Durban - Twelve female students being flown to India this week for pharmaceutical and ultrasonography training are to be given a contraceptive implant that will prevent them from falling pregnant for up to three years.
The drastic steps announced by the KwaZulu-Natal government on Monday night were being taken to avoid a repeat of the Cuban pregnancy scandal that embarrassed officials earlier this year.
Four students who were sent to Cuba for medical training had returned pregnant.
A total of 30 students from KZN will leave on Thursday to study at Manipal University in Jaipur, India.
They were given full bursaries funded by the government as well as private sector sponsors, Rand Merchant Bank and the South African division of Indian pharmaceutical company, Cipla.
In all, about R20 million is being spent on sustenance, tuition and accommodation – about R600 000 per student. But the women in the group will have a matchstick-sized rod inserted in their arms to ensure their studies are not affected by unplanned pregnancies.
“We will be injecting them with Implanon so they don’t fall pregnant,” Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo told their parents at a farewell dinner on Monday night.
“We sent girls to Cuba and four have returned pregnant; it is the end of their career training with us,” he said, telling the latest group: “Even if you are in or not in a relationship, we will inject you with Implanon before you leave.”
Dhlomo said it was unfair for the government to invest so much in these students only for them to abuse the privilege. “We don’t want to sit down later and say we should have given this opportunity to (another student),” he said.
“You are that student. Many others deserve to be sitting where you are sitting, but this time it is you.”
The MEC urged the students, most of whom come from poor backgrounds, to “behave”.
Premier Senzo Mchunu said at the event that the government was working hard to ensure that the youth had a future.
He said the provincial government was supporting students with bursaries in Cuba, Turkey, India and in South Africa. A total of 702 South African students are currently studying in Cuba.
Mchunu also urged students to focus on their studies and not engage in sexual activity, knowing they had the contraceptive.
“Don’t do anything where you will only represent yourself; do not do anything where you won’t want us or your parents to know,” he said. “Because once you start doing things that represent only yourself, just know that you have done wrong.”
The premier said: “I want you to develop your own ethic, say ‘I don’t do this, I do this’. Make your own name, make history for your children.”
Mchunu urged the students to “take a journey to shape their futures”.
The Daily News spoke to two students who said they would agree to having the implant inserted.
Charity Majola, 23, of Gamalakhe in Port Shepstone, who will study ultrasonography, said she was worried about the side effects of taking Implanon because she had learnt about it at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and had a friend who had taken it and become fat.
“Implanon has negative side effects on the body and it can cause headaches,” she said.
“I will agree to it for the sake of everyone, so that we ensure that money is not wasted. You know all this joy and all the warm words from everyone have really put a lot of pressure on us to perform.”
Angela Buthelezi, 17, of Hlabisa, said she was happy for the opportunity to train in India. She said she was not concerned about the implant because she was not sexually active.
With the opportunity to go to India, Angela had seen her fortunes change in a matter of months.
She had unsuccessfully applied to go to Cuba and had dropped out of UKZN after failing to secure funding. She was living on her grandparents’ combined pension.
Louise Haysom, a contributing editor at Agenda Feminist Media, said that taking the decision to prevent pregnancy out of the hands of the individual, was something reminiscent of the apartheid state.
“People were forcibly sterilised, irrespective of what they wanted. People should have decision-making power when it comes to their own bodies.”