Heart-breaking scenes of desperation to survive are playing out at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) as scores of poor students sleep illegally in toilets, lecture halls, laboratories and in corridors – and queue during the day for food handouts from a humanitarian organisation.
David Raphanga, a thirdyear BCom student who has been a squatter since his first year, said students turn areas such as toilets, corridors, lecture halls and laboratories on campus into their temporary accommodation.
“It’s been a long journey … coming to Johannesburg and having no accommodation, having to hustle for money for registration. Yet, at the same time, the institution itself deprives us of [accommodation].”
“We have students on the grounds who don’t have a place to sleep. Some students have National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) acceptance letters and yet they can’t register to study at the institution. Some come from far, even deep in the rural areas, and spent their money to come here just to obtain an education. And yet the university can’t provide a place for them to sleep.”
The EFF Students Command on campus has been helping out by allowing some desperate people to sleep in its offices overnight.
One of those students, who asked to remain anonymous, is from Krugersdorp and has been accepted to study biotechnology.
“I finished my matric in 2016 and in 2017 I had to take a gap year due to financial strains. I had to hustle for taxi money, which is not easy. I have been here for a week trying to get myself a space. “A few weeks ago, I got a letter from the university saying that I couldn’t get space because I didn’t register on time. “But I was approved and received funding by NSFAS. But when I came here they said they couldn’t help me.”
Another student, who also did not want to be named, said he came from KwaZulu-Natal to study education.
“I am still waiting for accommodation, which was promised by NSFAS. The EFF lets me sleep in their offices and they help me with food.”
UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said: “The university allocated the available space to the students who met the requirements. “Registered students are currently in the process of taking up their respective space in residence.”
The university offered 6 643 bed spaces across its four campuses and has also approved privately owned student accommodation that provided a further 16 200 beds.
Esterhuizen said that if students did not have accommodation, they should approach the residence office for assistance.
Raphanga shared his experience about being a squatter for his first two years as a student at UJ, saying: “I was sleeping in the EFF Students Command office until we were chased out by the protection services in 2016. “We got to a point where we went and cried at NSFAS and then they had no choice but to give us funding, yet they told us they did not have funds for that year. That told us something else [about NSFAS].”
The deputy chairperson of the student representative council (SRC), Surprise Npangane, said a number of students were approved by NSFAS but were not able to register at the institution.
The secretary of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) at UJ, Makaula Madiba Ndiphiwe, said the problem “is not with the university”, but NSFAS was “disadvantaging poor black students”.
Npangane said the SRC tried its best to assist students by running a trust fund to help students pay for their registration and accommodation.
However, Raphanga said the SRC did not provide the accommodation they claim to.
He said: “They are useless, those people … very useless, to a point where they are sitting in expensive UJ houses but, on the grounds, students do not have accommodation.”
Npangane responded: “We are in a difficult position, we have engaged in talks with management and we will continue to do all we can for students.”
Npangane also suggested that the best solution would be if the university approved more privately-owned accommodation and business invested more in property to aid the issue of lack of accommodation. Ndiphiwe suggested a solution similar to this.
Although accommodation was expensive, “we also ask the City of Joburg to assist us in terms of buildings. “I’m sure UJ has the capacity to renovate those buildings and convert them to a good standard for students.”
The Citizen sent questions to NSFAS but had not received a response at the time of going to print.