Univen puts shocking twist on ‘cram college’
Student ‘squatters’ pay to share Univen’s crowded rooms and run-down bathrooms
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.
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.
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.