More than 200 South Africans studying at universities in Russia face expulsion as they have not received their stipends from the Mpumalanga provincial government. The department failed to fulfil its promises to pay the stipends on several occasions.
The termination of a contract between Green Tutu Trading and the provincial Department of Education has left 229 students scrambling to avoid expulsion from the universities and eviction from their accommodation. They claim they had not received their stipends for at least four months.
“These past four months have been very difficult for us, as South African students. I face possible expulsion if those fees are not paid,” said Tumisang Victoria Maheso, founder and Chairperson of the South African International Students Association (SAISA).
She said local authorities failed to understand their plight and have left them to fend for themselves in a foreign land.
“If they are going to let us go through all of this, it clearly shows that they have brought us here and they don’t care about us. Our parents are worried sick in the country and we are going through a lot on our own because we don’t have any support. We have exhausted all of our options,” she said.
Another distressed student in Russia, Mathebula Luyanda, who is in his final year of medical studies at Tambov State University, accused the department of feeding them “lies upon lies” instead of settling their fees.
Engagements with Dept of Education
Maheso said the students in Russia had exhausted their options in desperate attempts to engage with the department on the matter. She said their plight was simply ignored.
“The Department is really just shoving this matter under the carpet.. We are speaking up because we really don’t know how to reach out to the department anymore. They are breaching the contract that they had with us when they brought us into this country,” she said.
She felt abandoned by the department, saying “the department has left us to negotiate on our own accord with our landlords and our universities. The little trust that we had with our landlords is being broken by the fact that we keep making promises that we cannot adhere to.”
Maheso added that an attempt to escalate the matter to the office of the minister of the national Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET), Dr Blade Nzimande, revealed that he was not aware of the situation.
Negative impact on students
The unpaid expenses have caused unprecedented stress for the students. Maheso said she will be evicted from her residence should the department fail to pay by Friday (October 14). Luyanda said he had to foot the bill for compulsory medical examinations and, as such, had been forced to find employment.
“I was brought here to study but, because of the government not honouring their commitment [to pay for] certain things, I’m supposed to now go find work; hussle around to try and be able to pay for accommodation and to feed myself.
According to the students, the Mpumalanga department had appointed several agents to handle their tuition abroad. They accused the agents of running off with students’ money instead of fulfilling their mandate.
“We have subcontractors that are running away with students’ money and the department is not taking accountability. It’s basically a free-for-all,” Luyanda said.
He said he was not confident that the department had any plan to deal with the issue any time soon.