For prospective Durban University of Technology student Siphesihle Ngcobo, 19, excited at the prospect of starting his university road trip, the past few nights have been the most uncomfortable he has ever experienced.
Desperate to study in Durban, Ngcobo left the comfort of his Newcastle home on January 14 and arrived in Durban later that day.
Ever since, he has been sleeping on the floor of a TV room in the student residence at Stratford Hall, at DUT’s Steve Biko campus.
He uses his luggage as a pillow and he sleeps with his back against a concrete wall.
He has braced himself for two more weeks of homelessness before he can finalise his registration and move into a student residence.
Ngcobo is one of hundreds of out-of-town students who spend up to a month living like vagrants in Durban before this collegial city starts its academic year.
Sleeping on the bare floor with his arm as a pillow was no real shock to Bachelor of Technology in Taxation student, Sibusiso Hadebe.
Hadebe, who spent his first night on the floor and the following night outside in a queue for the financial aid department, has spent the past three nights sleeping in a seated position on the sofa in the residence. “We sit and watch TV till we pass out” he said.
The 22-year-old said he had developed pains between his shoulder blades.
“I haven’t changed clothes or had a shower since Wednesday,” he said on Sunday. The student said he tucks his phone in his shoe when he sleeps and keeps his feet on that shoe all night long.
He tells the Daily News that he has become wary of theft after a female student’s cellphone was stolen after she fell asleep.
He keeps his other belong-ings in a locker.
The Richards Bay student said he was running short of money and was hoping that the R100 he had with him would last him the whole week.
“I eat a vetkoek a day, two maximum, but never more than that.”
For Thamsanqa Mthembu this was an unexpected situation. Mthembu, who also shares the TV room with a group of strangers, said he had not expected this when he came to register for his first year in electrical engineering.
The 2012 matriculant, who has come from Manguzi in the far north of the province, said he had already registered for his academic programme, and was only left with residence to deal with.
Mthembu, whose academic year started this week, said he would first try to secure residence and then attend his first class, regardless of whether he got accommodation or not. He is one of a lucky few who sleep on a mattress in the TV room.
He shares the two adjoining single bed mattresses with two other students.
“When I sleep I use my bag as a pillow,” said the 19-year-old, adding that he keeps his bag under close watch during the day .
Had Mthembu not been assisted by the Student Representative Council (SRC), he would have had to go to his brother’s house in Isipingo, which would cost him R30 a day in taxi fare.
Of the four universities in the province, only Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) offers out-of-town students accommodation prior to registration.
Those trying to get into other institutions have to get their own accommodation and usually end up relying on the generosity of SRCs who find them temporary, albeit inadequate places to sleep – like the TV room at Stratford Hall.
Some sleep wherever it is safe enough: lecture halls and passages, while others sleep in shelters or rely on the generosity of friends and family.
There are also reports that criminals target students knowing that they have cash and other valuables, such as cellphones and laptops.
Ngcobo, who wants to study financial accounting, said he was expecting to register, sort out his student accommodation, go back to Newcastle and then return before the start of the academic year.
Speaking of his ordeal, he said: “I wasn’t expecting to be homeless.”
Ngcobo and more than 250 students found themselves in a similar predicament at the DUT campus on Tuesday.
Frank Zungu, 20, of Richards Bay, had been forewarned by friends who had studied at DUT.
He carried a sports bag so he could move around quickly if need be, and he carried extra cash in case of an emergency.
Zungu was an exception though, with most students unprepared for sleeping rough and with very little money.
Urgent calls were made to their homes for money to be deposited into their bank accounts.
“I told myself I would sleep on the floor if things didn’t work out,” said Zungu.
Others were surprised at how much they would have to draw on their survivalist instincts.
DUT, the University of Zululand (UniZulu) and University of KwaZulu-Natal only offer temporary residence to students who are already registered. Providing accommodation to prospective students would strain their scant resources.
DUT SRC president, Ayanda Ngidi, said they were accommodating both men and women students in the TV room of Stratford Hall, but this was not an ideal situation.
“We are talking to the institution because it is not safe for men and women to sleep in the same TV room,” he said.
Ngidi said DUT had refused to give students temporary living space because the institution does not want to incur added water, electricity and cleaning costs.
DUT spokesman, Alan Khan, said students were not allowed to sleep on the floor.
“We are very concerned about the safety of students,” Khan said.
He said despite efforts to educate and encourage students to apply early, the queues “will not end”.
“We make improvements in our communication, but we will always have walk-ins,” he said.
UniZulu spokeswoman, Normah Zondo, said some students normally waited for their matric results before applying to tertiary institutions.
“Closing dates for applications are advertised in print media and on radio advertisements. School learners are invited to open days and career exhibitions at which career options are presented by different institutions. These events are held annually from March to August,” Zondo said.
All universities said they had limited accommodation and could not accommodate the thousands of needy students who flock to these institutions each year.
Khan said DUT received more than 5 300 applications for residence admissions in Durban annually.
“The university has a total capacity of 4 300 beds, with 2 740 beds of the aforementioned figure being located at leased residences.” he said.
UKZN spokeswoman, Nomonde Mbadi, said: “For the 2013 academic year, the university can accommodate 10 824 students at on-campus and off-campus residences.”
“UniZulu received over 50 000 applications. Only 4 378 first-time entry students have been accepted for 2013. We can only accommodate 3 972 students in our residences,” Zondo said.
MUT was the only university in KZN that had enough space to accommodate those who had applied for residence. “We have 4 800 spaces available” said Bheki Hlophe of MUT.
DUT and UniZulu have kept the same number of residences as last year, whereas UKZN is expanding in an effort to accommodate 25 percent of its students by 2015.
For students like Siphesihle Ngcobo, the road to independence and responsibility has had a bumpy start.
His wish is that next year’s prospective out-of-town students have a more comfortable ride as they start their tertiary lives.