Students join digs row

2014-04-03 00:00

THE Young Communist League (YCL) has entered the “digs” war, saying that Scottsville residents are racist and against black students living in the suburb.

The student branch of the YCL based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal issued a press statement yesterday in response to an article in Monday’s Witness, which said that residents — under the umbrella of the Digs Action Group (DAG) — were preparing to do battle against the mushrooming of illegal boarding houses in the suburb.

“We characterise this as a battle of racism at the highest level,” the league said.

League officials Isaac Luthuli, Smiso Nkwanyana and Simo Zulu said they view the battle as a clear indication that students were not wanted in Scottsville.

They questioned why a war was being waged against student digs now, when the university has been in existence for many years. “We feel threatened by what we characterise as a racial war against us students. What is hidden from us is that perhaps we are devaluing their property … in ‘their suburb’, because it has become a black location and as a result criminals are all around,” the statement said.

According to Luthuli and Zulu, however, it was the students that suffered daily from robberies in the suburb. “As a result, we formed a forum — Operation Shaya Utsotsi — which does not only protect us, but also ‘them,’” they said.

The statement said they hoped there would be a change of heart from their “parents” in Scottsville and that they “accept us as innocent children who are here for the betterment not only of ourselves and families, but of the country as a whole”.

DAG spokesperson Marcus Burnett said the YCL had missed the point of the article. “We should actually be co-operating on this matter, because ultimately it is the students who will benefit the most if we can resolve it. Let’s look together for the real culprits in this saga, and tackle them together,” he said.

Burnett agreed there is an urgent need for student accommodation, and a way for students and residents to co-exist as neighbours, “but this must happen in a planned and regulated manner, protecting the rights of all”.

He said the burden of providing safe and appropriate student accommodation should lie with the universities, and the burden to plan and regulate that process should lie with the Msunduzi Municipality.

“Instead we have a vacuum of neglect where entrepreneurs buy up houses, fill them with high numbers of students at high densities per room, often with inadequate sanitation facilities, and then charge up to R2 500 per person.

“We have examples of multiple tenants crammed into sitting rooms, divided only by curtains on a wire, and of bathrooms with several toilets arranged in a line with no cubicles or privacy.”

Burnett said building alterations are frequently made illegally, there is no attempt to comply with health and zoning by-laws, there is no check by fire inspectors, and there is no inspection to regulate the tenant density.

“The group which we hope to form to tackle the issue of illegal digs is not anti-student, or racist.

“We also know that the relationship between student digs and residents has always been a subject of conflict, irrespective of the race of the parties involved. The current situation is new only in that the numbers have suddenly mushroomed, and that the rights of property owners as enshrined in the town planning regulations are being ignored,” he said.

Marcus Burnett

“We should actually be co-operating on this matter, because ultimately it is the students who will benefit the most if we can resolve it.”

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