For students starting their studies at Wits University, there is no greater convenience than living a walking distance away from campus. However, the price of that convenience is slowly driving students away.
At the beginning of 2023, Wits University’s daily operations were partially stopped by the #WitsShutdown. The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) mobilised students to protest against unaffordable accommodation amongst other issues.
In 2021, the most affordable room at a Wits residence – a four-bedroom flat at Braamfontein Centre – cost R45 966 per annum. Just two years later, the price has gone up by R5 820 and it now costs R51 786 per annum. This fee increase and a R45 000 cap on accommodation allowances by National Student Financial Aid Scheme, have made it difficult for students to find housing in and around Wits.
Living at a Wits residence
As of 2022, there were 41 794 students enrolled at Wits. Of those students, only 15% of them can be accommodated by the 17 Wits residence buildings in and around the Braamfontein and Parktown campuses.
To make matters worse, nine out of the 17 residences give priority to first-year students and other undergraduate students, two are strictly for postgraduate students and the remaining six residences accommodate irrespective of ones year of study.
Before this year’s protests, students were required to pay a compulsory initial installment of R10 000 before moving into a Wits residence. This is separate from the 10-month rental price, ranging from R41 786 for a shared room to R99 077 for a single studio apartment.
There are two types of residences at Wits, catered and self-catered residences. Self-catered students are provided with communal and individual kitchens, while catered students eat at the five dining halls across the Braamfontein and Parktown campuses.
Catered students pay for both accommodation and meals. The meal prices range from R18 720 for ten meals per week, to R34 570 for 19 meals per week. Students have three meals per day during the week and only twice per day on Saturdays and Sundays.
Living at a private residence
To address the 85% shortfall, Wits approved 69 privately owned residences that range from at least 22m to 4.9km away from either Braamfontein or Parktown campus. All private residences are for students that cater for themselves and depending on the ownership, some provide buses that transport students to and from campus.
Rates at a private residence differ from the rates at a Wits residence. For example, living in a Southpoint student accommodation building would cost at least R38 680 for a room shared by three people and up to R97 650 for a single studio apartment, on a 10-month lease. This excludes the once-off R1 100 registration fee.
Some private residences like Apex Studios make students buy their own electricity when their monthly coupons run out. Others don’t have backup generators for loadshedding, this includes Wits residences that are off campus in Braamfontein, namely Noswal Hall, Amani House and Braamfontein Centre.
Private residences accommodate 21 539 students, and most of those are students heavily reliant on bursaries and sponsorships. According to a report by Wits, “More than 27 000 students Wits students are fortunate to receive funding for a portion of their fees and other expenses from a broad base of external funders.”
On December 5, 2022, the CEO of Universities South Africa (USaf), Dr Phethiwe Matutu released a media statement to announce that NSFAS proposed to cap accommodation allowances at R45 000. This was done “to mitigate the escalating cost of student accommodation,” the statement read.
Students across universities in South Africa were denied places to stay because of the cap. The cap created a shortfall in accommodation fees for most students. A shortfall students could also not afford to cover. Many students left their homes only to find that they would be sleeping in libraries and outside accommodation offices when they came to university.
SRC Compliance Officer, Karabo Matloga (20) told Sunday Times that he stays at Apex Studio – which is 22m away from Wits’ main campus. He has his own fridge but shares a kitchen and bathroom with three other people. That costs him R52 500 on a 10-month lease, leaving him having to cover the outstanding R7 500. Fortunately for Matloga, his mother helps him cover the balance. Matloga is one of the 10 000 students covered by NSFAS, but what about the other 9 999?
Moreover, NSFAS has defunded 559 students since the beginning of the second semester in July 2023. Funds were stopped immediately and fees already covered reversed, leaving those students stranded in the middle of the academic year.
Gloria Mokoena (25) *, a third-year Wits physics student told Wits Vuvuzela, “It seems like a lot of people do not know why NSFAS is [defunding us]” because “I was told our household income is more than R350k,” she said. According to Mokoena, this is not true because her father passed on when she was still young, and her mother is the only breadwinner in the house.
Mokoena said that she has now had to resort to camping in the library and showering in the gym. “If I travel every day, I will not have enough money for food during the day because it is just enough for transport,” she said.
Postgraduate students are also affected by this accommodation crisis. Recipients of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Honours funding were only able to move into student accommodations after the academic calendar had already started. While Wits opened on February 21, students only started receiving feedback on the status of their applications on March 8. Students cannot move into a residence without a letter that proves that the student is funded or will be able to afford the fees.
In March of this year, the financial aid scheme promised to intervene when students are denied accommodation over the cap but plans for next year are yet to be known, and no permanent solution has been applied to this crisis.
*Name changed to protect identity
FEATURED IMAGE: Some of the homeless students are squatting at Wits residences and private student accommodation. Photo: File
- Wits Vuviuzela, SLICE: My self-inflicted accommodation crisis, June 2023.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Wits SRC partners with Dunwell Properties to alleviate the accommodation crisis, May 2023.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Wits SRC secures millions for student accommodation, June 2022.