By Praise Adejimi
This article is exclusive to the online Edition 2 (Wrap Edition) of VARSITY Newspaper.
Students of Graça Machel Hall have been protesting in support of their staff’s workers’ rights, to raise awareness for the exploitation that the staff are enduring.
On the 1st of March 2018, Graça Machel Hall residence was vandalised. The vandalism was a response to the alleged exploitation that UCT’s catering staff have had to deal with over the last few months. Students took it upon themselves to challenge management, as they felt that nothing was being done about these conditions. After the vandalism, some students in the res claimed to have felt that the protest had gotten “forceful” and “aggressive”, and while they support what the protesters are trying to do, they feel a new method needs to be found.
More passive forms of resistance were consequently taken. Graça Machel students signed petitions and conducted silent protests inside their dining hall. At this point, VARSITY began an investigation into the matter, focusing on what pushed students to protest and how these protests are impacting other students.
VARSITY spoke to a student who communicates with the catering staff on these issues. “The catering department has a serious issue of understaffing. Dining hall lines have been long to the point where I’ve missed a class – you can see that only 3 people are in the kitchen attempting to feed all 300+ of us at Graça Machel. I can only imagine what the other res staff is going through,” she commented. A member of Graça Machel’s catering staff echoed this sentiment, saying that they “are being exploited daily here at UCT. I do the work of two people, when I get home my legs are swollen, and I never see my children. When you speak up, they threaten to fire you.”
SRC member, Athabile Nonxuba, explained that UCT’s effort to outsource workers has led to uncertainty among the workforce. Therefore, students are advocating that if UCT hires more workers (which they believe that they should), those workers should be the ones not currently employed on a permanent basis.
UCT management has rejected these claims. UCT spokesperson, Elijah Moholola, has stated that the university has made great efforts to insource staff and increase their salaries, only contracting employees on temporary bases when permanent staff are ill and shifts need to be covered. He also states that Graça Machel Residence has a ratio of 1 catering staff member to 16 students, which is better than other larger catering residences, where it is 1 catering staff member to 20 students. Moholola further comments that all catering staff members get a 30-minute break on their 6-7.5hour shifts, and that the only requirement for these breaks is that they get back to their work stations on time.
This protest was continued several weeks later, which VARSITY covered in another article. Click here to read it.