Univer­sity spends R5m on a pool it can’t use

Venda cam­pus’s ‘Potemkin pool’ one of many cash guz­zlers

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By PREGA GOVENDER

A R4.9-mil­lion recre­ational swim­ming pool at the Univer­sity of Venda has not been used since it was com­pleted last year, be­cause there are no life­guards.

The pool has now been drained, while stu­dents spe­cial­is­ing in sports and bioki­net­ics have to trek to a nearby ho­tel swim­ming pool for their prac­ti­cals.

To add in­sult to in­jury, the univer­sity sent two stu­dents to Dur­ban last year to be trained in life­sav­ing, only to dis­cover when they re­turned that they had only been taught first aid and were not qual­i­fied to res­cue any­one from the wa­ter.

The pool, com­pleted early last year, was sup­posed to cost R1.5-mil­lion but this shot up to R4.9-mil­lion af­ter ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties, chang­ing rooms, pal­isade fenc­ing and paving were added.

The pool is on a list of in­fra­struc­ture projects at the univer­sity for which costs have bal­looned. Oth­ers in­clude a shaded park­ing lot for univer­sity-owned ve­hi­cles, which jumped from R3.9-mil­lion to R8.9-mil­lion; sports courts that es­ca­lated from R1.2-mil­lion to R3.5-mil­lion, and an abat­toir, pig­gery and milk­ing par­lour that in­creased from R10-mil­lion to R17.4-mil­lion.

Staff mem­bers have also ques­tioned the R6.1-mil­lion spent on the univer­sity en­trance gate.

Adding to the univer­sity’s cost crunch is a risk analysis un­der­taken by a team of con­sul­tants, which has re­vealed that the univer­sity needs an ad­di­tional R105.7-mil­lion to com­plete un­fin­ished projects on the cam­pus, in­clud­ing a 320-bed hos­tel for fe­male stu­dents, a 314-bed hos­tel for male stu­dents, the school of health sciences build­ing and the sec­ond phase of the ed­u­ca­tion build­ing.

SRC pres­i­dent Mandla Shik­wambana slammed the size of the pool, say­ing it was meant for “pri­mary school chil­dren”. The pool is said to be 25m x 15m.

He said the SRC had pro­posed to the univer­sity’s man­age­ment in Jan­uary that they get a ser­vice provider to train stu­dents to be­come life­guards.

“Up to now noth­ing has been done. As stu­dents, we feel we are not be­ing taken se­ri­ously.”

He claimed the univer­sity filled the pool with wa­ter just be­fore for­mer higher ed­u­ca­tion deputy min­is­ter Mduduzi Manana vis­ited the cam­pus in March last year to in­spect in­fra­struc­ture projects, just to im­press him.

Within weeks of the visit, the wa­ter was drained, he said.

‘Stu­dents need to swim’

A third-year ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent said univer­sity au­thor­i­ties should un­der­stand that Venda was a very hot place: “Stu­dents need to swim to cool down.”

A mas­ter’s stu­dent said the univer­sity should use the money be­ing paid for in­flated ten­ders to stock the li­brary with books.

“Ref­er­ence books are out­dated. I only have one book for the re­search I am do­ing. When we con­duct re­search, we need to use sev­eral books to back our the­ory.”

Vice-chan­cel­lor Pro­fes­sor Peter Mbati con­firmed that stu­dents spe­cial­is­ing in sports and bioki­net­ics were us­ing a nearby ho­tel’s swim­ming pool for their prac­ti­cals.

He said the pool had been drained be­cause work­ers were do­ing a “fi­nal clean-up” and that it would be opened by Novem­ber.

“It was drained to clean it and give it a nice shine.”

He ad­mit­ted the pool had never been used. “I’m told in terms of the safety re­quire­ments, you need to have a life­guard. We made a sub­mis­sion to the HR com­mit­tee of coun­cil to cre­ate that po­si­tion. I do agree it has taken a lit­tle long.”

Mbati said a foren­sic re­port had found the univer­sity “re­ceived value” for the ad­di­tional R3.4-mil­lion spent on the pool and for the ad­di­tional money spent on park­ing fa­cil­i­ties for the univer­sity’s ve­hi­cle fleet.

“The foren­sic re­port con­firmed there was no ev­i­dence of self-en­rich­ment.”

Com­ment­ing on the aban­doned build­ings, he said the univer­sity would launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cir­cum­stances be­hind the ap­point­ment of con­trac­tors who were un­able to com­plete their projects.

Au­dit­ing firm SizweNt­salubaGo­bodo made six crit­i­cal find­ings re­lated to the univer­sity’s pro­cure­ment and con­tract man­age­ment in a re­port in July. These in­cluded projects not be­ing com­pleted on time and no ev­i­dence of com­pet­i­tive bid­ding for con­tracts val­ued at more than R1-mil­lion.

The empty recre­ational swim­ming pool at the Univer­sity of Venda, in Tho­hoyan­dou, Limpopo, has cost the univer­sity al­most R5-mil­lion.

The aban­doned, half-built, health sciences build­ing at the Univer­sity of Venda, in Tho­hoyan­dou. It is ex­pected to be com­pleted next year for an ad­di­tional R18.7-mil­lion.

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Rus­sell

Pro­fes­sor Peter Mbati in front of the R6.1mil­lion en­trance.

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