‘Crisis’ of starving students

Students dependent on financial aid have not received their living allowances and thousands are going hungry and sleeping in libraries, community halls, train stations and bus stations. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Students dependent on financial aid have not received their living allowances and thousands are going hungry and sleeping in libraries, community halls, train stations and bus stations. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 25, 2024


Durban — Haunted by hunger, tertiary students across the country are doing all they can to find food as they wait for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to pay their money.

From Durban to Zululand, Cape Town to East London, thousands of students at the 26 tertiary institutions are food insecure and hope the NSFAS will pay the money into their accounts by next week.

Asive Dlanjwa, the spokesperson of the South African Union of Students (SAUS), the body that represents various student representative councils, told the Independent on Saturday that many students had been on campus since mid-January, with little or no resources to keep them going.

Dlanjwa said that over the past week, protests had flared up at several institutions, the most recent at Stellenbosch University, as starving students who were fed up with their plight, sought to have their voices heard.

“There is no way to survive for someone who is coming from a household of the poor and working class. It’s only a few whose parents are able to support them during this time. You can imagine for yourself, obviously, the implications of them not having food, some of them not having places to stay. We’ve had students sleeping in libraries, in community halls, in train stations, in bus stations and so on.”

Dlanjwa said the NSFAS paid qualifying students a “living allowance” of only R1 650 for 10 months from February to October which had to be used for food, toiletries and transport. However, the money had not yet been paid because registration was under way at the tertiary institutions.

“It’s obviously not sufficient, based on the living conditions or rather, the cost of living that both you and I know of, so generally, students are struggling. It’s not like they have cash left at the end of the month. It’s a struggle from month to month,” he said.

He said the NSFAS paid accommodation and tuition fees directly to the tertiary institutions while the one-off book allowance of about R5 000 and the monthly living cost allowances were paid to the students.

However, because registration was under way and some funding applications were yet to be approved, the allowances were not yet transferred to the students which resulted in a food “crisis”, said Dlanjwa.

Durban University of Technology SRC president Solomzi Zoleka said they had about 22 000 NSFAS beneficiaries who were waiting for their living allowances to be paid out. In the meantime, it was a struggle to find food because they couldn’t afford it.

He said they had explored several fund-raising initiatives, without success, and would welcome support from any organisation which would be able to help feed their students.

“We are engaging to find possible solutions at this moment, to make sure that students are catered for and they continue with their academics in the right way. Anybody can be affected by hunger; the ability to eat, the strength, students can be affected in many aspects of hunger but they are assisting each other in this current time. The SRC is trying to provide solutions to give out food parcels as we have since last year, for students who could not receive their allowance to students who are really, really in need of help.”

Zoleka said that while DUT had completed its registration in record time and without any protests, the service providers who were responsible for transferring the allowances to students could be at fault.

“They have not even approached the institution to give them their direct payment cards. By the time NSFAS says they are releasing allowances, it’s going to be a problem because they will need to come and register students to the service provider which is something they should be busy doing in the meantime,” Zoleka said.

At the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school, at least 700 students are going hungry every day as they wait for NSFAS to finalise their processes and pay them.

UKZN’s School of Health Sciences is providing meals for 750 students through The HEAL Kitchen@HumanGiG, a collaboration between the Manav Seva Foundation and the Arya Samaj’s The HEAL Foundation. About 2000 cooked meals are served per day.

In addition, Oarabile Mamashela, the Student Support Services Officer of UKZN’s Medical Campus Representative Council said that given the financial challenges faced by their returning students they were fund-raising for their #IMADEADOCTOR campaign to assist students who did not have the money to register for the new academic year.

“One-hundred and thirty-six medical students not being able to register is a huge problem in a health system that is already short of doctors. If these students don't register, and somehow never get their qualifications, it’s a huge loss to the health-care system. Most of them are quite gifted students, some have done other degrees in science, nursing; imagine the contributions they could make as doctors,” she said.

The NSFAS said that when its bursary applications closed last week, it had received 1 936 330 requests for funding. Of this total, 1 000 389 were provisionally funded, 395 265 are awaiting evaluations, 80 111 have been withdrawn by the students, 141 886 are in progress and 136 558 applications are on the “not started” status because applicants only created profiles and did not submit applications.

In addition, the NSFAS said it had advanced an upfront payment to universities and Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

“For universities, NSFAS disbursed R2.8 billion in January. The upfront payment covers one month of student accommodation and the book allowance. For TVET colleges, R580 150 950 was paid upfront for tuition in January.

“All these upfront payments are meant to enable institutions to register all NSFAS-approved students for the academic year 2024,” it said in a statement.

Independent on Saturday