Varsity is anything but
don’t see. When you are teaching and you keep on saying ‘as you can see’, what do you expect a blind student to see?” she said.
She said students in wheelchairs sometimes cannot even consult lecturers because lifts are not working and they can’t reach the lecturers’ offices.
“You go to the administrator and say: ‘Can you tell prof so-and-so that I’m here; can they come and attend to me?’ They throw tantrums and don’t want to attend to students,” Mthiyane said.
“When this university got recognised as the number one institution catering for students with disabilities, it meant that everything is at its best level and that is what we expect — the best. We will not be apologetic about our issues,” she said.
Many other students shared their experiences during the awareness campaign and described how some lecturers are not at all helpful.
“Stop ignoring us,” was Mahlatse Mampuru’s appeal to the lecturers. He lost his eyesight when he was 14. He is a sports fanatic.
“If I were to choose between being here and sport, I would choose sport [rather] than being here. In sport, the commentators, even though I cannot see, they give me the full information about what is happening on the field.
“In 2010, when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored that beautiful goal [during the Fifa World Cup], I experienced that moment the same time it happened and not after.
“But here you go to the class, the lecturer uses a projector and you cannot see, and they start saying this and that and you cannot see what they are talking about. So for me, being here sometimes is just useless,” he told those gathered in a lecture hall.
Students also bemoaned the fact that some lecturers refuse to help them and “diagnose” them and say they are not disabled because their disability is not visible.
One such as student is Sphesihle Khoza. She had a stroke when she was a baby and cannot use her left limbs. Her feet do not have sensation.
“I can’t even do simple things. I can’t even stretch my arms. Even when I have to take fingerprints, I struggle to take fingerprints with my left hand because it is not working … and just because people see me smiling, they say I’m joking when I say I’m disabled.”
She said because she can only use one hand she struggles to type assignments and it takes her longer to finish them because her arm gets tired. “It’s so painful when I have to explain that I’m disabled and I can’t finish some of the things in time. I’m pleading, reach [out] to us,” she said.
Partially sighted student Nomfundo Nkosi, who is also living with albinism, said her life was easy until she came to the University of Limpopo.
“You go to class and you are expected to be in class every single day, and here is a projector and you are sitting in front and you see zero. The font is small, you see nothing and you are expected [to succeed]. I used to not go in class in my first year, because I did not see any reason to go to class because I could not see on the board. I decided that I will just study on my own,” she said.
She shared the story of an incident when a lecturer used a small chalkboard to draw graphs and, when she informed the lecturer that she and a friend could not see them, the lecturer said she was lying.
“She refused to understand and we were in tears, literally in tears. And my other friend even stopped attending that class,” Nkosi said.
Some of the lecturers who attended the awareness campaign said the session was an eye-opener and they would start being more sensitive to the students’ needs.
Most said their knowledge of disabled students’ requirements and issues was limited.
“It is true that we do not have knowledge, partly we accept that what we have been doing,” said a lecturer. “But there were also presentations that showed that sometimes we are limited in understanding your needs and your issues ... It hurts us when we realise how much damage we have caused.”
The University of Limpopo failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.
Reaching out: University of Limpopo student Precious Ralefeta (above) has suffered from osteoarthritis since she was 17, affecting her mobility. She has to use a wheelchair when she travels long distances, but it’s not easy to get around campus when the lifts aren’t working. Students such as William Jonga (left) took part in a recent awareness campaign, to sensitise staff to the problems faced by students with disabilities. Photos: Oupa Nkosi