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At UFS ‘Rugby Is More Important Than Students And Workers’


A short documentary film titled Shimla Park: A Campus Race Struggle depicts a campaign by black students and workers for “decolonization” of the University of the Free State (UFS) by honing in on the disruption of a Varsity Cup rugby match four years ago.

The documentary illustrates events on 22, 23 and 25 February 2016.

Explaining the motivation for winding back time to this event, filmmaker Tshiamo Malatji said: “Many people are still unaware of the struggles workers experience within spaces of higher learning.

“They are unaware of some of the struggles that people of color, women and even members of the disability community experience.”

When a 2015 labor protest was unresolved, a group of students and workers staged a pitch invasion at Shimla Park to get the attention of the then vice-chancellor, Prof Jonathan Jansen, the film states.

The match, between the Shimlas and Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz team, was disrupted in the 17th minute.

At the time, the university said: “The rugby players of both teams‚ as well as the match officials‚ immediately cleared the field as the protesters moved across the field towards the halfway line.”

After a few minutes, ‚ UFS said, spectators ran on to the field.

“The protesters were chased off the field and beaten by the spectators.”

News reports at the time said several women, black and white, were also beaten by protesters during the match clash.

Malatji said: “There is still a sense of misunderstanding about what happened way back in 2016. Especially with the current crop of students who weren’t there at the time, who do not understand why those protests occurred, although they do know they occurred. There is an information gap that needs to be filled.”

The former UFS student said the point of the documentary “is to tell these stories that have been silenced and give voice to the issues that many people in these spaces have experienced.”

Being unaware of the struggles that affect these disadvantaged groups, Malatji said, makes people fail to see the importance of progressive movements and what they stand for.

“With a lot of that lack of knowledge [about the struggles of people of color, women and the disabled community] also comes a misunderstanding of progressive movements to bring about change.

“The documentary is certainly still relevant today. The University of the Free State still has not insourced workers and doesn’t seem to show a clear intention to do so any time soon.”

University spokesperson Lacea Loader said: “UFS has made significant strides in its transformation process. The development and implementation of an integrated transformation plan is a case in point.

“The development of the plan started in January 2017 and it comprises 12 workstreams that broadly focus on the core university functions, university culture, and structural and operational issues.” 

Discussions regarding possible insourcing at UFS saw an agreement reached on a decent or living wage in 2017, which saw remuneration packages of employees at service providers increased, the university said in a previous statement. Negotiations ensued between the UFS council, trade unions and the workers’ forum representing outsourced workers.

This week, Loader said: “The UFS is working towards an insourcing model for possible phased-in implementation as from 2021 onwards.” 

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