Rhodes University students ‘attending classes on empty stomachs’ due to NSFAS meal allowance issues | News24

Rhodes University students 'attending classes on empty stomachs' due to NSFAS meal allowance issues | News24

Rhodes University students 'attending classes on empty stomachs' due to NSFAS meal allowance issues | News24

Students marched to the NSFAS offices in Cape Town.

Students marched to the NSFAS offices in Cape Town.

Na’ilah Ebrahim, News24

  • UDM is calling for the sacking of Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande over the NSFAS funding crisis. 
  • Rhodes University students say they are starving after a service provider appointed by NSFAS to disburse monthly meal allowances failed to do so.
  • The service provider is one of four fintech companies that scored controversial multimillion-rand tenders.

Rhodes University students relying on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme for financial support are attending lectures on empty stomachs, as a service provider appointed by NSFAS to disburse monthly meal allowances is allegedly failing to do the job. 

Coinvest Africa, one of four fintech companies appointed to disburse a monthly R1 650 to students attending the country’s 26 public universities and 50 TVET colleges, has been accused of being behind the funding crisis at the Makhanda university. 

NSFAS appointed the service providers after it decided to take the responsibility of paying students’ meal allowances away from universities. 

Rhodes students told News24 that they had not received their food allowance on 1 July and 1 August from Coinvest which had taken over from the university at the end of June. 

The tender awarded to the four companies has sparked so much controversy that the NSFAS board has since placed the NSFAS chief executive officer, Andile Nongogo, on leave of absence while investigating allegations surrounding the appointment of the service providers. 

READ We are committed to fighting corruption’: Blade Nzimande welcomes SIU probe into NSFAS allegations

The contracts are part of NSFAS’ new direct payment method to prevent unauthorised access to student money from unscrupulous individuals.  

But an online petition calling for the scrapping of the “direct payment” for reasons including the alleged unauthorised debiting of students’ funds, has garnered more than 8 000 signatures. 

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) has called for Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande to resign over the funding chaos.  

A group of Rhodes University students, who approached News24 on condition of anonymity, said they had been struggling to cover essential expenses such as meals and cosmetics for the past two months.

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They said the stress and anxiety stemming from financial uncertainty had taken a toll on their mental well-being, affecting their focus and concentration. 

“Ultimately, this financial strain has led to a decline in academic performance, jeopardising my grades and progress. Attending classes on an empty stomach isn’t for me,” a second-year Psychology student said.

“Not receiving a student allowance has significantly disrupted my academic journey, making it difficult for me to attend classes regularly, engage in group activities, or participate in extracurricular events that enhance my learning experience,” they added. 

Petition organiser William Sezoe, who is deputy SRC chairperson at Stellenbosch University, said that the direct payment system had resulted in suspicious withdrawals from students’ accounts. 

The petition, together with a memorandum of demands which includes a request for a commission to of inquiry into NSFAS, was scheduled to be handed over to Parliament this week.

‘Direct payment is a key intervention’

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said he had noted that the direct deposit system had angered students because of high bank charges.

“Given years-long crises at NSFAS and the SETAs, the UDM calls for the resignation of Dr Blade Nzimande,” he added.

ALSO READ | Third-year law student a street hawker after dropping out of university due to lack of NSFAS funding

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) said it was aware of the plight of students at Rhodes and other institutions.

The union revealed that it was the one that had pitched the direct payment method idea in 2018 to address discrepancies that occurred in the old system, including the infamous R14-million Sibongile Mani scandal

“SAUS strongly believes that the direct payment is a key intervention to pay students. For it to work properly it would need both students, universities and NSFAS to work hand in hand,” said its president Lubabalo Ndzoyiya.

Ndzimande’s office said: 

The minister is of the view that the direct payment solution is a necessary measure to reduce instances of unauthorised access to beneficiaries’ allowances, payment of ghost students, inconsistencies and delayed payments of allowances.

“The minister emphasised that the direct payment solution is in line with the Student-Centered Model which NSFAS adopted.”

Questions were sent to Coinvest Africa but a response was not received by the time of publishing. Their comment will be added once received.      

NSFAS’s response will be added once received as it could not respond immediately. 

Source: https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/rhodes-university-students-attending-classes-on-empty-stomachs-due-to-nsfas-meal-allowance-issues-20230819