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Durban - Two medical students on the government’s skills development programme in Cuba have been sent home to KwaZulu-Natal in disgrace after demanding that the South African government give them more pocket money and better food.
They were among 200 South Africans students in Cuba who protested last month for a 300 percent increase of their R1 600 monthly stipend. They also complained that they ate pork every day.
On Thursday, Zakhele Khoza, from Newcastle, and Londa Gumede, from Jozini, were escorted back from Cuba by a government official after they had originally refused to board the plane in Havana.
Their studies were being paid for by the Cuban government with the South African government paying for their board and pocket money.
The remaining students have returned to class, but five refused to comply including Khoza and Gumede, who would not attend lessons or eat the food provided.
Provincial health HOD Sibongile Zungu was outraged by the students’ behaviour and said they were “ungrateful”.
“We are more than angry. They embarrassed South Africa in another country. They also undermined Cuba’s generosity of a free and quality education,” she said.
Once they were handed back to their parents the department would no longer have anything to do with them, she said.
“They were given a chance to have a better future but they threw it deep into the sea,” she said.
The national health department sent a team, which included a psychologist and a social worker, to talk to the students.
They threatened to quit their studies if the government did not meet their demands.
“In actual fact they do not need much money as they do not have responsibilities. We only gave them this money so that they can buy cosmetics,” she said.
“They failed to tell us what they wanted to do with the extra money.”
The Mercury established that the average monthly salary in Cuba is the equivalent of about R180. This means the students’ stipend was nearly nine times more than the average Cuban earned in a month.
Khoza’s disappointed mother Joyce Mbonani said she wanted answers as to what led to the termination of her son’s studies.
The unemployed woman, a single mother of five, said she had been informed by a health official to be at the airport to receive her son.
“They just told me that his studies have been terminated without explaining the reason. When my son left he told me that he would only return home with doctor’s qualifications.
“I don’t know whether I should be angry with my son or the department because I don’t know what happened,” said Mbonani.
She said she would be happy if the South African and Cuban governments could forgive her son and give him another chance.