SA students in Russia face expulsion as Mpumalanga government 'fails to pay their fees'
More than 200 students from Mpumalanga studying at various institutions in Russia face expulsion and eviction as stipends, accommodation and tuition fees amounting to nearly R55m have allegedly not been paid by the Mpumalanga education department.
Most of the students risk losing about five years of their studies.
Victoria Maheso, who faces eviction by Monday as her accommodation fees haven’t been paid for the past three months, said she was scared as she was about to be homeless in a foreign country.
I am officially going to be homeless. I am scared, this is why I am speaking out.Victoria Maheso
“Our livelihoods are in danger. My landlord was here yesterday evening to tell me that my deadline is on Monday. If my accommodation is not paid for by Monday morning, I should have my things out of the place. I am officially going to be homeless. I am scared, this is why I am speaking out.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to me on Monday. I know the department is not going to pay on Monday. Moscow is getting colder every day. As I am talking, temperatures outside are 8ºC .”
Maheso is also facing expulsion from the institution where she is studying.
“The dean put me on the expulsion list because I don’t have my tuition paid for. We are final-year students and I am supposed to be graduating at the end of the year. How am I expected to graduate if I am going to be dealing with such things?
“How are you even expected to focus when you are dealing with such things? I am unable to even close my eyes and rest properly because I am afraid of the landlord walking in and telling me to take my things and leave,” she said.
The final-year students in applied mathematics in computer science said she was speaking out to find assistance.
She said about 20% of the South African students had already been expelled from their institutions.
She said they had tried to contact the Mpumalanga education department but to no avail and claimed it was downplaying their predicament.
Besides her school and accommodation woes, Maheso said she was in danger of finding herself in trouble with the law.
“I haven’t had registration in the past three months. Right now if I go to buy bread and the police stop me, they are going to ask for my registration, which I don’t have. They are going to arrest me because I don’t have a registration [document] and my landlord won’t give me a registration [document] until my rent is paid. We don’t have money.”
The Mpumalanga education department has confirmed there are 229 students studying in various fields such as medicine, veterinary science, engineering, aeronautical science, cyber security and IT in Russia.
According to the department, 67 of the students are expected to complete their studies in June 2023.
It is our conclusion that the Mpumalanga education department is corrupt, and this corruption is threatening the lives of our children abroadWe Are South Africans
The department confirmed the students are fully funded by it as part of the provincial human resource development strategy.
Department spokesperson Jasper Zwane said the payment of accommodation and tuition fees was expected to be concluded by next Friday October 14, as required by Russian universities.
Zwane denied any knowledge of the students’ hardships.
“As of now, the department does not have information of students whose academic contracts have been terminated or students who were evicted from their respective places of accommodation,” he said.
"The department is in advanced discussions with the South African embassy in Russia and the department of international relations and co-operation in an effort to accelerate the payment of tuition and accommodation for the students.”
He said the department had established open lines of communication with students and they were being updated on progress regularly.
The department said in the past the placement of the students at various institutions had been facilitated by a contracted implementation agent called Green Tutu, trading as RACUS, whose contract had expired in March this year.
“The department advertised a tender in October 2021 to solicit an implementing agent. The department did not receive any responses and accordingly it was re-advertised this month, October 2022. It is important to note that the department has since increased the stipend from R4,000 to R5,000 a student a month to mitigate the challenges the students are experiencing as a result of the conflict involving Russia and Ukraine,” Zwane said.
He said the department had been able to process the monthly stipends for all students, except for 15 whose banking details were not fully operational.
A civil society movement in SA, We Are South Africans, said it would take up the students' cause legally, with a criminal and civil action against those responsible in the department.
“It is our conclusion that the Mpumalanga education department is corrupt, and this corruption is threatening the lives of our children abroad,” it said.
Gilbert Martin of We Are South Africans said the parents of the students were frustrated.
“The parents are frustrated because they don’t know what is going on. They just got the end of the story yesterday [Thursday] and they are mortified by what is happening to their children,” he said.
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