International Wits University students stuck in South Africa have remained in residence since the lockdown began.

It has now been a month since eighty-six international Wits University students were given emergency accommodation in residences in South Africa. 

The students were unable to return to their home countries on time when the university announced a three-day evacuation of students from all campus accommodation on Tuesday, March 17. The students have since remained their emergency accommodation at Wits Junction and Yale Village residences, both in Parktown. 

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a few of the students to find out how they are coping during the lockdown.

Abdul Samba Brima,  a Masters in Journalism and Media Studies student, said it has been difficult to socialise as his family lives far.

“I would have preferred to be home at times like these to share my situation with family, [as] the thought of ‘what if’ something may happen to be far away from home keeps haunting me,” said Brima, who comes from Sierra Leone.

Brima was already a Wits Junction resident with a one-year lease and moved in early in February this year. He said that all the necessary services apart from the cleaning services are still being provided by Junction. “Our residence manager does frequent visits to check on everyone. We [ the students and the manager] have opened a WhatsApp group to stay more closely connected and provide help to anyone needing it,” Brima said.

A fourth-year in Geological Sciences student from Zimbabwe, Gabrielle Kwambana is among those living at Wits Junction. She said her bursary is paying for her accommodation and she buys her own food. Kwambana says she takes pictures to pass the time. 

 “I have all the essentials and whenever they run out, I always ask and collect at the reception,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. 

Masters student in Journalism and Media Studies student Amindeh Blaise Atabong from Cameroon said he moved to a private guesthouse in Melville when the evacuation was announced but was assisted by the international students office to move back to Junction where he originally resided.

“I’m hardly bored these days; the national lockdown has given me an opportunity to concentrate on academic and professional work. In the past few days, I have pushed many things through which have contributed in my personal and professional development,” Atabong said. 

The Junction students say the residence has allowed the them to use the gym, to jog within the premises and exercise with a safe physical distance from each other.

Wits Dean of Students,  Jerome September told Wits Vuvuzela that strict measures are applied at the residences to ensure social distancing in line with the lockdown regulations. He said the university is giving the students the necessary support to ensure they are not at any risk.

“Given the lockdown, limited services are in place and all students are at self-catering arrangements,” September said. 

September said the students have received food assistance from NGOs to ensure their well-being. “Students were assisted with food support from Wits Food Bank and also from Gift of the Givers.”

September said the university is continuing the students with all the help they can get. “We are monitoring the situation especially because many countries have made the decision to evacuate their citizens, we will continue to do our best to support these students and ensure that they are not at risk,” September said.

CORRECTIONS: This story originally said that Amindeh Blaise Atabong is a Masters in Media Studies student when he is a Masters in Journalism and Media Studies student. The story also said that Atabong was assisted by the Junction residence manager when the evacuation happened. He was assisted by the international students office. These errors are regretted, have been corrected in the copy above and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Junction is one of the residences that is accommodating international students who were to return to their home countries when the university residences were evacuated. Photo: File