Zimbabwean students at tertiary institutions in South Africa and financed by the Presidential Scholarship Programme fear another bumpy road this year due to problems that continue to beset the fund.
Some universities are still waiting to be paid last year’s fees after the fund failed to settle its debt while some students are alleged to have survived on a poor and unhealthy diet last year as they did not receive their stipend and had no money for food.
The Presidential Scholarship Programme was founded in 1995 to give academically gifted students from poor families a chance to study at university.
President Robert Mugabe is the patron of the fund and the programme draws students from each district from the country’s 10 provinces each year.
A Fort Hare University student who spoke to The Star on condition of anonymity, lest he was harassed as they were not allowed to speak to the media about this issue, said they were barred from registering last year until the government paid a quarter of the outstanding fees.
There were reports that other institutions told the students not to return if their debts were not settled, he said.
This year, the fund paid their fees albeit not all of it - the stipend, transport money or funds towards medical aid provision had not been paid, he said.
The 22-year-old student said students from poor families were the worst affected as there was no one back home to send them money.
And as they were living in another country with no relatives nearby to help, some women had resorted to dating older men and lecturers to survive, he said.
Last year, he said, they received a total of R900 for the whole year. They also did not receive their transport money to go home for the June holidays. Regardless of how bad things were, they couldn’t voice their displeasure by protesting, he said.
“The rules of the scholarship prevent us from protesting or you will lose it indefinitely. If you don’t have anything to eat now, you just stick to a friend.
“Those that have families that can afford will help but the poor ones suffer,” he said.
The universities that are owed continue to hold talks with the administrators of the fund over outstanding fees and have not barred the students who are still owing from registering this year.
Jaco van Schoor, deputy vice-chancellor of finance at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said they had about 450 students whose studies were financed by the fund.
Their accounts, he said, were fully paid up except for last year’s fees.
“We are in constant discussions with the relevant minister and we are positive that we will collect all outstanding amounts like we did in previous years.
“In line with UJ policies, applicable to South African and international students, students with outstanding debt are not allowed to register for the following academic year.
“We did make an exception for students who are able to pay their 2014 fees and allowed them to register although they had outstanding debt,” he said.
Wits university is also owed fees from last year.
Wits spokeswoman Shirona Patel said almost 100 students supported by the fund were studying at their institution.
“The fund has supported Zimbabwean students at Wits since 2008 and has consistently paid the university timeously.”
However, she said, “there is still an outstanding amount for 2013”.
“The university has made contact with the administrators of the fund, who have advised that payment can be expected in the first week of March,” she said.
The Star contacted Chris Mushowe, the Manicaland resident minister in Zimbabwe and also the director of the presidential scholarship programme, for comment.
Mushowe asked to be sent an SMS as he was at a noisy place - but
failed to respond when contacted again, even though someone answered Mushowe’s phone and said that he would pass on the message.
In February last year, a Zimbabwean radio station reported that the fund was facing collapse following reports that the search for prospective beneficiaries had not taken place for the second year in a row.
The station could not get comment from Mushowe, who had admitted to local media that they were facing financial constraints.
Tendai Biti, the minister of finance, had reportedly refused to fund the private scholarship (the Presidential Scholarship Programme), saying Mugabe should mobilise resources to bankroll it.
Biti had allegedly said the treasury could not continue to bankroll the controversial scheme as it was Mugabe’s personal initiative. - The Star