Cape Town - Efforts to find accommodation for at least 40 students from the University of the Western Cape holed up in one of its buildings are being stepped up amid concerns that the place is not fit for habitation.
The students, who have not been placed in residence since March, have been sleeping on the floor of the residential management offices. It was attacked and partially damaged during the Fees Must Fall protests last year.
The students have accused the university of an unwillingness to resolve the matter as there are still empty rooms available in residence.
Jack Vesele said they had been struggling to find a place to wash because they have been denied access to residence facilities.
Vesele added that some of them had lost belongings as the management offices were unsafe.
Fellow student Amahle Mafongosi moved in with them in a show of solidarity.
“It’s cramped in here. The university cleaners stopped cleaning a while ago and we have to do it ourselves,” Mafongosi said.
He urged authorities to show an immediate and “serious” commitment to resolving the issue.
Zusiphe Kapa, deputy secretary of the Student Representative Council, said it was looking for alternative housing after engaging with the university on the matter proved fruitless.
Kapa said possible accommodation had been identified, subject to logistics.
“We have to find accommodation soon. The City of Cape Town has notified the university that the building is not suitable for the purpose of habitation, although they have not indicated as to when they need to move out," he said.
"We don’t want them to be evicted and they find themselves with nowhere to go."
Some of the students chose to live off campus last year, but wanted to move into residence for various reasons including safety.
Kapa criticised authorities for the “poor handling” of the situation: “We tried to engage them on several occasions but they implemented decisions unilaterally.
"And some staff members who were involved in the process were not available which dragged out the process unnecessarily."
Luthando Tyhalibongo, a spokesperson for the university, said it was committed to resolving the “illegal occupation” of the building swiftly.
Tyhalibongo said that the conditions the students are living in were unacceptable.
Like like all tertiary institutions, he added, UWC was faced with a housing challenge and had devised short- and long-term plans to resolve it.
“There is a site off campus that is being revamped that has capacity for 90 beds in the Kuils River area. Those who meet the university criteria for residence will be accommodated in that space,” Tyhalibongo said.