Johannesburg - The decision by six South African students to give up their scholarships in Cuba because of an allowance disagreement is disappointing, the Young Communist League of SA (YCLSA) said on Friday.

“The department of health had spent half-a-million rand already on each student’s training, which will have been wasted as they had not completed their training yet,” spokesman Khaya Xaba said in a statement.

“We are puzzled as to why the stipend of R1600 per month was insufficient for the students when accommodation and food was provided for them.”

Xaba said South Africa had a shortage of doctors and limited places for students who studied medicine.

Every medical student should realise the role they played in securing the future of the country's health.

“As the YCLSA we demand that these students pay back the half-a-million that the government spent on each student.”

The New Age newspaper reported on Friday that the students returning home were halfway through their six-year training programme, and as a result, over R2 million had been wasted.

They reportedly decided to quit after going on strike about food and their monthly allowance of R1600, which they wanted increased to around R5600.

According to the newspaper, the incident was the first of its kind since the programme began over a decade ago.

Health department spokesman Joe Maila said the department was saddened by the students' decision.

“Money was the main thing that they wanted, and we made it clear that we were not going to increase their stipend,” he said.

“We are extremely disappointed, as we were doing everything for them.

Xaba said hundreds of thousands of people globally aspired to become doctors, yet did not have the opportunity to study medicine.

“As Cuba has one of the premier healthcare systems in the world, studying medicine in the country is indeed an honour.”

He said the YCLSA was confident the remaining South African medical students would show gratitude for the opportunities given to them by the South African and Cuban governments. - Sapa