Broken showers, clogged toilets and a lack of study areas are just some of the struggles Walter Sisulu University (WSU) students residing at privately-owned residences face on a daily basis.
The students recently staged a protest over the state of privately-owned residences in East London.
The Student Representative Council (SRC) claimed that the university provided residences that did not meet higher education specifications.
WSU spokeswoman, Yonela Tukwayo, said the university spent R145-million a year to accommodate 5876 students at privately-owned residences across all four campuses and admitted that some residences were indeed in unsatisfactory condition. “The reality is that universities in small cities and rural towns are not spoilt for choice and often take the little accommodation that is available,” Tukwayo said.
Following student protests in May, the Daily Dispatch visited two of the residences the students complained about – Clark House and at 67 St James Road.
Attempts to access Gladstone House, a female student residence also in the CBD, were thwarted by a man with a foreign accent, who claimed to be the owner of the building. The man yelled at the Dispatch photographer to stop taking pictures of his building.
Situated in the East London city centre, Clark House used to be an office block which was converted into student residences.
No 67 St James Road in Southernwood is a house partitioned into rooms to accommodate students. The Clark House building has four floors and accommodates 130 male students. Although there is an elevator, it was not working when the Dispatch arrived. The Dispatch observed broken doors, one of the floors had no kitchen area and, as a result, students said they washed dishes in the bathroom basin.
Each floor has one bathroom that has a toilet bowl and two showers that are not working.
The showers were blocked by stinking, murky water and according to students, they have been in that condition for almost two months.
Although new showers were installed in the basement area, most of them had broken pipes and shower heads and remained unused. There are no study areas at all.
Students said when they want to study in a conducive environment, they have to walk to the nearest campus which is College Street and risk getting mugged when it’s dark.
One of the kitchens is so small that when you stretch out your arms you can touch both walls.
The students also complained of inadequate hot water, stoves and storage space. The housing committee secretary at Clark House, Lusindiso Mbayana said the students have agreed that if the building was not fixed, they would not return to the residence in the second semester.
“The university, together with the owner have promised to fix the building during the mid-year holiday. If the situation remains the same when we return, we will leave and the university will have to find alternative accommodation for us,” Mbayana said.
At 67 St James Road there are five rooms, which house 10 students.
The students mostly complained about the lack of privacy, especially in the bathroom. The house is partitioned off with plywood boards.
“If you have a conversation in your room, the entire house hears you,” one student said.
Another student said what was more degrading to them was the lack of privacy in the bathroom area.
The small bathroom has two showers in both corners and in-between the two, is the toilet which has no walls around it.
“If someone takes a shower you cannot use the toilet and if someone is on the toilet you cannot shower, unless you do not mind the smell,” one student said.
The students also complained of having no WiFi, no study area and no television room. Tukwayo said when looking for private residences, the university placed adverts in the media to call for proposals.
A committee comprising of SRC, residence officer, facilities manager and procurement officer then conducted site inspections and accepted or rejected buildings based on inspection.
“Those that meet the criteria are fully accredited and those that partially meet the criteria are given time to fix the identified shortfalls.”
Tukwayo said after the protest action, the students at both Clark House and Gladstone House confirmed with the residence officer that work was in progress to resolve all complaints.
“No further complaints were received and the last communication we received was that they were happy with the progress made,” Tukwayo said.