week after first-year students began their tertiary learning experience, only to be obstructed and denied access to campus.

A case of public violence was opened and a suspect was arrested.

The next day, Nehawu marched from University Road to the Brooklyn Police Station in the east of Pretoria.

“Two more cases of assault were opened on February 27 by two victims and no one has been arrested,” says Gauteng police spokesperson Dimaktso Nevhulwi.

Nehawu Tshwane chairperson Ivan Ramogale told workers outside the police station that they had to escort the victims who suffered injuries to be part of the process and provide a statement.

“We explained that Nehawu did not provoke the members of the public order policing.

“We went into the [Hatfield] campus on February 26 as the university is refusing to allow other members of Nehawu to join this strike. We went there to request them to release them to join the strike.”

Shots fired

Former SRC secretary general and student activist Tarik Lalla recounted how the police became violent with students who were in solidarity with the UP-affiliated staff during the protest action on Monday.

He questioned how the university could allow firearms on campus even after several students had joined the strike action.

“Students and workers do not bring firearms to the University of Pretoria. However, the police brought weapons only with the university in mind. It is as though security is actively participating in the harm of the people.”

According to Lalla, there were also students present when police threw tear gas canisters and shot rubber bullets at the crowd.

“Police opened fire and there were students around, not part of the protest and they were being shot at. We had students and workers disperse after one stun grenade [was thrown], however, more shots were also offloaded as people were already dispersing.”

He claimed the university did not have students’ and workers’ interests at heart.

“We have an institution that remains arrogant in the face of workers and students.”

He said students could not afford the fees and shared the sentiments as the workers’ demands for a wage increase.

“As students, we should be outraged at what the university is doing to the workers and parents. The university says it cannot offer 7%, yet we have workers whose children attend this institution and need to pay the absorbent fees.”

UP responds

In a statement, UP confirmed teargas and rubber bullets were used as ‘police acted to disperse the striking workers’. It, however, said it would also look into reports of use of force in the incident.

“A group of striking staff unlawfully disrupted academic activities. Police officers engaged the striking staff and asked them to follow the picketing rules.”

Spokesperson Sashlin Girraj said the order against the striking workers had only been ‘successfully obtained’ yesterday.

“This should be an affirmation of our commitment regarding the safety and security of the university community. The court’s decision, which comes amid ongoing labour unrest, imposes restrictions on activities that could disrupt the university’s operations.”

He said the interdict prohibits any unlawful interference with university operations, and mandates a ban on any violent or unlawful conduct such as harassment, assault, prevention of services, interference with traffic, and damage to property in pursuit of wage demands.

“The university emphasises the importance of upholding the rule of law and ensuring the safety and security of all individuals on its campuses.”

Girraj added the university remained committed to resolving labour disputes through constructive dialogue and within the framework of the law.

“In light of recent developments, the university wishes to address that while appreciating Nehawu’s dedication to their members, the university faces significant financial challenges that prevent immediate compliance with the demands.”

He said the university had to factor in a modest income growth of 2.5% growth in its main source of revenue, high staff costs, high student debt, and operational expenses having a strong contribution to the decision to manage the salary bill.

“In the interest of responsible financial management, the university encourages Nehawu to collaborate closely with university management as they implement the financial sustainability plan.

“This plan aims to reduce costs and explore revenue enhancement opportunities, ensuring the institution’s long-term financial stability.”

Girraj said the university remained optimistic that through constructive co-operation, it could continue to provide quality education and support to its community while navigating the current labour landscape.

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