The 46 students, who were stopped a number of times, boarded two buses at CPUT on Thursday and were expected to arrive home the following day. Picture: Phando Jikelo/ANA
The 46 students, who were stopped a number of times, boarded two buses at CPUT on Thursday and were expected to arrive home the following day. Picture: Phando Jikelo/ANA

CPUT students’ ‘journey from hell’ in desperate bid to reach families

By Athandile Siyo and Okuhle Hlati Time of article published Apr 1, 2020

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Cape Town – In what they described as a “journey from hell”, Cape Peninsula University (CPUT) students were quarantined in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape for two days and chased away by residents who feared they carried the coronavirus.

While the students have tested negative, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced yesterday that the number of infections nationally stood at 1 353. Five people have died.

The 46 students, who were stopped a number of times, boarded two buses at CPUT on Thursday and were expected to arrive home the following day.

They ended up seeing their families four days later. There were also reports that one of the buses broke down.

“It was a journey from hell, that’s the only way I can describe it,” said Amanda Polose, a CPUT second-year consumer sciences student in food and nutrition. 

Before the students were quarantined in an Mthatha B&B at the weekend, they were first stopped by police in Tsitsikamma for 12 hours for allegedly having “fake” travel permits.

“After hours of deliberations between the police, CPUT management and the office of the premier, we were let go and continued the trip. 

"That was early on Friday. We thought we were finally going home, and CPUT had sent us R5000 for food so we had fewer worries,” she said.

But when they reached their destination in Mthatha, they were stopped again by the police and told to go back to where they came from.

“The Student Representative Council president called and told me the police were saying that we had to be screened and tested before we could be released. We were then transported to a clinic, where they tested us,” she said.

They were taken to the BnB where they were quarantined for two days pending their test results.

“Residents neighbouring the BnB didn’t take kindly to our presence. They said they didn’t feel safe and we would infect them with the coronavirus,” she said.

“On Monday morning, they came to protest outside the BnB and we had to be taken away. They moved us to the Nelson Mandela Academic School and that’s where we had to wait while the police arranged proper permits for us,” said Polose.

They were released on Monday.

“The four days were emotionally draining and I’m glad we could go home,” she said.

In a statement, CPUT management said that 18 buses transported hundreds of students home.

A Limpopo-destined bus, as well as two buses to the Eastern Cape, left late on Thursday due to logistics and service provider delays, the institution said.

“In the case of the two Eastern Cape buses, they were stopped at a roadblock at Tsitsikamma on March 27.

“The two buses were allowed to continue their journey after all the students and drivers were screened for possible Covid-19 symptoms.

“The bus was stopped by officials for a second time in Mthatha, however, after high-level liaising, the passengers were screened fully and placed in quarantine while awaiting the results,” said CPUT.

All students including the drivers tested negative for Covid-19 and were released from quarantine.

“We commend the efforts of the North West and Eastern Cape public health officials, who did an excellent job in assessing the risk and responding appropriately,” the statement said.

SRC president Sikhulule Mpetsheni said: “It was indeed a joint effort. The students, CPUT management and the SRC all did a great job in ensuring the safety of the passengers.”

Meanwhile more than 5 000 students across the country remain in residences amid the national lockdown.

CPUT currently has 1700 students still at its residences, followed by Stellenbosch University with 971 and the University of the Western Cape with 370.

About 100 students are still at UCT residences. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande urged universities to ensure that those students who remained on campus complied with the National Disaster Act regulations. 

“I indicated that all students who could not return home were being accommodated in residences. 

“This also includes instances where some universities were allowing students with exceptional circumstances to stay on campus together with international students who could not vacate. 

"As we are implementing measures to ensure our institutions are not adversely affected by the virus, we are also putting measures in place to ensure that students who remain in our residences comply with the regulations,” he said. 

Nzimande raised concerns about the misuse of residences, saying most of the students found to be on a campus residence at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape were not registered.

Cape Times

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