Jonas Mwaura Gauteng


Jonas Mwaura Gauteng
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We the undersigned are writing to express our immense concern and shock at the unannounced rent increase of UP accommodation for Postdoctoral Fellows. These increases range from 9% up to 42%, but are mainly above 30%. This is way above the annual inflation of South Africa of 6.5% and seems to lack any comprehensible justification. Aside from the magnitude of the increase, the suddenness of the rent hike without any prior warning has left us Postdoctoral Fellows with a deep sense of insecurity about our welfare at the university.

The ethics of this communication policy are additional cause for alarm among the scholarly community. Whereas tenants are required to communicate their leaving 30 days in advance, the increase in rent comes without prior notice and with immediate effect. Given the university deducts the rent directly from the bursary, Postdoctoral Fellows are even more concerned that no prior notice has been given. Within the private rental market, this would undoubtedly be illegal.

It must also be stressed that the increase in rent does not correspond with an improvement in the condition of the accommodation. At the end of last year, a team of UP staff visited the postdoctoral houses and wrote a report to presumably document all the aspects of the houses that needed attention; some of the houses are quite old and in poor condition due to lack of maintenance. However, no improvement whatsoever has accompanied the price increase at these postdoctoral houses.

We would additionally like to add that after last year's meeting with Prof. Themba Mosia, representatives of the Department of Residence Affairs and Accommodation (TuksRes) and UPPA representatives, Postdoctoral Fellows were granted a representative seat on the committee that oversees accommodation issues for Postdoctoral Fellows within TuksRes. This was, amongst other things, granted to make it possible for UPPA to inform Postdoctoral Fellows about issues concerning rent of UP accommodation. Attempts from the side of UPPA to contact representatives of TuksRes to arrange this representation have remained unanswered by TuksRes. This prevented UPPA from actively communicating an increase in rent to the Postdoctoral Fellows.

As explained already in last year’s discussion, while these increases are taking place, for the vast majority of Postdoctoral Fellows bursaries have been determined and fixed for two years or more. A significant rental increase like this has a devastating impact on overall welfare and budgeting and the personal finances of the fellows. For long-term tenants, there is an expectation that any rent increase will be communicated in good time by early December at the latest, so that fellows have adequate time to look for alternative accommodation if the rent is considered excessive. Postdoctoral Fellows at the Hippocrates residences have also found that quotes provided by TuksRes did not reflect the amount of rent that was actually charged.

The rate increase does raise a few questions. If the university, as the employer, believes it is both fair and necessary to raise the accommodation by an average of 30%, does the university think it is reasonable for postdoctoral fellows to pay half or two thirds of their bursary on accommodation alone? If the university acknowledges inflationary pressures of 30%, can Postdoctoral Fellows also expect an imminent corresponding increase in their respective bursaries?

Many of us are international scholars, and most of us come from outside Pretoria, and the provision of university accommodation raised the status of the University of Pretoria’s fellowship. We have been appreciative of its various benefits (proximity, direct deductions from bursary, no deposit, and furnishings). However, this rate increase will force many of us to look for more competitively priced accommodation in the private market. It is worth highlighting that in the private rental market there have been no extraordinary increases in rent. Needless to say, in the long run, these welfare issues also cast the University of Pretoria’s Postdoctoral Fellowships in a decidedly uncompetitive light.

In conclusion, we request that:

A) The significant increase for UP postdoctoral accommodation be revoked, and that reasonable 2015 price increases are negotiated for all UP Postdoctoral Fellows.

B) A contract between TuksRes and the Postdoctoral Fellows, who are often long-term tenants, will be set up to regularise the contractual obligations of both tenants and landlord. This will prevent a repeat of the upheaval now caused by the sudden increases amongst the Postdoctoral Fellow community at the university.

C) All rental quotes given to Postdoctoral Fellows about UP accommodation should be accurate and reflect the actual rent.

In the spirit of scholarly cooperation and mutual trust, we very much hope that our request will be taken up favourably.

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