Born out of a government-imposed merger more than a decade ago, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) still grapples deep infrastructure disparities between its township-based campuses and the former Pretoria Technikon.
A prime example of the inequities is that students in residences at the campuses in Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa, both townships north of Pretoria, still wash their clothes by hand in communal basins, while those at the erstwhile Pretoria Technikon site have always enjoyed laundromats.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education and training heard of these inequities when it undertook an oversight visit to the Soshanguve campus last Thursday. The student representative council (SRC) told the committee of the shoddy buildings and living conditions, tacitly as an outcry for government intervention.
TUT was established on January?1 2004, following the government’s move to merge Pretoria Technikon, located near the city centre, with the then Soshanguve-based Technikon Northern Gauteng and Technikon North-West in Ga-Rankuwa. This was a merger of historically disadvantaged institutions and a white university that the apartheid government had heavily invested into.
Five undeveloped campuses
The institution’s post-merger expansion saw it opening new satellite campuses in the Mpumalanga towns of Mbombela and Emalahleni, and Polokwane in Limpopo. It now has a total of six campuses. The SRC told the committee that all except the Pretoria campus were still not modernised.
“First and foremost, since the merger in 2004, we are still faced with the challenge that we have five campuses that are underdeveloped. It’s a serious crisis,” said Noluthando Precious Mazibuko, the SRC’s officer for student affairs and residence operations, kicking off her submission to the committee.
The Ga-Rankuwa campus has a capacity for 1 000 students, but a student population of about 6 000, Mazibuko said. “We don’t have enough auditoriums and lecture halls. We don’t have a big enough hall for our students.”
She said the most “frustrating” thing at the institution was that students across campuses “pay the same amount of money for service delivery, but our students don’t have equal service delivery from the university”.
Students call it a ‘factory’
The Soshanguve campus residences “are nothing” compared to those on the Pretoria campus, she said. “You cannot even compare the two. The residences [in Soshanguve] don’t even have security, especially in female residences. The buildings themselves are not in a condition in which students can live.
“When we pay our residence fees we pay for transport, cleaning services, we pay for security … but you find that there is no security in their residences.
“We pay for laundry services, but you find that Soshanguve campus does not have even one [washing] machine in any of the residences. But all residences in Pretoria campus, and some residences in Ga-Rankuwa, have machines.”
The Polokwane campus was structurally the most inferior, Mazibuko told the committee. “Students there now call it a factory because there are no buildings. It’s everything under one building.
“There aren’t enough computer facilities. There’s no library [at the] Polokwane campus. They have a leased residence, [which] accommodates about 178 students while there are about 2 000 registered students.”
No comparison between campuses
Tsholofelo Modise, SRC president, drew comparisons between the Ga-Rankuwa campus and the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The two were “more or less in the same state” when universities were merged, he told the committee.
“Go and compare the two now. [They are] like night and day. One university has actively gone out and invested [in] their [campus] infrastructure, the other one is limited to systemic decay.
“Why? [It is] because money [at TUT] is being used for other things. There are a million reasons why infrastructure development did not happen.”
The UJ Soweto campus was upgraded at a cost of R450-million between 2005 and 2011, money that came from the government. This campus was part of the now defunct Vista University, which was merged with Rand Afrikaans University and Technikon Witwatersrand to form UJ on January 1 2005.
Grossly unequal – but big plans ahead
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Modise accused TUT management of prioritising the development of the Pretoria campus even after the merger. “There’s nothing as unequal as the equal treatment of the unequal. Our institution is grossly unequal.”
But management told the committee it has a “master plan” to improve infrastructure across campuses. Over R455-million has been allocated for 15 building projects.
Of these, four construction projects have started and 11 are at “design stage”. Those already being built include new residences at the Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa campuses.
The plans include a new auditorium and classrooms for Ga-Rankuwa, a new teacher training centre at Soshanguve and upgrading access infrastructure for students with disabilities across the campuses.
Things take time
Willa de Ruyter, the university’s spokesperson, told the M&G: “It’s not true that the money is only going to Pretoria. There’s a lot of money that’s being given both to Soshanguve and Ga-Rankuwa campuses to upgrade the facilities and build residences. Currently the construction of two residences, one at Soshanguve and another at Ga-Rankuwa, is under way.”
Sibongile Mchunu, a committee member representing the ruling ANC, urged TUT students to appreciate that there was a plan to improve their infrastructure. “I will plead with you to be patient, bear with management. These things take time.”
He condemned a violent protest in September in which 19 cars were burnt: “If you knew how this freedom was fought for, I don’t think students would embark on this behaviour.”