UNIONISED staff at the troubled Walter Sisulu University did not grasp the potentially disastrous consequences of a strike that started six weeks ago, Higher Education director-general Gwebs Qonde said yesterday.
Staff at the university, one of the most underperforming in South Africa, have stuck to their 8% to 10% salary increase demand and rejected management's 4.25% offer.
Speaking in Pretoria yesterday, Qonde said: "The unions do not appear to grasp the gravity of their ... continued action.
"The prolonged strike has put students at risk and undermined their right to education." Despite having the lowest undergraduate success rate, the university's staff shared a one-off R48-million bonus last year.
Qonde said the payment was part of the government's "compromise-and-sacrifice" strategy.
"It had to happen ... It demonstrates our commitment to finding lasting solutions.
"It was not a waste, it was a result of negotiations," he said.
As a result of the strike, the university has decided to close residences and send its students home in the short term.
This has led to clashes between students and the police, with at least 12 students injured.
Qonde said the university's administrator had emphasised that all efforts would be made to ensure the academic year was not lost. Also, students would be called to attend classes soon.
The university's administration was taken over by the national government in 2011 because of financial maladministration.
Staff salaries still take the biggest chunk out of the university's income.
"The independent assessor in his report indicated that personnel costs constituted 80% of the operational income.
"With the intervention, the staff payroll cost is now 75% of income," Qonde said.
The national norm for staff salaries at other universities is between 55% and 62%.
Qonde said since the cabinet endorsed the decision to take over administration of the university, "unhealthy stuff" had been uncovered and 20 people, including lecturers, had been fired.
Criminal charges were also being contemplated.
The biggest problems were misuse of funds from the university's infrastructure development kitty and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which provides money for underprivileged youth to get a higher education.
The technically and commercially bankrupt university has an overdraft facility of R250-million and liabilities amounting to R581-million.
Qonde said though the financial situation was precarious, the institution was not in dire straits.
In the short term, financial stability had been achieved with all creditors paid, staff salaries secured, backlogs cleared and a break-even budget tabled for the year, he said.
Qonde also dismissed Eastern Cape ANC secretary Oscar Mabuyane's claim this week that the ministry had "washed its hands" of the crisis.
This was evidenced by the additional R858-million that had been set aside to try to restore financial stability.
This was split into:
- R310-million to address historic student debt;
- R64.2-million for teaching and learning technology, of which R32.1-million had been transferred;
- R14.4-million for technical expertise;
- R48-million for staff bonuses last year; and
- R421.8-million through infrastructure and efficiency funding allocations for the 2012-13 to 2013-14 cycles.