The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) is set to demolish scores of hostels constructed at Bunda College by the university’s employees as accommodation woes threaten to turn the college into a slum.
A visit to the college this week, showed how a slum-like housing has mushroomed at the college in response to lack of space in the college’s hostels to accommodate an ever increasing population of students.
The conditions some of the students live in resemble a refugee camp, some of the hostels are brick-walled and with iron-sheets roofing while others are pathetic tiny shacks constructed with just timber, plastic and grass-thatched, making a mockery of the university’s credentials as a centre of high learning.
The structures were constructed adjacent to houses of the college’s support staff, but the college says this is illegal and has subsequently given a deadline of September 15 2015 for the staff to demolish all the illegal structures.
The college’s public relations officer Bessie Milanzi confirmed the plans to demolish the houses, saying management arrived at the decision after an inspection brought to light substandard conditions “that it felt were not suitable for our students to live in.”
She further said the structures were illegally being built on institutional land “so it was just a matter of time for such a decision to be made” and added that there is a lot of cooperation from members of staff on the matter.
Milanzi said the decision to take down the structures was made a long time ago and was just being enforced.
“Management had to tolerate the structures for some time while looking for funding as there was no funding available for construction of hostels for our students, now we have obtained funding from our development partners to construct new hostels.
“The university has plans to construct new hostels and currently construction of a 212-bed female hostel is already underway and there are plans to construct a few more. The deadline for demolition of the structures is 15th September 2015 and necessary action will be taken in case the structures are not voluntarily demolished,” said Milanzi.
Several students interviewed during the visit to the campus—one of the few public universities in the country—expressed fear on what will happen once the private hostels are pulled down as demanded by management.
While the structures have turned the college into an eyesore, said one masters degree student who is housed in the college’s hostels, they are a huge relief to thousands of students who cannot fit into the college’s hostels.
“The question is how will the college house these students? The system was changed to allow each student to find own accommodation, including those of us here in the college hostels, but there no spaces and no new ones will be constructed soon, so what happens next?” asked the student.
Lisungu Kayira, the college’s student union president said the students have engaged management over concerns on the fate of their colleagues, but said the union is yet to come up with a unilateral position.
“The talks have just been initiated. We have been told that the houses were illegal and, obviously, as a students’ union we cannot condone the breaking of the law as constructing on government land is illegal. However, we are worried about the fate of our colleagues who depend on this informal accommodation.
“Bunda, unlike Chancellor College and the Polytechnic poses a unique housing challenge as we are isolated from town; hence, finding accommodation outside campus is difficult,” said Kayira.
Another student welcomed Nation on Sunday to his six doubled-bed dormitory which houses 12 male students on various programmes. The dangers of illegal electricity notwithstanding, he dwelt on inconveniences of 12 students staying in a tiny room.
Bunda, a constituent college of Luanar which includes the Natural Resources College (NRC), has over 3 800 students.