Mbabane: University of Eswatini (UNESWA) students’ academic future hangs in the balance following the indefinite closure of the bookshop operator due to owed monies by the institution totaling to 8 million SZL.
Independent News has established that UNESWA has been owing Van Schaik Book Store – the operator, about 10 million SZL, but have since managed to pay 2 million SZL in the past two weeks, living the balance standing at 8 million SZL. Our senior sources at the university disclosed that the owed amount of money was accumulated in the first semester of this current academic year, resulting in Van Schaik resolving to slam the doors shut, leaving the students with nowhere to buy the required books.
A member of the Students Representative Council who elected to comment on condition of anonymity because he is not mandated to talk to the media told this publication that students are frustrated and worried about their academic future after they fell into this predicament beyond their control.
“We are fast approaching a period where we would be writing tests and also, exams are not afar as well but we cannot prepare ourselves because we do not have the required books and other stationeries,” said the source. Information reaching Independent News was to the effect that the university management is allegedly not giving the students audience so that the matter can be discussed despite being the (students) who are suffering the most more so because they do not have access to valuable information contained in the books. The source went on to tell this publication that as the students representative body, they have, for numerous times tried to meet the university management but in vain as they (management) could not attend the planned meetings and if they attended, they failed to give satisfactory explanation about the prevailing situation
The Student Representative Committee (SRC) member disclosed that students had since resolved that the book allowance be deposited into their personal account because the current book shop is charging them an arm and a leg for the books and other stationeries, adding that the prices are unaffordable.
Independent News has been reliably informed that UNESWA is not the first institution to encounter such problems related to the running of the bookshop. It has been gathered that one of the institutions which once faced the same situation is Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT). In 2018, LUCT students were complaining about the high prices charged by Van Schaik and they demanded that the government should pay the book allowances into their personal accounts so that they could make their own decision whether to go purchase stationery from Van Schaik or any bookshop in the country.
Independent News has learnt that Van Schaik decided to close shop at LUCT after the students complained about the exorbitant prices. It is said the book operator found it fit to close the shop because it was not making any business sense to continue operating while the students were not purchasing from them.
When some of the UNESWA students who were randomly interviewed by Independent News were asked if they were also of the view that Van Schaik should close shop at, they responded to the negative, insisting that they were not in any way suggesting that the operator should vacate the university. They reaffirming their strong desire to have their book allowance deposited into their accounts just like the personal allowance that is paid to their accounts monthly as per the newly introduced government system.
When sought for comment John Kunene from Van Schaik lamented the impractical conditions which resulted in the closure of the book shop. Kunene confirmed to Independent News that the outstanding balances are for the previous semester and as a result they decided not to open up for the current running semester and freeze the students accounts.
He highlighted that they have been communicating with the institution since the beginning of the year and they were promised that all debts will be settled by the March 3, 2020, but to their surprise by this date only a portion of the amount owed was paid, adding that the paid money is too little compared to what they were expecting, hence they resolved to close.
Kunene disclosed that after the lapse of the deadline, UNESWA management approached them and reasoned with them that they should continue allowing students to purchase books while they are still working with government to settle the debt but then, as a company they turned them down in fear that the debt will further accumulate and plunge the business into worse operational state. Another thorn on the flesh of Van Schaik is the fact that their contract between themselves and UNESWA is elapsing on June 19, 2020 thus allowing the students to continue taking books can result in more challenges than solutions.
He mentioned that when they enquired about the outstanding amounts they were told that the university is still communicating with the responsible ministry. Kunene revealed that the last time he talked with the university’s management, he was told that government has not made any payment ever since the beginning of the second semester, hence the failure to pay the bookshop operator.