Beds before beauty projects at Venda varsity
Six to a room on a campus short of student hostels
● Up to six students share rooms for two at the University of Venda because of the shortage of residences, yet R15-million had been set aside to build a house of prayer.
A former vice-chancellor, Peter Mbati, also wanted to spend R70-million on a staff entertainment centre, R45-million on a multipurpose hall for graduation ceremonies and R15-million on a new administration building, while 10 000 students needed accommodation.
The university has shelved Mbati’s projects and the money will be used to complete several dormitory buildings abandoned by contractors.
Among these are a 320-bed hostel for women and a 314-bed hostel for men.
Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor in a letter received by the university on June 13 expressed concern about its procurement and management of infrastructure projects.
The Sunday Times was informed that an allegation that Mbati was connected to Andany Holdings, a private-equity and investment holding company planning to build hostels on campus, was also raised.
Pandor is planning to appoint an independent assessor after senior managers at the university informed her department of its financial challenges in February .
Mbati left the university in January after his second five-year term ended.
In a recent letter, acting vice-chancellor Jan Crafford said financial sustainability had been identified for three years running as the top risk faced by the university.
He blamed the deteriorating financial situation on, among other things, previously inadequate financial management.
“We now manage cash flow on a monthto-month basis, which is new to all of us. We now allocate money from the different dedicated grants received from government to appropriate ring-fenced accounts. In the past we used to pool all these monies and call them ‘reserves’,” said Crafford.
He said the university was awaiting the results of an independent investigation into the “abandoned” infrastructure projects.
Crafford said a forensic investigation into the management of infrastructure projects undertaken in 2016 had revealed irregularities such as unauthorised deviation from initial bids.
For example, the R1.5-million budgeted for a recreational swimming pool ballooned to R4.9-million after ablution facilities, changing rooms, palisade fencing and paving were added.
Aspire Architects drew up the plans for the house of prayer, the staff entertainment centre and the multipurpose hall.
The Sunday Times has established that a project management team representing the architects and engineers who worked on the design and drawings of these facilities met the university recently because it had not been paid between R4-million and R5-million owed for services rendered.
Mandla Shikwambana, chairman of the EFF student group, said the university’s management had undermined the needs of students.
University spokesman Takalani Dzaga said Pandor had written to the university about her intention to appoint an independent assessor.
“We do not want to compromise our minister’s eventual course of action by responding to your inquiry at this stage,” he said.
He said the university had raised with the department some of the problems with infrastructure development on campus.
Pandor’s spokeman Lunga Ngqengelele confirmed that the former vice-chancellor was named as a director in documenation provided by the private company involved in the proposed Univen development.
He said that the university anticipated a budget shortfall of R60-million by the end of this year.
Lindelani Cibi, a shareholder and director of Andany Holdings, denied that Mbati was involved with the company.
He said Mbati was hired by a separate entity — Stellar Student Fund — to encourage other universities with investment companies to partner with Stellar to form a consortium to fund the construction of student hostels.
“We hired retired vice-chancellors as employees. They were not shareholders.”
Mbati denied being a shareholder or director of Andany.
He said there had been broad consultation with staff and students on the proposed house of prayer, staff entertainment centre, multipurpose hall and main administration building.
“These buildings were planned but never constructed,” he said.
Mbati said that the completion of residences for men and women as well as the DBSA-funded 1 800-bed residence would result in almost doubling the student bed capacity.
A half-built building at the University of Venda, left, and an artist impression of the prayer house.