The union called in thugs to assault members who had come to its offices to terminate their membership.
Former members of the Academic and Professional Staff Association (APSA) at Unisa gave a grim account of how they nearly paid the ultimate price when they cut ties with this union. While they were at the union’s offices in Sunnyside, Pretoria, last month to hand in the resignation letters of about 350 members who felt the union no longer represents their interests, they were told to wait for the general secretary as he alone is authorised to sign resignation forms. They waited unaware of the bloody tussle and scuffle that would soon ensue between them and the office bearers.
“We thought they were calling the general secretary to come and sign but to our surprise we saw some people who were not part of the union arriving and immediately an argument broke out with the accusation that we are ‘destroying our union.’ We tried to reason with them that we came in peace and wanted to exercise our rights. They would not listen as they started beating us up. We tried to run away but they overpowered the three of us as they were too many. One of them hit me on my face with a sharp object which looked like a panga. It left a gaping wound and I bled profusely and felt weak,” recounts Mmamoloko Molele, one of the victims who accompanied his colleagues on that fateful day, which led to his wife’s collapse upon hearing the news. He alleges that among the people who took part in the assault was the union’s president, Prof Tshepo Lephakga, and the general secretary, Prof Benjamin Senokoane. “These are esteemed academics. I never thought they’ll behave like thugs,” he laments.
Although a case of assault with intention to cause grievous bodily harm was opened, which is due to sit for a court hearing on the 2nd and 3rd of December, Molele adds he suffered untold injuries to his body and emotions. He still suffers flashbacks since the ordeal. He now has to live with scars on his face. He moreover has escalating medical bills to pay as his medical aid dried up while receiving care at a private hospital.
Dr Rendani Sipho Netanda, the union’s former branch secretary, was also part of the delegation sent to deliver resignations and was also badly assaulted. He says the union officials were infuriated because they were now closing sources of the union’s revenue. “We could no longer carry on with the union which doesn’t comply and cannot account for its finances,” he says. He adds that APSA’s existence is at the mercy and grace of Unisa. “For years they failed to hold successful conferences, could not provide audited financial statements and don’t meet the threshold required to sit on the university’s bargaining council.” He says their new union, the Admin Staff and Educators Union (ASEU) is gaining traction and signalling hunger for change.
When contacted to comment on the matter Senokoane confirmed the incident and said the complainants are not their members and that further details will only be divulged in court. “You’ll understand I can’t speak on this matter as it is before the courts,” he says. Lephakga’s phone rang unanswered.