5 July 2018

South Africa: Students Tell of 'Deplorable' Accommodation at Nelson Mandela University

Student leaders at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth have spoken out against what they call "deplorable" living conditions.

They were among nearly 600 students living at the Premier Student Accommodation (PSA) residence. Students say the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) pays a monthly fee of R2,750 per student. Students say have to share five stoves and a single washing sink in the kitchen. There are a few fridges, but they don't always work. The WiFi connection is poor and the shuttle service is unreliable, they said.

Student leader Sihle Moya moved into the residence in January. He said they were excited when management told them that there would be unlimited WiFi, warm bathing water and a huge dining room and "other things that make student life easier".

Moya said less than a month later, students started complaining because these promises were not fulfilled. "We had a meeting on 26 February about WiFi services being unavailable on the second and third floors. Our bath water was cold and there were only two working stoves. There was one rusty microwave that was not working properly. We were also charged R50 for laundry."

He said many students also complained that they were forced to throw food away after the fridges stopped working. They also had issues with accessing the front gate and some rooms. "NSFAS money was being deducted from our accounts to replace lost [access] cards. We demanded pin codes instead of cards. There was also money deducted from each student if there were any damages, like a broken window," he said.

University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela told GroundUp that most of the problems raised by the students would be addressed.

"Three students raised these issues with the previous director of Student Housing and the current director. Attempts were made to remedy the situation at a meeting, but some of the affected students did not confirm their availability. This was shortly before recess and will be picked up again when they return."

Mbabela said students will no longer be charged for laundry fees. She said students have also been given the option to use the university's canteen to alleviate the problem with cooking facilities at the residence.

She added that more vehicles have been added to the shuttle service to accommodate the increased demand for transport between campuses and off-campus accommodation sites.

But the student leaders told GroundUp that "several emails were sent to university management which were never responded to". The students are worried they won't have a place to sleep when they return to university at the end of July.

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