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‘I wrote exams on an empty stomach and it’s painful’

NSFAS students tell of their struggle with hunger due to payment delays

Koena Mashale Journalist
Covered Madonsela is a student at the University of Venda.
Covered Madonsela is a student at the University of Venda.
Image: Supplied

Students who have not received their allowances for the past two months have related how they survive on one meal, which is mostly slices of bread, every second day.

Thousands of students from various institutions across SA have not received allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for October and November, leading to them going for days without food.

They rely on each other to get donations to feed those in need.

The scheme has blamed universities for the payment debacle.

Magadani Naene, 22, one of more than 9,000 students at the University of Venda (Univen) who have not received their allowances, said it was getting harder every day.

Only 97 students received their payments at the institution.

The biokinetics student said: “It’s tough. You just eat by chance like finding one of your friends eating or people you know who wouldn’t mind sharing food with you. Other than thatm it’s really hard.

“Sometimes one writes without having eaten in a while. The last time I had a proper meal was on October 20 and that was when I spent my last allowance money because I thought money would be coming in but there was nothing.” 

Naene said his family cannot afford to help him as they are in need. 

Magadani Naene, student from Venda.
Magadani Naene, student from Venda.
Image: Supplied

“My family is struggling. That’s why I am using NSFAS. but one can’t study while hungry.” 

Another student from Univen, Covered Madonsela, 21, from Mpumalanga said: “My girlfriend was helping me with food and toiletries but now she is also affected. My friends from stable backgrounds help,” Mandonsela said.

Madonsela said he last had a meal on Friday.

“I last ate a proper meal on Friday during the student representative council (SRC) drive. They gave me 2 slices of brown, polony and juice,” he said.

“As you call [Sunday], I am in the library because I am writing tomorrow. I am shaking out of hunger. I only had water and I don’t have toiletries. I cannot even call home because I know my background. I know they looking up to me to be successful so that I can turn the situation around,” Madonsela said.

He is studying towards a bachelor of social work.

Sefako Makgatho University said over 100 students were affected. Nelson Mandela University confirmed there were students who were affected but said it did not have figures.

A student from Walter Sisulu University (WSU) who wanted to remain anonymous said not getting allowances for two months had led to him experiencing serious hunger.

“I have no other income except from NSFAS. I couldn’t even ask for money from my parents since they are not working. I had no choice but to wait,” said the 20-year-old student. 

He said it was unfair for NSFAS to pay some students and leave others to starve. 

“I have to study everyday and it is draining. I have no energy because I’m hungry. I hardly focused on some of my exams. Writing on an empty stomach is sad and painful. NSFAS should at least warn us a week before month end that they are going to delay our payments so that we can try to save some money and food for survival. It really has to stop, we can’t complain every month about the same thing,” said the student. 

Another WSU student, 20, said, “It’s hard times. This is not the type of stress that one has to be going through, especially during exams. It creates for an unhealthy space to be in,” said the student. 

“I had to make arrangements like getting loans and that is a burden not only on me but my family because someone has to be liable for paying back the money. It’s not fair. The system isn’t great and it only seems to get worse. I can’t study properly because mentally, I am tired and I am think about where to get my next meal,” she said.

Univen student Mukhala Rachie, 26, said he has not received his allowance since May when service providers were appointed to handle the payments. 

“I was part of the few classmates who have got their allowances and have been waiting since May. We have communicated with the service provider in charge of the allowances at the university and they had told me that my ID wasn’t in the system.

“I communicated with NSFAS about this and was told that on their system, I was approved and was supposed to be getting my allowance,” said Rachie. 

He said he is currently in his final year and it has been a rough one for him as he has often had to go days without eating. 

“I can’t remember the amount of days but I do know there have been days where I have not eaten, at most more than two days have gone by without food and I just drink water. It’s very hard because unlike some people who have parents or families to help, I am an orphan and I fend for myself.

“I have to make plans to eat whatever is available. It’s sad because these types of circumstances are often what leads to criminal activity,” said Rachie. – Additional Reporting Herman Moloi

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