Water and electricity cuts inconvenience OP res students

Katherine Atkinson

Students at Onderstepoort residence have experienced frequent water and electricity disruptions this year. Fourth year BVSc student, Nicola Sankey, says that these disruptions “have been happening since [she] arrived at OP [res] in 2016”. However, the occurrence of these disruptions has escalated in 2018. A student, who wishes to remain anonymous, has compiled a log of all disruptions for 2018. The student says that OP res students experienced electricity cuts on February 21, March 5, 9, 22, 31 and April 12.

Water disruptions occurred on February 14, 20, 21, 28, March 2, 3, 5, 8, 14 and 15. The student says that the electricity cuts “usually last between 14-24 [hours], and on occasion just, a few hours”. The “duration of the water cuts” range “from a couple of hours up to two days” but “last year [they] had worse.” Sankey says that the most recent electricity cut lasted about 16 hours, and the most recent water disruption lasted two days. The University of Pretoria’s media liaison, Rikus Delport, says that these “disruptions were all caused by interruptions to the municipal services as a result of the aged utilities infrastructure surrounding our campuses and theft of municipal infrastructure”. Savannah Stutchbury, who has resided at OP since 2016, confirms that students “always get told the issue is ‘municipal’ in the case of water or due to cable theft in the case of power cuts.” Sankey questions why cable theft is such a frequent occurrence and asks what can be done to prevent this. Some OP residents, such as Noelle Steyn, are unaware of the reasons for the disruptions.

The University of Pretoria has “been engaging with the City of Tshwane at the highest level to try to reduce the risks to [their] core business”, says Delport. OP resident, Candyce Pedreiro, confirms Delport’s statement. “The management at OP res has established a WhatsApp group so that there is direct communication between OP and the municipality”, says Pedreiro. Pedreiro says there is also “a group for res students where the [information] is passed onto by the HC”. Sankey and Stutchbury, who have engaged with management on a personal level, appear to be frustrated by the lack of adequate response.

Stutchbury says that she received a reply “saying that they are trying to sort out the issues, but there is no funding available (despite the fact that residence fees increased R7000 this year […])”. Delport says that UP has “applied for substantial funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training to roll out [an] emergency water programme, as well as for the implementation of emergency back-up generators on several campuses where we do not currently have sufficient capacity”. In the meantime, Delport says that UP has “deployed a mobile standby generator to the Onderstepoort campus which has capacity to service the residence’s kitchen and some of the residences in the event of a power failure”. Stutchbury confirms that TuksRes have “implemented a small generator that provides electricity to five student blocks and the dining hall”. Sankey says that this generator “only supplies electricity to the old buildings (Blocks A-G)” and “[n]one of the flats are supplied with power (Blocks H-S).” There were various responses with regards to TuksRes’ addressal of the water disruptions. Pedreiro says that there are “proposed JoJo tanks that will be put [in] the new blocks” as “old blocks already have”.

Students are also “given water in big rubbish bins that are placed outside our blocks,” says Pedreiro. On the other hand, Steyn believes that “nothing will be done about water”. Delport assures that UP “is giving the situation its urgent attention as the health and wellbeing, and of course, the continued academic success of [their] students is [their] priority”. Nevertheless, these disruptions have affected students negatively. Kimelle Krishnalall, a fourth-year BVSc student, says that it is inconvenient that students have to go to campus to work because there is a generator there. Pedreiro responds that it “can be frustrating to deal with these issues, especially if these power cuts are near tests” because “most of [the students’] study resources [are] electronic”. Steyn, Sankey and the student that wanted to stay anonymous say that freezers might defrost, and food can go off during longer electricity cuts.

According to Sankey, water disruptions consume a large amount of time because students need to fetch water from the pool or lower taps to cook, clean, to drink, and to flush the toilets.Sankey describes water cuts as extremely frustrating and says that living “in a corridor with eight people to two toilets is a nightmare”. Stutchbury and Sankey mention that since OP is a medical campus, water is imperative for hygiene. During practicals, students “work with animals which may transmit zoonotic diseases”. Therefore, students “need to be clean after these interactions”, says Stutchbury. Further, “OP is 70% female” and women “menstruating during the water cuts […] are not able to keep clean”. This “needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency”, says Stutchbury. While most of the abovementioned students express overall satisfaction with OP residence, the water and electricity disruptions have caused massive inconvenience. According to the UP website, OP residence costs between R43000 – R49 000 per annum. While Pedreiro empathises with the issue being municipal, she feels that they “do pay enough for there to be solutions put in place”.

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