'I have to camp in my friend's room' — Wits student on accommodation crisis
The protests at Wits University escalated on Thursday as students demanded accommodation and assistance with historical debt
A second-year Wits student who was last year afforded accommodation on campus but inexplicably rejected this year on Thursday told TimesLIVE how she had no choice but to illegally camp in her friend's residence room.
The 19-year-old bachelor of science student, who comes from Mpumalanga, is funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as both her parents are unemployed. She said she applied for accommodation in June last year but failed to secure it.
She said she was declined space for this year with no reason given.
Explaining her frustration, the student said she has been able to go in and out of her friend's room as the biometric system is not yet set up — but she is aware that her days are numbered.
“My friend let me know that she was moving in and said I should just come to Gauteng and camp in her place. I went with my bags like a person who is moving in and we share her bed. I went to all offices at the university to ask for help but they couldn’t do anything for me,” she told TimesLIVE.
For this student, the accommodation worries are just one of her many struggles. Going to class daily on an empty stomach has become a norm as she has not received her NSFAS allowance yet.
Her only meal was supper, which her friend shared with her upon her return from classes.
Wits charges R51,220 per student in a single room and a double room is R48,100 per student, which excludes meals. According to the university, the total meal prices for the year differ according to the check-in and checkout dates of each individual.
The Mpumalanga woman was one of hundreds of students who protested on campus and in the streets of Braamfontein on Thursday morning. They continued to demand accommodation and for the university to assist by scrapping historical debt which prevents students from registering.
Registration is expected to close on Friday.
NSFAS provides only a capped R45,000 per student per year for accommodation — R3,750 per student per month. This means students are expected to source money to top up the outstanding accommodation fee.
The student, who spoke to TimesLIVE on condition of anonymity, said her accommodation totalled R71,000 in 2022 but she was fortunate to have a negative balance in her total NSFAS account, which was added on to the outstanding accommodation amount.
My parents know about the situation I am in but they can’t do anything because they don’t work.Wits student
“My parents know about the situation I am in but they can’t do anything because they don’t work. The prices for accommodation make no sense. You cannot pay R100,000 for studying and nearly R80,000 for accommodation. That is nearly R200,000 a year. I am hoping Wits reduces their rates because what they expect from us is extreme,” she said.
First-year student Vivian Siko said she chose to live off-campus in private student accommodation which charges her R4,500 a month.
“I have seen some people sleeping in bathrooms and in the labs and libraries. This is heartbreaking. Home is so far for many of us and we can’t go back — we need our education.”
A security guard who spoke to TimesLIVE denied say that students slept in university buildings.
“It can’t be. We lock everything by 11pm. If we find someone in a lab or lecture room, we ask them to leave.”
NSFAS told TimesLIVE that the R45,000 capped accommodation fund is based on the World Bank/IFC 2021 Market Assessment for student accommodation in SA which is placed in three categories.
The first, which is the lowest-income bracket, is the affordable and NSFAS student accommodation market. The second category is the mid-student accommodation market which targets middle-income students with an affordability range of between R3,000 and R4,500 per month. The third category is for upper-end student accommodation which has larger rooms, private kitchens and bathrooms priced between R5,000 and R8,000 — but can exceed R14,000.
“Given the diversified market for student accommodation, NSFAS settled for the middle ground,” said spokesperson Skosana Slumezi.
But it is not clear whether NSFAS would consider increasing the allowance.
“NSFAS is not in a position to provide a response on this, as the cap is informed by the Department of Higher Education guidelines.”
Meanwhile, the university has seemingly gone mum during the protests.
The vice-chancellor, Zeblon Vilakazi, was reported to be on leave and spokesperson Shirona Patel could not be reached. The university’s website was down on Thursday afternoon.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.