· Students claim they are still jammed in one semester for almost 10 months
· No substantive SRC as elections were halted
· Exams still in Limbo as lecturers are still on strike
Mbabane: Students from the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) have their future delayed by almost a year now as they are still in the first semester of the academic year since October 2020.
Normally, a semester at UNESWA takes about 10-12 weeks to complete but to this day the university has not completed a semester that began last year in October.
The protest by academic staff members consisting of lecturers took the last straw to all the problems faced by the academic institution as it resulted in examinations that were already in progress being halted. For each semester to be completed there has to be examinations written. If not, it means the semester is still incomplete.
The examinations that were scheduled for May 5, 2021 at the Kwaluseni Campus were halted as students were locked out of the institution by workers who were on strike. The students were supposed to sit their examination papers at 9 am, but when they arrived at the university at around 8 am, they found that the main gate was locked by the workers of the institution who were on strike. The examination was for the first semester of the 2020/21 academic year.
The lecturers commenced their strike on May 5, 2021, where they were demanding their Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA). During their strike action, which they termed a ‘combo strike’, the workers demanded three percent cost-of-living adjustment (CoLA) for the 2020/21 financial year and the removal of the Chairman of the University Council, Prince David.
Regarding the three percent CoLA, the workers, who are organized under the banner of the National Workers Union in Swaziland Higher Institutions (NAWUSHI), said they had exhausted all available avenues, but their demand was not adhered to. They said they even petitioned Parliament on same but did not yield the desired results.
NAWUSHI President Samuel Shongwe told Times of Eswatini that UNESWA employees did not benefit from the CoLA that was stipulated in the Public Enterprises Unit (PEU) Circular of March 2020, which granted three percent as Major to be used for 2020/21 salary adjustment. He said they believed that the institution had the financial muscle to implement the salary adjustment.
He said this was because apart from receiving a government subvention, UNESWA currently had many self-sponsored students and it also received donations from individuals and various institutions locally, regionally, and abroad. He said they believed that the university council chairman was allegedly stopping the institution from implementing the circular. He said this was because the chairman allegedly called them to a meeting and told them that the university did not have money and in that regard, they would not get the three percent CoLA.
Worth noting is that the university is currently without their Students Representative Council (SRC) as elections were halted due to some reasons. These reasons include the fact that for elections to be conducted all students were supposed to be in school for balloting rules stipulated by the constitution.
When sought for comment, Thoba Dlamini who is a member of the electoral commission said they tried online elections but it was a fiasco as some students rigged the votes.
Vote rigging involves illegal interference with the process of an election, either by increasing the vote share of a favored candidate or depressing the vote share of rival candidates, or both.
Dlamini said upon realizing that, they had to start afresh the elections and disqualify those students who manipulated the elections. He said while they were trying that, they were challenged by the fact that not all students were allowed back on Campus due to COVID-19 while the nomination process requires them to place notices on the notice boards in all three campuses for a couple of days. Dlamini said initially due to all those constraints they failed to hold elections for the new SRC.
He was asked about the latest memorandum that was issued by the Registrar Dr. Salebona Simelane, on Monday, May 24, 2021, and announced the closure of the institution (Kwaluseni Campus) on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 as follows:
“The administrative Management Committee resolved at its meeting today that Kwaluseni Campus be closed Tuesday, 25th May 2021 for security reasons.”
Dlamini said this the memo came after the students revealed that they wanted to submit their petition on Tuesday which would be demanding the university to be re-opened and giving the management of the institution 48 hours to come up with the date of re-opening the institution.
Dlamini who is also, a final year student at UNESWA said the university was faced with too many financial constraints which now deprived them of their right as students to have their education. He said there was a need for an independent audit that would be able to unearth how the finances were utilized in the institution. He said this because the institution was engulfed with some debts including the over E656 million owed to Eswatini Revenue Authority (SRA) in Pay-As-Earn. This debt was revealed by the Auditor General’s report which was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Finance Neal Rijkenberg.
Dlamini said the financial problems have deprived the students of this year’s Fresher’s ball. He said when they wanted to organize this annual event, they were told that there was no budget for that event which is something that does not make sense to him because when he left the SRC office last year he claimed to have left about E1.1 million. He was the director of finance in the previous SRC.
When asked about the situation in the institution, UNESWA Registrar Dr. Salebona Simelane said the university was still running within their stipulated time frame as they intended to complete this semester in July.
Dr. Simelane confirmed that there were delays that were mainly caused by COVID-19. He said the main reason for this semester to take so long was because the university was delayed in completing the 2nd semester for 2019/2020 academic year. He said for that reason it pushed the 1st semester of the 2020/2021 academic year back.
Simelane said the current semester which is the 1st semester of the current academic year began on October 26, 2020 which by calculations has taken almost 7 months now. The Registrar said for this semester to take so much time was because things were not done normally as some classes were conducted online and there has been numerous strikes and a semester break which took some time as well.
He said overall, as far as he is concerned it would be an exaggeration to say the semester has taken almost 10 months as some students claim.
When asked on the issue of lecturers striking, he said there were ongoing conversations and engagements between the management and the academic staff members’ representatives. He said though the conversations were not complete, they have made significant progress and they were hoping to reach a conclusion soon.