Owner disputes student relocation need

Hundreds of University of Fort Hare students have been hurriedly moved out of a building in central East London into other buildings – including one owned by Jacob Zuma’s son-in-law.

A Southernwood building that the University of Fort Hare students have moved to after they were evacuated at Union Arcade Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA

The university took the decision to move the students after ceilings in Union Arcade collapsed a week ago in four of the rooms and fell onto the student occupants.

Less than a day after the incident, structural engineers appointed by UFH, assessed the building – which has more than 200 rooms – and deemed it unsafe for student occupation. A total of 393 students were told to pack and leave, moving to different establishments.

Students, using their NSFAS loans, pay an average of R2 900 a month, totaling a monthly rental of R1.1-million.

SKG Properties which owns Union Arcade, says the affected rooms have, however, been repaired and are ready for use, and that the residence was in good shape.

SKG director Rhett Shaw said he had not officially been told about the move to shift the students.

“Our building met the requirements according to the proposal we gave the institution. Students are happy the building is cleaner and we’ve added a number of things to meet the standards wanted by the institution,” said Shaw.

Last week, a source close to the events told the Dispatch a university team had visited the Melville Heights building in Southernwood, which they assessed for its potential to accommodate Union Arcade students.

The Resident Holdings company lists Lonwabo Sambudla as director. Sambudla is married to Jacob Zuma’s eldest daughter, Duduzile.

When asked about Melville Heights, Sambudla said he was not privy to matters relating to the students. “Speak to the university about this,” he said.

The UFH team had visited the building owned by Sambudla with a view to moving some of the students from Union Arcade to Melville Heights, the source said.

Sambudla had been in the process of taking ownership of the building. “The only delay is that the building is currently occupied by other tenants and students cannot be mixed with other people,” said the source.

University spokesman Kgotso Moabi confirmed students were being moved from Union Arcade. He said engineers appointed by UFH deemed the building unfit for occupation.

Asked whether Melville Heights, as owned by Sambudla, was being considered as permanent accommodation for students, Moabi said all new accommodation for 400 students was short-term until more permanent arrangements could be made.

The engineers report stated that a portion of the first- and second-floor ceilings had collapsed due to water intake, he said.

Moabi added the roof gutters did not have adequate depth for conveying rainwater and they overflowed into the ceilings.

“In many instances, the gutters have localised depressions and are holding water without immediately discharging water towards the down pipes and there appears to be a serious lack of roof maintenance.”

Roof sheeting was broken at some locations where the roof ties into the gutter, he said, and the asbestos in the building was a health hazard.

Asked which engineering company had done the assessment, the university declined to answer or avail the Dispatch of the report.

SKG’s Shaw has taken issue with the engineering report: “I refute the claims made by the UFH engineers. The building has been in use for many years with no problems with the gutters. The ceiling collapse was localised, meaning the problem was not consistent. The down pipes were blocked in Buffalo Street and we had no control of this.

“You saw the pictures. I rubbish UFH report. This must be addressed and reported on. Our engineers confirmed my view.”

Students interviewed by the Dispatch said they were unhappy about being moved from Union Arcade. Some wanted to remain in the building while many asked why they were being made to move out.

A student, Ayabonga Kampi, said they had been told to move to the old NBS building on Thursday night. “We were given 30 minutes to pack and leave the building and we don’t know what the hurry was as the building was fine,” said Kampi.

NBS building owner Mandla Mbayimbayi on Friday confirmed “a number of students” were moved to his building. He referred further questions to Fort Hare.

The university signed a contract to use Union Arcade for student accommodation in 2013.

The Dispatch last week visited Union Arcade and found the ceiling boards of the two rooms that were affected by the leaks, had been repaired and the rooms were spotlessly clean. — bonganif@dispatch.co.za/arethal@dispatch.co.za/asandan@dispatch.co.za

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