Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande. File photo: Tracey Adams African News Agency (ANA).

DURBAN – The University of Zululand (UniZulu) had been encouraged to urgently start on the construction of 3,500 new bed spaces using the money that had recently been made available to it, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Monday.

Nzimande said that R230 million had been transferred to the university for this purpose. The department’s plans for infrastructure development also included the refurbishment of current stock at the institution, he said.

“I have agreed that the university should start procurement for the first stage of construction as soon as possible,” said Nzimande, who was speaking at a media briefing in Durban.

Nzimande said he met with UniZulu council and management on Friday to address several issues, including the assault of a student in an off-campus residence and subsequent violent protests by students.  

Most of UniZulu’s students lived off campus, he said, and the institution was aiming to house 80% of its students in accommodation that was “safe and accredited”.

The university had been added to the national education department’s student housing programme, which included all other historically disadvantaged tertiary education institutions in the country.

On Monday last week, students used burning tyres and branches to block roads in and around the KwaDlangezwa campus, including the R102 and N2 freeway.  Schools in the vicinity of the campus were also damaged and disrupted.

A satellite police station near the campus was set alight on Monday night. The campus was closed on Tuesday and students were told to vacate the premises. 

About 30 students were arrested following the torching of the station.

The students were protesting the lack of security at off-campus residences following the shooting of Msawenkosi Nxumalo, a 23-year-old student who was robbed of his laptop and cellphone.

Nzimande said students were not immune to the high levels of crime in South Africa.   

The safety at UniZulu was linked to its location and the surrounding community, he said.  Only about 30% of students could have their accommodation needs met by the university, and the rest had to rent rooms in the nearby communities. 

He said that sometimes those renting to students set up “shack like structures” with little or no security, which were not accredited by the university. The matter would be addressed by his department, said the minister.

He said that in 2020, UniZulu would be celebrating 68 years of existence. Despite this, the land on which the institution operated was still tribal. 

It was imperative that the land was transferred to the university if costly investments were to be made. To this end, he had called a meeting with relevant stakeholders that included the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, ministry of police and traditional authorities.

Nzimande also condemned the destruction of property regularly seen during student protests. This deprived future generations, he said. He called on authorities to ensure effective policing around campuses.

African News Agency (ANA)