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.
By Kudzai Mashininga
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 says.
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.
While Ndowa is linking students with property owners, the government and private investors are moving in to build accommodation for students. A project has been completed near Ndowa’s former university in Bulawayo at a cost of US$20 million.
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.
The Bulawayo complex 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.
More student projects in the pipeline
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.
IBDZ plans to build other student hostels in six of the country’s 10 provinces. The bank has already purchased land for the projects in some areas. In Masvingo, it has entered into a partnership with Great Zimbabwe University to build an accommodation complex at an estimated US$29 million.
“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 institution said. In the Midlands, 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.
The IBDZ said the estimated construction cost is US$12 million for student halls and US$10.9 million for the commercial centre.
In Mashonaland West, the IBDZ has partnered with Chinhoyi University of Technology to construct multistorey hostel blocks for 1,516 students on campus at an estimated cost of US$12.5 million.
In Matabeleland South, 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 US$12 million for student halls and US$13 million for the commercial centre.
In Harare, IDBZ is partnering with the 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.
Harsh conditions for students
NUST students representative council president Muziwenkosi Sigidi-Moyo told University World News that the Bulawayo Students City will alleviate accommodation 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,” he said.
IDBZ is not the only investor seeing opportunities in student accommodation.
First Mutual Properties is also involved in Chinhoyi student accommodation, where the project is now at second-floor level. The added advantage for First Mutual is that the project has prescribed asset status, which helps the company meet its regulatory obligations while earning a profit.
First Mutual is also investing in student hostels in Zvishavane, and reports in its latest financials that proposed designs having been approved by Zvishavane Town Council.
“The contractor commenced work on site with Phase A comprising the Six Duplex Flats while the other 20 blocks of Double and Triple Storey Flats are at trenching and brick footing levels,” First Mutual reports.
In 2018, ZimRe properties invested US$1.8 million to convert one of its Bulawayo properties, Nicoz House, into a student accommodation facility that houses over 200 students.