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Students homeless as UZ refuses to open residence halls

Lucia Makamure

TENDAI is a first year law student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and, like many first year students, she is coming to Harare for the first time and h

as high hopes of pursuing her studies and later securing a job with a prestigious law firm.

Her dream is however shattered when she gets to the university and finds all the halls of residence under lock and key with instructions from the authorities that there will be no campus residence for students.

With no relatives willing to take her in and no money to find alternative accommodation in Harare, the poor girl has no choice but to go back to her rural home in Guruve.

Tendai’s sad tale is just one of the many heart-breaking stories UZ students have to tell after the authorities at the institution shut down all the eight halls of residence at the campus.

When the Zimbabwe Independent visited the campus, all the halls were locked with the main dining hall, which was gutted by fire in April, still not repaired.

Students said the crisis was likely to force a number of them to drop out of their studies.

“The situation here is terrible as some of us are commuting from Marondera daily only to find no lecturers around,” said a male student who insisted on anonymity.

The university has an estimated 600 lecturers instead of the required 1 200 because of poor salaries and living conditions.

Another student said he would soon drop out of his studies as his parents cannot afford to pay his transport costs.

“Commuter omnibuses are charging $100 000 per trip, which means that on average I need $400 000 every day for transport,” the student said.

Students coming from Chitungwiza, Mabvuku and Ruwa need at least $3 million weekly for transport.

A female student only identified as Ruth said her landlord in Mt Pleasant was making maximum profits from students’ predicament.

“I am paying $5 million for a room I am sharing with seven other students and there are about 10 male students who are paying money to sleep on the verandah at the same house,” said Ruth.

However, the parents of these students, as is the case with most Zimbabweans, live well below the poverty datum line.

Masimba Nyamanhindi of the Students Solidarity Trust said the accommodation crisis needs urgent attention as most of the students have been forced to live in conditions that are not conducive for learning.

“There are students who are spending the night in public places like night clubs and railway stations, and we have received reports that some of them are being abused,” said Nyamanhindi.

The eight halls of residence, with a carrying capacity of 4 500 students plus an additional 1 000 squatting, were closed in July this year after the students held a demonstration against a $1 million top up fee to cover catering services for the extended semester.

The semester was extended by a month following a six-month strike by lecturers that disrupted the learning process between February and June.

Disabled students have also been hit by the accommodation crisis. The coordinator of the UZ Disability Resource Centre, Booker Chiparaushe, has appealed to wellwishers and stakeholders to intervene.

All students were affected by what they have described as a ferocious decision by Professor Nyagura, the vice-chancellor, to evict all students from campus residence.

The UZ administration has instructed 17 visually impaired students who are currently staying at Georgette Hostel along Kwame Nkrumah to relocate to Montrose Hostel at Number 7 Five Avenue in the city centre.

The plight of the other 53 physically-challenged students has been ignored.

According to the University Support Group for blind students, the spiralling accommodation crisis at the UZ has worsened the situation of physically-challenged and visually-impaired students.

“The decision to evict all students from the halls of residence has exacerbated the plight of the physically-challenged and visually-impaired students,” the group said.

The group said it was traumatising for visually-challenged students to negotiate their way from their hostel to Mbuya Nehanda Street to board commuter omnibuses to campus.

Currently, only three out of the 17 students have canes to use. Canes are literally the eyes for the visually-challenged.

UZ Students Representative Council (SRC) President Lovemore Chinoputsa and Secretary for Legal Affairs Fortune Chamba were last week picked up by university security officers for leading a demonstration against the July 9 evictions.

The students said the demonstration was a last resort after other remedies had failed.

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