Vice Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba says the University of Zambia students’ hostels are in a shocking dilapidated state due to lack of funding, and it was not shocking that health inspectors declared them unfit for habitation.

And Prof Mumba says the suspension of academic activities at the institution will have serious implication of the school calendar.

Giving an update on UNZA’s preparedness to reopen, Prof Mumba told News Diggers! in an interview that the university ablution blocks had been neglected for far too long, hence posing a health risk to students.

“We completed our academic year in September [2017], we should have opened in November but then that time, the logistics for receiving first year students and also the returning students in terms of their funding were not ready. So in consultation with the ministry, we found it prudent that we should reschedule our reopening to January. Now as fate had it, this cholera pandemic came in. So the opening was announced for 23rd January but we were told that the Copperbelt University and UNZA cannot reopen for the reasons that we had health inspectors from the council who came in and found that our sanitary conditions were not good,” Prof Mumba explained.

“And it didn’t come as a surprise to us as management, we expected that, because indeed we have not maintained our ablution blocks and the toilets in a long time for a simple reason that we are financially very constrained as an institution, we have serious financial challenges. So when they came in they said ‘no, we don’t think that you guys are fit to bring in students’, ‘so you try to do some cleaning up, repair works, after which we are going to come back to do another verification’. So that is what we are now busy with. If you go to the student residencies right now, you will see that the level of dilapidation is shocking. Many floors have not water, the old water pipes are corroded, they have been there since the time the University was constructed by the Israelites. So we needed on a regular basis to be maintaining these facilities and we haven’t done that.”

He said rehabilitation works were ongoing but with limited resources, and asked for help from the defence forces to step in and speed up the process.

“To try and do everything at one goal, it requires a lot of resources in terms of money but also in terms of the Human resources, man power. At the moment our resident engineer is handicapped, we don’t have enough people to work, plumbers. We released from our own internal resources close to half a million kwacha to buy materials but also being a public institution, when it comes to the procurement process there is not short cut, you have to follow the procurement procedure. So that also has taken some time. So by Monday, Tuesday (last week) we received about 60-70 percent of the materials. If there was a way, one would say even the defence forces, they have plumbers there, they could come in. even the ministry of works and supply can come in and help us,” he begged.

“This matter was brought to the attention of the minister [Prof Nkandu Luo] and she is suppose to come in anytime so that we can show her the magnitude of the problem, its too big for us to deal with alone. I think it was a wise decision to decide that we should not bring in students here, we are very prone to a very serious outbreak in the absence of running water,” Prof Mumba said.

“If you went to the rooms right now, you would find that there are water pipes which go under the concrete of those buildings. You go inside the hostels, they are digging, breaking the concrete slabs to get access to those pipes. So what is recommended is that we should abandon the old piping system and put a parallel one, a new one all together so that we have running water. That is not the only problem, students have been cooking in these rooms and these rooms were not designed for cooking, they are not kitchens. So those sockets were simply for small things like pressing irons and so forth but now they put in things like cookers and so on. So you find that the sockets are all not working, some of the lines are completely burnt. So we need also to overhaul the entire electric system in those residencies. According to the resident engineer, because the students will continue to cook there, so it means we have to completely change even the wiring and the transformers and so its really a total overhaul of the entire system.”

He said the university would try to ensure that squatting is not allowed after reopening, as directed by the Higher Education Minister.

“Of course the minister has also given us a precondition that apart from cleaning, improving the sanitary conditions which we are doing, we must also ensure that there is no squatting of students. You know the University of Zambia has a population of close to 27,000 students. We only have 3, 860 bed spaces meaning that legally we should have two students [per room]. So in terms of the number of rooms if we divide that number by two, we are talking about 1, 700 rooms. For the long time we have serious guidelines we don’t allow squatting officially but we know that with this kind of population, where do the students go? So that is one of the conditions that the minister has given us that there should be no squatting. We are determined to enforce that. But we think that the lasting solution is to complete those hostel blocks. There are about four blocks and the bed spaces there will be about 4, 600. but even then that will still not be enough,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prof Mumba feared that there would be a huge backlog of students which would be worsened by the the disruption of the academic calendar.

“But there are also problems with lecture theatres, we do not have enough lecture theatres. Students cannot sit when having lectures, most of them will be standing. So its a much bigger problem than we thought. So really Sipilisiwe that is why the University of Zambia remained closed. But its implications on the academic calendar are so serious. Because we are admitting first years who finished in 2015. The ones that are suppose to have been here this January are those first years who finished in 2015. those who finished in 2016 we are still receiving the applications for them to come in 2019. Those who are finishing now, whose results came out just last week, they can only come in 2020. so if the whole of this academic year is disrupted, you can imagine the amount of backlog of students. But also we have international students. Some from Sweden, Namibia, some of them came in November when we were suppose to have reopened,” said Prof Mumba.