Huge projects under way to alleviate student housing shortage

When Roland Tatenda Ndowa arrived on campus at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo, he soon realised how his fellow students were struggling to find accommodation.

Parents and guardians were calling property owners on the phone from other cities and towns to try to arrange accommodation for students in a faraway place.

These struggles sparked a business idea and Ndowa registered a company linking property owners and students who were seeking accommodation. The company went on to win a start-up pitching competition and has since evolved into a construction company that the former NUST engineering student is still running, a year after he graduated.

“Basically, I had seen a challenge for people trying to look for accommodation. I thought why not have an app that actually facilitates the payments and us being the go-betweens and then we handle everything from there,” he told University World News.

Ndowa said he first developed a website with colleagues at the university while working on the accommodation app. A lot of people who were in real estate came asking to advertise on the website and their properties were uploaded. Initially, there was a promotion to post free of charge, and Ndowa subsequently won the Founders Live competition.

Portal to find accommodation

“We now had resources and developed a chatbot. The chatbot was Facebook-based. It was an accommodation platform so it automated responses. You could list your property on that chatbot and every time someone would look for a property, the number of the property owner would be there,” he said.

“We became a portal to help people find accommodation. The business thrived during COVID-19 because we were the only platform that could do virtual tours at that time. We were showing videos of the homes. We got payments equivalent to US$20 from the tenant as a finding fee and 10% of the rental from the landlord.”

While Ndowa is linking students with property owners, the government has moved to address the problem by building a complex to accommodate students, touting it as an achievement just ahead of the general elections on 23 August 2023. Other role-players are also involved in helping to alleviate the student housing crisis.

The authorities settled on constructing student accommodation complexes, starting near Ndowa’s former university in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, at a cost of US$20 million.

New hostels to open soon

The government-run Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) spearheaded the project in a public-private partnership with Old Mutual; the Motoring Industry Pension Fund; Zimnat and the Catering Industry Pension Fund to alleviate the accommodation challenges students face.

The student hostels, dubbed Bulawayo Students City, are complete and set to be opened in September 2023 when the new semester starts.

The Bulawayo complex, which is located a stone’s throw from NUST, will cater to all students at institutions of higher learning in the city that are within 3km from the hostels, including the Zimbabwe School of Mines, Bulawayo Polytechnic, and Hillside Teachers’ College. All the institutions offer limited accommodation as demand far outstrips supply, hence the need for new construction projects.

IBDZ is now replicating the project countrywide. Where it partners with private players, the student complexes are built outside the campus and, where it partners with a university to build the complex, the hostels will be located within the campus.

Apart from partnering with state-run universities, there is also a partnership with a church-run university, the Catholic University of Zimbabwe.

In some instances, the bank is partnering with local authorities who may provide the land.

As in the completed complex in Bulawayo, generators for back-up power and water are provided. There are also shops at the complex.

Government boasts about ‘achievement’

During an election campaign event in Bulawayo on 2 August 2023, Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa listed the completed Bulawayo Student City as one of his government’s achievements. Zimbabwe held general elections on Wednesday 23 August and Mnangagwa, who replaced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe after masterminding a coup in November 2017, is seeking re-election.

In his address at the Bulawayo rally, Mnangagwa told his ruling Zanu-PF supporters that the majority of those to be housed at the new complex will be female students.

“The Bulawayo Students Accommodation Complex is set to address the shortage of accommodation at tertiary institutions within the city. The complex accommodates 1,032 students with a ratio of 60% for the girl child, who is more vulnerable to abuse, and 40% for the boy child,” Mnangagwa said.

A statement the IBDZ released on 2 August 2023 said plans are already under way to construct other student hostels in six of the country’s 10 provinces. It said some of the projects will provide accommodation for both students and academic staff. The government bank said it has already purchased land for the projects in some areas. In Masvingo province, it has entered into a partnership with the state-run Great Zimbabwe University to build an accommodation complex at an estimated cost of US$29 million.

Gender-mainstreaming policies

“The Great Zimbabwe Students and Staff Accommodation Complex involves a multistorey complex and blocks of high-rise flats that will house 2,500 students, academic and medical staff in the city of Masvingo,” the financial institution said. The bank said that, in the Midlands province, it has partnered with the Gweru city council for the Gweru Students Accommodation Complex project to construct multistorey student halls of residence and a shopping mall that will service 2,400 students and the surrounding community.

The IBDZ said the estimated construction cost is US$12 million for student halls and US$10.9 million for the commercial centre.

“Existing on-campus student facilities at Midlands State University and other tertiary institutions in the provincial capital of the province are not adequate to meet the increasing student population. The increase has been spurred by the expansion of the institution, which has seen it offer more academic programmes in response to the needs of the country’s industrial and economic growth drive. The increase in students has also been a result of the government’s deliberate gender mainstreaming policies which have seen more female students enrolling at tertiary institutions,” the bank said.

In Mashonaland West province, the IBDZ has partnered with the state-run Chinhoyi University of Technology to construct multistorey hostel blocks that will house 1,516 students on campus at an estimated cost of US$12.5 million.

Commercial centre also included

In Matabeleland South province, the IBDZ said, it will not be entering into any partnership as it owns the land to build the Lupane Students Accommodation Complex – multistorey hostels to accommodate 1,204 students and a shopping mall that will service students and the surrounding community in the town of Lupane at an estimated construction cost of US$12 million for student halls and US$13 million for the commercial centre.

The bank said that, in the capital city of Harare, it will be partnering with the church-run Catholic University of Zimbabwe to construct a multistorey hostel that will house 992 students on campus at an estimated cost of US$12.4 million.

In an interview with University World News, IBDZ board chairman Kupikile Mlambo said the financial institution will ultimately spearhead the construction of student accommodation in all provinces.

He said that, after completing the Bulawayo project, they are moving to Lupane where they already own land for the project.

NUST students representative council president Muziwenkosi Sigidi-Moyo told University World News that the Bulawayo Students City will alleviate accommodation challenges.

Private lodgings bring challenges

He said students renting at people’s homes in nearby suburbs were facing challenges.

“We have students staying under really harsh conditions – unfinished rooms, maybe unpainted, untiled. One of the basic challenges is when property owners do not honour their end of the bargain. For example, they promise Wi-Fi but are not able to offer a stable service or any service at all. Sometimes the property owner does not buy electricity when it goes off,” he said.

Moyo said some students are not able to host visitors, “which is a bit unfair because, at university, we rely on study groups”. Proper security is also a problem, leading to theft and robberies.

Moyo said that, when students live in private residences, there must be a clear lease stating the rights of the student because, if there is none, students tend to be taken advantage of.

Asked about the current set-up whereby private partners build a student complex near a university as opposed to having the structure on campus, he said: “Looking at it, I think it is okay to have private players for the sake of competition, for the sake of diversity.

“However, campus accommodation has the advantage that, when services are not rendered on time or are not rendered at all, at least you have a clear protocol to follow; whom to question because you know the admin, or if the warden is there, questions are answered. It becomes a different story if it is a private set-up or a proprietor. Whom do you approach and are they even accountable?”