#WhyThisMatters: Billions spent, squalor still at rural universities


Students are the future. That’s what politicians keep saying. They will unlock the much-hyped fourth industrial revolution and move this country away from being the most unequal in the world.

But 25 years after democratic elections, students are still forced to live in shacks. Crammed together, without basic services, they walk far to campus, often in the dark, terrified of being mugged or raped.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week on the squalid conditions that black students in rural universities face (“UniZulu students’ accommodation conditions are ‘inhumane”). But those in charge are escaping blame.

A student at the University of Zululand’s KwaDlangezwa campus told the M&G last week: “I sometimes do not even feel that I’m a university student because of the conditions I stay in.” She can only afford R450 a month for a squalid flat 3km from her campus. “It’s only when there is a lecturer in front of me that I feel that I’m attending university.”

So much of this is a legacy of apartheid. Determined to give black students a worse education than white students, the state ensured universities were built in rural and underdeveloped areas. These were then given little in the way of resources.

But it has been 25 years since governance was based on racism. Those rural universities are still under-resourced or indifferently run. At UniZulu’s KwaDlangezwa campus there still isn’t enough accommodation for students. Those with some money rent back rooms; the rest live in shacks. That means they have to learn trigonometry, read Shakespeare or excel at sport, while reading with the light from a candle or while they sit worrying about the next time their door will be smashed in by thieves.

The KwaDlangezwa situation is not unique. In 2015, Blade Nzimande, then minister of higher education and training, announced a Historically Disadvantaged Institutions Development Grant. These historically black and disadvantaged universities would get R410-million a year until 2021. Nzimande said this money was given to the universities so they could realise their full potential and shake off the stigma of being “the academic orphans of apartheid”.

Nzimande also revealed that of the R1.6-billion given to build and refurbish student residences during the 2012-2013 and 2014-15 financial years, R1.4-billion went to historically black universities.

In 2017, Nzimande announced a new R6.964-billion infrastructure budget for universities. Of this, R2.1-billion would be for student housing, and R1.5-billion for universities to refurbish and update infrastructure and tackle maintenance backlog. Just under R250-million would go to historically disadvantaged universities for new infrastructure projects.

Those are significant amounts of money. Universities should be construction sites, yet students continue to live in squalor. It’s one of the main reasons that students feel they have to start each academic year with protests.

At UniZulu, a student laid the blame on the people leading the institutions of higher learning — when their children go to other, better, universities, why would managers care about other people’s children? Billions are being spent to give students — and this country — a better future. It must be accounted for.

Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

Eastern Cape MEC orders graft investigation after two workers killed...

The killings of two council workers at the Amathole district municipality appear to be linked to tender fraud and corruption

Strike-off case pulls in judge

Judge Mushtak Parker is implicated in an application to strike off his former partners. He is also involved in the fight between the Western Cape high court’s judge president and his deputy

One strike and you’re out – registrar tells unions

A municipal workers’ union is the first to be sanctioned for not following the new rule when deciding whether to go on strike

Press Releases

Dr Mathew Moyo’s journey to academic victory

The NWU's chief director for library and information services was appointed as a board member of the National Council for Library and Information Services.

UKZN pays tribute to Joseph Shabalala, Doctor of Music (honoris causa)

The university joins the global community in mourning the passing of legendary musician and founding member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dr Bhekizizwe Joseph Shabalala.

South Africa to be almost R 14-billion wealthier when SAB Zenzele BB-BBEE scheme winds down in April 2020

It’s the biggest BB-BEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history, with a new scheme to be launched

UKZN vice-chancellor calls for perspective and creative engagement on the way forward

In addition to overcoming the deadlock between UKZN and students, a way must be found to reconcile the university's financial obligations and students' long-term needs.

Survey shows South Africans’ approval of president but not of political parties

According to the survey, 62% of South Africans think Cyril Ramaphosa is doing his job well, while 39% say no political party represents their views.

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy S20: Change the way you experience the world

The Samsung Galaxy S20 series features unprecedented AI camera technologies built for the future of communications

Andrew Makenete joins Africa Agri Tech as an event ambassador

Makenete has a wealth of experience in the agricultural sector

Is your company prepared for the coronavirus?

Companies should consider the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic when evaluating whether they are prepared for the coronavirus, says ContinuitySA.