BLOEMFONTEIN — Basotho students studying at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in South Africa are living in squalid conditions at a new residence organised by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS).
The NMDS signed a deal with NMSB, the company managing Naval Hill Lodge, to accommodate the state-sponsored students in January.
The initial arrangement, according to the students, was that they were supposed to stay at the lodge for only one month — until February 13 — while the NMDS looked for a better hostel near the university.
The students however said the conditions at the lodge have become unbearable.
There are 206 Basotho students occupying the three floors at the lodge.
The property is owned by Transnet, a South African parastatal, which used it as a hostel for its workers during the apartheid era.
Fifty students share one bathroom which they also have to use for washing dishes and blow-drying their hair.
They also get their drinking water from the bathroom.
A dilapidated laundry with two rusting bath tubs and scrappy washing machines has been transformed into a make-shift kitchen.
The two fiberglass basins in there are covered in algae.
The make-shift kitchen is also situated in another building about five minutes’ walk from the rooms.
On rainy days the students cannot carry their electric stoves to the kitchen to cook.
The students complain that their rooms are match-box-size.
Some use their beds as tables for utensils.
Naval Hill Lodge is 4.2 km from the CUT campus.
Students who want to use the internet will have to brave this distance to the campus.
The last of the three shuttle bus trips from the campus to the lodge is at 10pm but students say most of the times they have to study up to midnight.
It’s either you take the 10pm bus or you walk to the lodge.
Security is a major concern for the students at Naval Hill Lodge.
Their fears were heightened last week when three students were brutally attacked by a mob at the lodge following a brawl at a nearby tavern.
The assailants are alleged to have forced their way through the gate and broke the front door to the lodge before going on a rampage beating students.
Witnesses told the Sunday Express that the security guards at the lodge looked on while the mob launched the attack.
One of the students is now battling for his life at a Bloemfontien hospital after being stabbed three times during the attack.
The students recently wrote a letter of complaint to the university’s head of student services, head of residence life, assistant director of international affairs and the university’s SRC president.
A copy of the same document was forwarded to the NMDS director, Letholetseng Ntsike, they said.
In that letter the students asked “that the university assist us in vacating that residence effective immediately and offer us alternative accommodation that will meet the needs of the students”.
The new lodgings, the students said, must be closer to the campus and have rooms that have a bed and a desk for each student.
They also requested a communal kitchen and three students must share a bathroom, they said.
The former chairperson of the Lesotho Student Association, Machaha Taleng, said a meeting they had with the NMDS director yielded nothing “because she was her usual rude self”.
“’M’e Ntsike dismissed our complaints saying if we needed luxurious hostels we should make alternative accommodation which we should pay for,” Taleng said.
Baba Sebolao, one of the NMSB directors, admitted that the conditions at the lodge were bad but said his company could not afford to renovate the place because the NMDS had not paid them.
“All they (students) say about the living conditions cannot be refuted,” he said.
“But then again, this place was not designed to be a permanent residential area.
“The whole place needs to be transformed to meet students’ needs.
“The cooking area needs to be improved and new stoves need to be installed to make the place more conducive for the students.
“But the NMDS has not paid us a cent, thus compelling us to dig deeper into our pockets.
“The landlord is not interested as well in renovating the place.”
Ntsike denied telling the students that they were demanding luxury.
“I never said they should get luxury on their own if they were not content with where they are staying,” she said.
“I just said they should be content with the accommodation recommended by the university.
“It goes against policy to pay for students individually.
“I said whoever wanted to get a place elsewhere was free to do so, but should also be aware of the fact that that the NMDS would under no circumstances foot such bills.”