EAST LONDON CORRESPONDENT
STUDENTS who come to East London to further their education are living in overcrowded, rundown hovels while unscrupulous landlords collect their rent every month.
Weekend Post visited three communes in Quigney this week and found young people sharing cramped, dingy rooms and living without hot water, kitchens and proper bathrooms.
Most of them asked not to be named because they fear eviction if they complain. They said they could not afford to move and needed to live close to taxi routes.
But a landlord laid the blame for the state of his houses at the door of the students, saying they "abused" the facilities.
A third-year Boston College student shares a tiny backyard room with a fellow student. The girls pay R650 per month each for their room, which barely accommodates their beds and a wardrobe. They have to cross the backyard to access a grimy toilet shared by seven people.
Another five people live in the main house with its cracked and lifting tiles, peeling paint, mouldy walls and a filthy counter which serves as a kitchen. The indoor tenants have toilets which adjoin their bedrooms.
"This place is dirty – like a slum, but even though we complain to the caretaker the landlady does nothing. She doesn't care. I have been living here for over a year but I have never seen her.
"We have never had hot water so although there is a shower that works, no one uses it. We all wash in our rooms, using a basin and a kettle for warm water."
Because the plug points in the kitchen counter areas do not work, the students cook on hotplates in their rooms.
"Then we use cold water to wash out dishes."
Safety is another concern. The neglected wood-and- iron Quigney house adjoins a prostitute den and shebeen and is in one of the dodgiest parts of the seaside suburb, yet the front door has no lock and just an old padlocked security gate separates the vulnerable tenants from the dangerous streets outside.
"It is not safe and the front door does not even lock. There are drugs and prostitution around here and the cops come to this street every Saturday night. I can't wait to graduate and get a job so I can get out of here," said the student.
Second year marketing management student Nomabandla Nonkwelo lives in a dingy, semi-detached house in Tutton Terrace and pays R1200 for a room where rats have gnawed through the skirting boards in six places and laid siege to her groceries.
Although four rooms in the ramshackle old house are empty, she shares a toilet with four other students.
"We are not allowed to cook in our rooms, but we all do and we also wash in our rooms with basins because the geyser is broken and there is no hot water," said the MSC College student.
Nonkwelo uses a toilet which leads off what was once a kitchen, but now features massive holes in the ceilings, a charred counter and remnants of television sets that a former tenant tried to fix. A communal bathroom featuring three toilets and a shower is in a shocking state of disrepair with smashed doors, missing windows, dirty walls and a pile of junk crammed into a corner.
"I don't know if these toilets work because I never use them. The landlord knows what this place looks like, so I don't complain," said Nonkwelo, who was looking forward to a week-long break with her family in Mthatha.
"My mother doesn't know what this place looks like. She pays the rent so she would complain if she saw it. I am just looking forward to a warm bath and a clean toilet when I get home to Mthatha."
Speaking from Butterworth, where he has business interests, Nonkwelo's landlord, Satish Nair, claimed the geyser at the Tutton Terrace house had been repaired and that it was the tenants' decision to keep it switched off.
He accused them of "abusing" the house.
"One tenant wants hot water but the others don't want it because they want to save money on electricity.
As for the kitchen, I have fixed it many times, but they abuse it," said Nair, who also rents out two other properties on the same street and is also the owner of Queens Accommodation on Currie Street, Quigney. When asked why the ceiling in the kitchen and bathroom was falling down and why the larger bathroom was in such a shocking state of filth and disrepair, Nair vowed to send a "maintenance team" to the house.
"I think I will demolish that house soon. If the tenants don't look after it, what reason is there for me to keep it?"
In a house not far from the Esplanade and the sparkling Indian Ocean two young students from rural Transkei share an airless room furnished with a double bed, a single bed and a small wardrobe with another friend. The three young men sleep beneath a mould-blackened ceiling. There is no usable kitchen so they cook their meals on a hotplate in their room and wash with cold water, because this house – like the others – does not have hot water. Between them they pay R1800 for the cramped quarters.
"We have no room for desks in the room so we just sit on our beds and study and we keep our clothes in suitcases inside the wardrobe," said one of the students, who attends Walter Sisulu University. "We basically sleep, study, cook and wash in this room."
Eleven others share this neglected house which has just two toilets for 14 people.
"We don't complain. We just accept it because we have no choice. We can't afford anything else and this place is better than the last house we stayed in," the student said.
Estate agent Etienne van Rensburg, whose business, ASAP Properties, specialises in the Quigney area, said unscrupulous landlords bought rundown houses in the suburb with the aim of renting them out to as many tenants as possible.
"They buy them and then they divide them up into as many rooms as possible. Most of the people who rent them are from the Transkei and will pay up to R1500 because they need to be here and because it is central."
Van Rensburg said these landlords do not care what conditions their tenants live in.
"They buy the properties cash and see it as a way to capitalise on students. It saddens me that they rent out room by room to make as much money as they can and don't look after the places. It's a sad capitalist trend."