Students get helping hand

2019-02-12 15:06

Amid a crisis around student accommodation and funding at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), students and lecturers have joined hands to provide temporary solutions.

Students and lecturers at the Pietermaritzburg campus have collectively started a crisis centre at the Colin Webb Hall, offering meals, shelter and care to students who are still going through the rigorous process of trying to secure accommodation.

Jane Quin, lecturer in education and development at UKZN, said although it was not a long-term arrangement, the centre was responding to a need that arises every year.

“It actually should be institutionally dealt with, but isn’t. There’s a mismatch between people coming to town to register and access the funds from the state or other bursaries. They have to be here to register and support themselves throughout that process,” said Quin.

For some students it takes longer than for the others because of the glitches in the system, said Quin.

“In the meantime, the students are vulnerable to hunger, the real danger of not having somewhere safe to stay and an equal danger is not having someone safe that you know to go to for help, especially for first years.”

The crisis centre, solely funded by students and lecturers, provides breakfast and supper to over 100 students, and also shelter to those who find themselves without accommodation.

On day one, the centre fed 25 students and by day four, the number had increased to 126.

Since its inception four days ago, the centre has managed to provide temporary accommodation to about 30 students.

The Crisis Care Centre is providing two meals a day to needy students.

Fees Must Fall activist and third year student Siyathemba Mbambo is one of the students sacrificing his pocket money for the cause.

“It’s something that should be addressed by the institution itself but for me, it had to be done because it is a crucial time for these students, most of whom fall into the pit of depression because of these hurdles.”

Mbambo said he knew first hand the experience of not having accommodation.

“I’ve been there. You try, and you put things together and you see everything falling apart.

“You then resort to other measures to try and make things work, you end up soliciting help from the wrong people to get food and registration money,” Mbambo said.

“There are students from other provinces who don’t have friends or family this side or resources to book accommodation and need to sort out a few things,” he said.

Mbambo and other returning students have temporarily given up their places in residences to accommodate needy students while they stay elsewhere with friends.

“There are students who have stories of not eating for the whole week and it’s heartbreaking. I would not resist if someone offered me a chance to join a protest if I was starving,” Mbambo said.

He also appealed to student leaders assisting with applications and registrations to be on the lookout for students standing in queues with luggage as this indicated they did not have a place to sleep.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that no student sleeps in toilets on campuses.”

Sleeping in campus building

Dozens of students were on Monday preparing to sleep at UKZN’s student housing building on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

Members of the public order policing unit were present but did not attempt to arrest students.

Students who say they have been left stranded by UKZN without residence places, say they will stay at the student housing building until they are housed.

Normah Zondo, UKZN spokesperson, said in reply to questions sent by The Witness that the institution was aware of the UKZN-P Crisis Care Centre initiative by students and lecturers, however, she said no student has had to give up their space to accommodate other students.

While The Witness asked the institution how many students are without accommodation, Zondo only said that the demand for accommodation always exceeds available space.

She said the university is able to assist National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funded students to register without the requirement of an upfront payment as well as to assist students with accommodation and allowances for books and meals.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn
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