Univen puts shock­ing twist on ‘cram col­lege’

Stu­dent ‘squat­ters’ pay to share Univen’s crowded rooms and run-down bath­rooms

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By PREGA GOVENDER goven­derp@sun­day­times.co.za

No ac­com­mo­da­tion for 10 000 stu­dents; up to seven of them forced to share one room; five toi­lets and four show­ers for 100 women . . . the Univer­sity of Venda would pass for a pigsty, but as a place of learn­ing for fu­ture teach­ers, lawyers and sci­en­tists, it’s a dis­grace.

Some of Lim­popo’s fu­ture teach­ers, lawyers and sci­en­tists are living in squalor, squat­ting in in­hu­mane con­di­tions in a pre­fab­ri­cated hos­tel at the Univer­sity of Venda.

Lack of ac­com­mo­da­tion for al­most 10 000 stu­dents means up to seven stu­dents are shar­ing some rooms meant for two, with more than 100 women hav­ing to share five toi­lets and four show­ers.

The 31 dou­ble rooms and one sin­gle room in each of the hos­tel’s six blocks, which were meant to ac­com­mo­date 63 stu­dents at most, are home to more than 200 stu­dents.

Mean­while, two in­com­plete res­i­dences stand empty, aban­doned by con­trac­tors five months ago.

Sleep­ing on the floor

The Sun­day Times spoke to six women from Mpumalanga who share a room in Block P4.

The four “squat­ters” pay the two le­gal oc­cu­pants R400 a month for the priv­i­lege. They said this was com­mon.

While two of the squat­ters sleep on sag­ging mat­tresses on two beds, the other two sleep on blan­kets on the floor.

One of them, a sec­ond-year stu­dent who is study­ing to be­come a teacher, said there was no pri­vacy be­cause male stu­dents also used their bath­rooms.

“The guys come and bathe here, which is not good. We don’t feel com­fort­able be­cause they come here as they please.”

The univer­sity pro­vides ac­com­mo­da­tion for 2 200 stu­dents in sev­eral res­i­dences on cam­pus, and a fur­ther 1 400 beds off the cam­pus are of­fered by pri­vate ser­vice providers ac­cred­ited by the univer­sity.

Just un­der 10 000 stu­dents still need ac­com­mo­da­tion.

In Block P3, only one of the four uri­nals and three of the four toi­lets are work­ing.

The en­trances to the five shower cu­bi­cles, four of which are work­ing, are shielded by black or green plas­tic sheet­ing and of­fer very lit­tle pri­vacy.

Some of the show­ers leak con­stantly.

Not an op­tion

An­other “squat­ter”, Endis­ani Net­shilindi, 21, a third-year bio­chem­istry and mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy stu­dent, con­firmed that five stu­dents, in­clud­ing him­self, live in his room.

Net­shilindi, who sleeps on a large piece of sponge rub­ber on the floor, said he paid R500 a month to stay in the room.

“I have to travel if I don’t stay here and that’s not an op­tion,” he said.

Stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil pres­i­dent Mandla Shik­wambana said that when he ap­proached the main­te­nance sec­tion for as­sis­tance in pro­vid­ing beds for stu­dents, he was told: “We are run­ning out of ma­te­rial.”

He added: “I said we needed to change the mat­tresses be­cause they were old, but you will just speak and speak. The only time they will come and listen to you is if there’s a protest.”

Univen vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Peter Mbati de­scribed the ac­com­mo­da­tion prob­lem as a cri­sis.

“Of­fi­cially we don’t al­low squat­ting but we know it hap­pens. If you kick these kids out of res­i­dence and we know there’s no other ac­com­mo­da­tion around here, what’s go­ing to hap­pen to them?”

He said an 1 800-bed fa­cil­ity un­der con­struc­tion was ex­pected to be ready early next year.

Com­ment­ing on the halted con­struc­tion of the 320-bed res­i­dence for women and 314-bed res­i­dence for men that were orig­i­nally meant to cost R135-mil­lion, he said the con­trac­tors had aban­doned the project be­cause they had “un­der­priced” it.

It will cost the univer­sity a fur­ther R38mil­lion to com­plete the con­struc­tion of both res­i­dences.

Very dis­ap­pointed

Said Mbati: “I feel very dis­ap­pointed be­cause I have not been able to de­liver on time.

“We have a huge short­fall of stu­dent res­i­dences and my dis­ap­point­ment is that stu­dents have been un­able to ac­cess this re­source.”

But over­crowd­ing prob­lems are not lim­ited to res­i­dences. Many stu­dents have to stand out­side lec­ture halls be­cause of a lack of space. Some 672 reg­is­tered third-year phi­los­o­phy stu­dents at­tend lec­tures in a hall meant for 350 stu­dents.

At least 589 stu­dents reg­is­tered for English com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills are ex­pected to sit in a lec­ture hall that should ac­com­mo­date 300 stu­dents.

Stu­dent Mul­weli Mu­dauhi, 19, said it was dif­fi­cult tak­ing notes while stand­ing for an hour in class.

“Some­times you can’t even hear what the lec­turer is say­ing. It’s dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate while stand­ing.”

Lindiwe Mu­laudzi, the lec­turer teach­ing English com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, said over­crowd­ing was a huge prob­lem.

“It also dis­cour­ages stu­dents be­cause if they are 10 to 15 min­utes late, they know they are not go­ing to find space, so they de­cide to stay away.”

Univer­sity of Zu­l­u­land spokes­woman Gcina Nh­leko con­firmed that it also had an over­crowd­ing prob­lem be­cause of large classes.

She said that over­crowd­ing was more pro­nounced at his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged in­sti­tu­tions be­cause of the his­toric ne­glect of in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing.

Pic­tures: Moeletsi Mabe

Some of the Univer­sity of Venda’s hos­tel shower stalls that hun­dreds of stu­dents share; an over­crowded lec­ture hall where some stu­dents have to stand at the back; and some of the di­lap­i­dated ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Third-year stu­dent Endis­ani Net­shilindi pays R500 a month to share this room with four other stu­dents.

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