Durban - There will be no cornflakes in the morning for the 300 KwaZulu-Natal medical students headed to Cuba to train as doctors, said former Cuban student Dr Sanele Madela, who was at King Shaka International Airport on Monday to chaperone his first group to the island nation.
“There are no luxuries; this is a communist country which doesn’t take kindly to people who break the rules,” he told the youngsters who are all from rural communities in KZN.
Madela, who has been practising for three years since his return, was referring to the 100-plus South African students sent to Cuba as part of the Expanded Medical Training Programme, who downed tools last year.
Their demands included a stipend increase and they refused to eat pork and beans for their meals.
The students would have to learn to adapt, Madela warned.
Among the first 60 to leave on Monday was Thandokuhle Mahlakaza, 19, whose family would never have been able to afford to send him to medical school.
“I applied through forms I found at Rietvlei Hospital,” he said, “Both my parents are unemployed; were it not for this bursary, I would never have furthered my education.”
Mahlakaza’s mother, Prudence, said though she was excited, she was afraid for him.
“We do not know of anyone who has ever become a doctor in Kroemhoek. We just pray that whatever choices he makes, he remembers the situation at home,” she said.
Another student, Zizamile Ngcobo, 21, said he was looking forward to fulfilling his dream.
“When I was in Grade 6, I went to the doctor for the first time and was shocked at how, after a long wait, I went home without medical attention. That has been my motivation - I have to come back and serve my community,” he said.
Madela said the students would receive a year of Spanish lessons.
The group is flying to Cuba via France. More groups from KZN will fly out over the course of the week.