Extra student residences should have been built eight years ago at the University of Zululand (UniZulu).
This would have meant that more students could stay on campus and not in off-campus residences, where they have become targets of criminals in KwaDlangezwa.
This is even though the university has been sitting with R235-million that the department of higher education, training and science gave it in 2011 as part of the infrastructure grant for previously disadvantaged universities.
But two issues have been blocking the building of a 3 500 bed residence at the KwaDlangezwa campus.
The first is that the university faced litigation from companies that were unhappy with how the tender process for the building of the residence was handled.
But that has been taken care of.
Now what is holding the university back is the signature of Inkosi Mandla Mkhwanazi. And this is because the land on which the university is built belongs to the Mkhwanazi traditional authority.
However, chairperson of the university’s council, Nomarashiya Caluza, told the Mail & Guardian in an interview this week that the university has been in talks with Mkhwanazi for a long time about the sale of the land.
She said an amount — which she would not reveal — had been agreed on and that even after all the talks the process has remained stagnant.
“Once the inkosi signs [the title deed] the building [of the residence] will start because money is there,” she said. “We are not sure what might be a delay on the inkosi’s side, but whatever it is — it can be their own internal processes — all we want is for them to fast-track so that we start building.”
Higher Education, Training and Science minister Blade Nzimande said at a press conference this week that of the 18 000 student population of UniZulu, only 5 500 students stay on campus. The rest rent accommodation off campus.
Nzimande held a meeting with the university management and council last week following a student protest that led to the closure of the university and brought the community of KwaDlangezwa to a standstill.
The protest was about the safety of students staying in off-campus residences in KwaDlangezwa; this is after criminals broke into an off-campus residence and shot a male student.
In April, the M&G reported about the inhumane conditions at dilapidated off-campus residences that UniZulu students staying off-campus are subjected to (“UniZulu students’ accommodation conditions are ‘inhumane’,” April 26 to May 2).
The students also complained about their safety at these houses, some of which do not even have fencing; and that amadabuka (a local term used to refer to criminals) break into their rooms and steal their laptops and other belongings at gunpoint.
Caluza said the university and the inkosi signed a memorandum of understanding in April and yet they still do not have a deal from the royal council.
“Even myself as the chair, I have initiated meetings with the inkosi because council is worried that there is money to build but nothing is happening … Last week in a meeting with different stakeholders we also brought it up that the inkosi must sign because the university is prepared to pay.”
Speaking on behalf of Mkhwanazi, Mandla Makhathini told the M&G that there is no animosity between the university and the royal council and that a few matters still need to be agreed.
Makhathini said Mkhwanazi, his council and the university are meeting in two weeks when there wil be discussion about the use of the land.
“There is nothing that is holding us back; we have a good relationship with the university. We are going to take decision after agreeing with the university about parameters and then the inkosi after agreeing with the university will make a decision following the meeting.”
Makhathini also told the M&G that on Wednesday Mkhwanazi called a meeting of all the landlords renting to students, the police, the university management and students to discuss the violence that has been happening in KwaDlangezwa, as well as how the safety of the students and the larger community can be ensured.
Makhathini said a committee that will develop safety policies for the university and the community was elected at the meeting.
The policies will guide landlords who have student tenants in terms of the safety features that they need to provide if they want to house students.
The committee will also come up with strategies that can be employed to ensure the safety of the students in the community. He said the committee is expected to report back to the royal council on October 1 with the plans and policies.
Makhathini said the committee is made up of students who are staying off-campus, officials from the university, members of the royal council and local police officers.
The university has been closed for a week following the protest.