University of Venda splashes out R5-million on a pool students can't use

Venda campus's 'Potemkin pool' one of many cash guzzlers

17 September 2017 - 00:02 By PREGA GOVENDER
The empty  recreational swimming pool at the University of Venda,  in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, has cost the university almost R5-million.
The empty recreational swimming pool at the University of Venda, in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, has cost the university almost R5-million.
Image: Avhashoni Mainganye

A R4.9-million recreational swimming pool at the University of Venda has not been used since it was completed last year, because there are no lifeguards.

The pool has now been drained, while students specialising in sports and biokinetics have to trek to a nearby hotel swimming pool for their practicals.

To add insult to injury, the university sent two students to Durban last year to be trained in lifesaving, only to discover when they returned that they had only been taught first aid and were not qualified to rescue anyone from the water.

The pool, completed early last year, was supposed to cost R1.5-million but this shot up to R4.9-million after ablution facilities, changing rooms, palisade fencing and paving were added.

The pool is on a list of infrastructure projects at the university for which costs have ballooned. Others include a shaded parking lot for university-owned vehicles, which jumped from R3.9-million to R8.9-million; sports courts that escalated from R1.2-million to R3.5-million, and an abattoir, piggery and milking parlour that increased from R10-million to R17.4-million.

Staff members have also questioned the R6.1-million spent on the university entrance gate.

Adding to the university's cost crunch is a risk analysis undertaken by a team of consultants, which has revealed that the university needs an additional R105.7-million to complete unfinished projects on the campus, including a 320-bed hostel for female students, a 314-bed hostel for male students, the school of health sciences building and the second phase of the education building.

SRC president Mandla Shikwambana slammed the size of the pool, saying it was meant for "primary school children". The pool is said to be 25m x 15m.

The abandoned, half-built, health sciences building  at the University of Venda,  in Thohoyandou. It is expected to be completed next year for an additional R18.7-million.
The abandoned, half-built, health sciences building at the University of Venda, in Thohoyandou. It is expected to be completed next year for an additional R18.7-million.
Image: Avhashoni Mainganye

He said the SRC had proposed to the university's management in January that they get a service provider to train students to become lifeguards.

"Up to now nothing has been done. As students, we feel we are not being taken seriously."

He claimed the university filled the pool with water just before former higher education deputy minister Mduduzi Manana visited the campus in March last year to inspect infrastructure projects, just to impress him.

Within weeks of the visit, the water was drained, he said.

'Students need to swim'

A third-year education student said university authorities should understand that Venda was a very hot place: "Students need to swim to cool down."

A master's student said the university should use the money being paid for inflated tenders to stock the library with books.

"Reference books are outdated. I only have one book for the research I am doing. When we conduct research, we need to use several books to back our theory."

Vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati confirmed that students specialising in sports and biokinetics were using a nearby hotel's swimming pool for their practicals.

He said the pool had been drained because workers were doing a "final clean-up" and that it would be opened by November.

"It was drained to clean it and give it a nice shine."

Professor  Peter Mbati in front of  the R6.1-million entrance.
Professor Peter Mbati in front of the R6.1-million entrance.
Image: Alaister Russell

He admitted the pool had never been used. "I'm told in terms of the safety requirements, you need to have a lifeguard. We made a submission to the HR committee of council to create that position. I do agree it has taken a little long."

Mbati said a forensic report had found the university "received value" for the additional R3.4-million spent on the pool and for the additional money spent on parking facilities for the university's vehicle fleet.

"The forensic report confirmed there was no evidence of self-enrichment."

Commenting on the abandoned buildings, he said the university would launch an investigation into the circumstances behind the appointment of contractors who were unable to complete their projects.

Auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo made six critical findings related to the university's procurement and contract management in a report in July. These included projects not being completed on time and no evidence of competitive bidding for contracts valued at more than R1-million.

How costs ballooned

R1.5m — R4.9m - Swimming pool

R3.9m — R8.9m - Fleet parking

R1.2m — R3.5m - Sports courts

R10m — R17.4m - Abattoir, piggery and milking parlour

Additional funds required to finish incomplete projects:

● Male residence: R15.778-million

● Female residence: R23.1-million

● Education building (phase 2): R12.3-million

● Agriculture renewal project: R2.8-million

● Health sciences building: R18.7-million

● Sibasa staff houses: R3.6-million

● Student entertainment centre: R2-million

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