Loan sharks (‘mashonisas’) offer quick and easy access to small, short-term loans, despite not having any legal protection. Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)
Hunger is driving students still battling to get their National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances to borrow money from loan sharks who can charge up to 10% interest a week.

In the wake of violent protests in some parts of the country over the nonpayment of allowances by the scheme, students have spoken out about their plight.

A University of Johannesburg (UJ) student said he was disappointed that the allowances had not been paid.

“What are we supposed to eat? How are we supposed to buy books? I am angry. I come from a family of six. My dad passed away five years ago and my mom is the only one who supports the family.

“She cannot afford to pay my fees. I have worked hard to ensure I get good marks to be able to come to varsity. I want to be able to study and help my mother,” said the student.

The microeconomics student said he had been forced to turn to a loan shark, who charged him 10% interest a week.

“I borrowed R500 because I could not ask for more money from my mother and it was in the middle of the month.

"She was equally frustrated when I told her I owed the loan shark R550 in the first week.

“I do not even understand how the interest is calculated because, when I went to pay off my debt five weeks later, I paid R750. It's a lot of money, and it's money I don’t have,” the student said.

UJ spokesperson Herman Ester- huizen said he would investigate whether the student adhered to NSFAS criteria and if so, which ones.

Students who qualify for textbook allowances are given a R5000 lump sum, while allowances for food and transport range from R1440 to R2440, depending on whether they live on campus, and, if not, how far they live from the institution.

In January, NSFAS announced that students would get an additional R275 a month for incidental or personal care.

Students from various institutions, including Unisa, Walter Sisulu University (WSU), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Central Johannesburg College, have also turned to loan sharks for money.

Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said the university sent text messages to students on March 6 requesting them to collect their Intellimali cards at the Unisa regional office.

NSFAS said it had paid out money to all 26 universities in the country, which were supposed to disburse the allowances to students.

“By now students should have received their allowances. Universities are required to transfer funds to ensure that students are able to access money for living expenses and learning materials,” NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said.

He said the following payments were made to the listed institutions:

Unisa: R247m on February 6;

WSU: R196m on January 25;

TUT: R347m on January 25; and

UJ: R320m on January 30.

“And at Central Johannesburg College, 3377 students have received allowances directly from NSFAS through NSFAS Wallet, amounting to R6.58m, while more students will be receiving allowances this week,” Mamabolo added.

Last week, reports of students sleeping at libraries and a police station in Mpumalanga surfaced. The students were kicked out for failing to pay.

Violent protests flared up again at the WSU Buffalo City campus last week over unpaid allowances. Students said they could not go to class hungry.

An engineering student from the varsity said she had borrowed R1000 she needed to buy a textbook and food. “The loan shark charged me 5% interest, provided I pay on or by March 31. I do not have a plan on how I will pay back the money at the moment."