Alleged neglect at the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture, and the seemingly unhealthy state of the cattle found on the grounds, have sparked concern over the quality of tertiary agricultural training that students receive at the institution.
Images of dilapidated buildings, rubbish dumped in the grazing field and unhealthy-looking cattle on the college grounds have recently been making the rounds.
Despite the sudden media attention, a former student at the college tells Food For Mzansi that the state of the college has been an issue for some time. Students have raised their concerns with college management several times, he adds.
The former student asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.
He says conditions at the college were not ideal while he was studying, but also not as bad as the pictures currently depict. “When I got their in 2019, things were not that bad. As time went on, things just got worse. Especially over the Covid-19 period, things spiralled out of control.”
Food For Mzansi learned that the college is currently undergoing renovations and upgrades are being made to the hostels. But the student says during his time at the college, maintenance and the general upkeep of the college did not seem to be much of a priority.
“The hostels were a bit terrible… Most students were not really living in a environment [conducive to learning] because of how things were,” he says.
“[Also], the quality of the fields and student park was horrible. There was overgrown grass and at times the college’s sewage system flooded.”
The former student feels that the quality of education was impacted, but only to an extent. “The main issue was that most of the animals … their condition was not so good. For instance, if we had to do a practical on milking, there were some cows that we couldn’t even milk because of [the state they were in].”
He also says that the horticulture section of the farm closed down in 2020, and students who studied fruit production as part of their course, couldn’t continue doing their practical work at the college. Some of the practical training had to be done on other farms, he says.
SAAGA to join in
The president of the South African Agricultural Graduates Organisation (SAAGA), Malose Mokgotho, lays the blame on mismanagement and points the finger to government leaders who are not being held accountable. Agricultural students are being failed, he says.
“The facilities are not stable and conducive [to learning] for the students. The government is denying the students the opportunity to [receive proper education].”
Mokgotho wants to know why the college has not been evaluated and why the decline is allowed.
“Everyone can see that the structures are collapsing. This is incompetence, mismanagement and a lack of care for service delivery.”
According to him, the MEC for agriculture in the province, along with the head of department and director-general, should be intervening.
SAAGA now plans to engage with the student representative council at the college. Once they have been briefed on the issues, the organisation will take the matter to national government. Mokgotho also intends to write an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
‘Quality of education cannot be trusted’
Meanwhile Noko Masipa, DA member on the portfolio committee for agriculture, land reform and rural development, wants answers from national government. His party has written to the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, bout the neglect of the college and the unhealthy state of their cattle.
In a media statement, Masipa wrote that colleges and agricultural schools teach students how to take care of animals and the land. Agricultural colleges are also where students are taught how the maintenance of infrastructure on farms, including sheds and buildings for animals and packaging of produce on the farm, are done or conducted.
“Unfortunately, the state of the college indicates that its quality of education cannot be trusted. It is no wonder there are so many unemployed graduates from the agriculture colleges if this is what they’re exposed to,” Masipa said.
Food For Mzansi approached the national department of agriculture, land reform and rural development for comment and was referred to the provincial department of agriculture and rural development. “Kindly note that this is a legal matter now and [the department] cannot respond to it,” provincial spokesperson Esmelda Setlhako replied.
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