By Tessa Knight
VARSITY investigates claims of a student housing crisis at UCT.
In an email sent out by the SRC on Saturday, 17th February, the council urged students being asked to vacate residences to remain where they are, ensuring them that they would receive support from the current council. However, the SRC has not maintained a united front in regards to student accommodation, with some members claiming that there is a legitimate housing crisis while others claim this statement is false. Over the past two weeks, VARSITY has been in contact with several members of the SRC in order to determine the status of student accommodation at UCT and the relationship between the SRC and DigsConnect, a private company that connects students with landlords.
Two articles by News24 were the main topics of conversation. Previously, VARSITY was informed by UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola that residences were at 86% capacity, and there was no housing crisis. This statement was echoed by Residence and Housing Co-ordinator, Mthobisi Mngomezulu, who told both News24 and VARSITY that the housing crisis was made up by other members of the SRC. Mngomezulu, as well as Postgraduate and Undergraduate Academics Co-ordinators, Masixole Mlandu and Christopher Logan, claim that the student accommodation issues were caused primarily by vac students who did not vacate the premises on time, as well as postgraduate students who did not want to live in first tier residences. The three SRC members claim that they, along with other PASMA and EFFSC members, worked with UCT to ensure that every student who required accommodation was provided with somewhere to stay.
Contrary to the statement issued by the university and the comments made by some members of the SRC, DASO member and SRC Secretary General, Tami Jackson, told VARSITY that there was a student crisis. Previously, VARSITY was put into contact with a returning international student who had been allocated a room in Forest Hill and was forced to wait three days before he was allocated a new room in another res. According to Jackson, “if one student is in crisis then there is a student housing crisis.” This statement was echoed by other DASO SRC members, particularly President Karabo Khakhau, whose public acknowledgment of a housing crisis was condemned by Logan and Mngomezulu as a desire for fame.
Logan and Mngomezulu also vehemently claimed that any affiliation by the SRC to the privately owned company known as DigsConnect was not approved by all members of the council. Gregory Keal, a previous UCT SRC member and leader of DASO UCT, runs the company. Logan, Mngomezulu and Mlandu implied that the connection between Khakhau and Gregory Keal was mutually beneficial, and that the President was using her status to promote a friend. Although SRC Corporate Relations and Fundraising Coordinator, Gift Qetu-Yates, failed to comment on the situation, VARSITY was provided with an email (extract above) that he sent to senior SRC members in regards to DigsConnect.
The email states that UCT management has been “pretty apathetic” at fixing the problem of student housing, and by collaborating with DigsConnect the SRC will have time to liaise with management in an attempt to fix the annual student housing problems. Yet Logan, Mngomezulu and Mlandu claim that every student who needed accommodation was provided with somewhere to stay, particularly students facing financial exclusion. Once more, this statement is made in contrast with other SRC statements, including the one issued on Thursday 17th.
At this point in time it appears that the SRC is divided in regards to whether or not there really is a student accommodation crisis.