Broke Jacob Zuma Foundation dumps university students

Foundation battled to pay 2016 fees and has asked UniZulu to seek state bursaries

President Jacob Zuma and Dudu Myeni, the chairwoman of his foundation, which is struggling to pay fees.
President Jacob Zuma and Dudu Myeni, the chairwoman of his foundation, which is struggling to pay fees.
Image: Kevin Sutherland

President Jacob Zuma's foundation has run out of money and cannot pay university fees for students it promised to fund.

The Sunday Times has established that the Jacob G Zuma Foundation admitted this year that it was unable to honour bursaries for at least 30 students.

In a January letter to the University of Zululand, the foundation admitted that 2016 had been a "challenging" year and it would not be able to meet its financial commitments before the end of the year.

The Sunday Times also established that bursary students at North-West University were let down by the foundation, with spokesman Louis Jacobs confirming that last year's fees were finally settled only this year for the about half a dozen bursary holders. It is unclear if and how the 2017 bursary holders were affected.

NSFAS to the rescue?

"Financial difficulties and numerous 2016 bursary beneficiaries regrettably put the ... [foundation] in a position where they were unable to fulfil the commitment to pay all outstanding fees before the year-end," the January 24 letter to UniZulu reads.

It was stated in the letter that the foundation would make outstanding payments for 2016 "over the next couple of weeks", but the foundation requested the university's help to get the affected students on to National Student Financial Aid Scheme bursaries for 2017 "in the hope that this would alleviate some of the financial burden".

"All tertiary institutions will be requested to release all the Jacob G Zuma Foundation bursary beneficiaries . from the JGZ Foundation bursary banner in order for them to be able to apply to NSFAS without prejudice or restriction," the letter continues.

Presidency spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said Zuma had - through the foundation and the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust - sponsored 20,000 students to date, but that it wasn't without its challenges.

"Obtaining funding from donors has never been easy, but the entities keep trying. The president urges the private sector to play its part more and support needy students where the foundation has faced difficulties.

"The students must be assisted to obtain funding, and co-operation - rather than blame - would be more helpful in this regard," said Ngqulunga.

Obtaining funding from donors has never been easy
Bongani Ngqulunga, Presidency spokesman

Yes, we're broke but ...

Foundation chairwoman Dudu Myeni confirmed the issue had been "discussed with the university [Zululand] leadership".

Asked if the 2016 payments were made, she said: "We will save this answer and respond when you tell us why you are interested in the Jacob G Zuma Foundation and which other former presidents' foundations you are pursuing."

She was adamant, however, that "no bursary has been cancelled".

"We continue to honour our debt and make sure that students continue to study. It must be pointed out that, over the years, we have assisted many students and we continue to do so with limited resources.

"You are aware that President Zuma does not benefit from conglomerates owned by white monopoly capital. We receive donations like other NGOs," said Myeni.

Zanele Myeni, from Empangeni on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, who is one of the affected students, confirmed she was a Zuma foundation beneficiary in 2015.

She obtained her BEd last year, but had to get NSFAS assistance to cover her 2016 costs. "We had to apply again [to the foundation] for 2016, but I think there were problems with the finances. I had an option of an NSFAS bursary, which I used," she said.

Hopes dashed

Christian Nhlanhla Dlamini, a student who was interviewed last year, said he thought his bursary from the foundation six years ago would be his family's ticket out of poverty.

The 23-year-old, who obtained six distinctions from Enhlanhleni Combined School in Underberg in 2010, was invited by Zuma to an exclusive dinner at his official Mahlamba Ndlopfu residence in Pretoria. During the dinner, Zuma told him he would be awarded a bursary.

We had to apply again [to the Zuma foundation] for 2016, but I think there were problems with the finances. I had an option of an NSFAS bursary, which I used
Zanele Myeni, UniZulu graduate

Deadline passed

"I was shocked and excited at the same time. It was the realisation of my dream to take my family out of poverty," said Dlamini.

He was encouraged by a Zuma family member to enrol at the University of the Witwatersrand, and started an electrical engineering course in 2011. But that October he got an e-mail from the university saying his fees had not been paid.

"I spoke to the foundation and they said they would pay my fees but by then the deadline for registration had passed and it was too late to go back to the university."

In 2013, The Times reported that KwaZulu-Natal students promised money by the foundation had been forced to drop out because of nonpayment.