Durban - The KZN MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, is returning to South Africa no closer to ending a stand-off with South African medical students studying in Cuba, who are said to have neglected their studies to preach the Gospel.
The angry MEC flew to Cuba on Tuesday to convince the students to prioritise their studies. Instead they had a showdown on Friday, with the defiant medical students telling him they cannot control when the Holy Spirit takes over.
One of the students, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to the Sunday Tribune.
“The MEC was very angry, he told the students to (stop) preaching. He told us to focus on our studies because that is the reason we are in Cuba. He (encouraged) us to think of our future, but it didn’t help because the praying students are the majority and were not listening.
“The meeting turned into a debate. They told him that in the contracts they stated they were Christians, and the only thing that would save them from social pressures was God,” he said.
The Department of Health accused Sipho Maduna, a pastor from the Threshing Floor Bible Church, of “sneaking” into Cuba as a tourist to meet the students. The preacher was accused of keeping the students from their studies, baptising and anointing students, and annoying Cubans by preaching in the street.
The students told the MEC the pastor had visited them at their request and they had willingly contributed money for him to visit.
“When the MEC told them that he was a student, who also believed in God, and never neglected his studies, they told him that he was not committed enough.
“The students raised a lot of issues such as being lonely because of being away from home “ he said.
When the Sunday Tribune telephonically interviewed the student, it was before 4am in Havana, and yet we could hear the members starting up their prayer sessions in the residence.
“This is what they do even on campus and it has been happening for a long time because when I arrived here two years ago it was already happening.”
Another student, Siphamandla Qwabe, denied students were neglecting their studies for church activities.
“That is not true. Most of the students don’t go to church. I heard the pastor was here, but I didn’t see him. I doubt anybody would pay for the pastor, because the money we get is not enough.
“More than 700 students are doing their third year, out of 850 from the group that came in 2012, so how can somebody say we spend time praying instead of studying? It doesn’t make sense,” said Qwabe.
The church disputes the comments from the Department of Health, saying there was no way a pastor’s two-day visit influenced the behaviour of the students.
The church said the students had long-standing issues since the inception of the programme. These included pregnancies, chaotic partying, drunken brawls and sexual immorality.
The pastor was invited by the students last year to pray with them and offer words of encouragement.
Threshing Floor spokesman Ntokozo Biyela said the church had raised R60 000 to send the pastor abroad.
“The contribution from the students was out of free will, students might have paid for the food and accommodation as a gesture since they invited our pastor,” said Biyela.
A postgraduate medical student who wanted to remain anonymous and studied in Cuba until 2014 said the environment in Cuba was not conducive to studying.
Cubans partied and drank a lot – clubs were always open, she said, which tempted students.
Health Department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said they had not heard from the team in Cuba.