Human Rights Commission urged to probe claims of shambolic distribution of NSFAS funding scheme to poor students
‘We can’t be accepting the fact that a child coming from a poor background must academically progress when they have nothing to eat while they are funded,’ reads a letter to the South African Human Rights Commission, which asked the entity to investigate the country’s student financial aid scheme for possible human rights violations.
The ongoing lack of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been brought to the attention of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), with a student activist asking the commission to investigate the aid scheme “for perpetuating potential human rights and constitutional rights violations against its beneficiaries”.
The request was sent to the SAHRC this week by William Sezoe, the outgoing vice chairperson of Stellenbosch University’s Student Representative Council. According to a letter Sezoe sent to the SAHRC, he wanted the commission to investigate the “gross and grave human rights violations perpetrated by NSFAS” bought on by the direct banking system. He also wanted the SAHRC to investigate the defunding of students “with no reasons given”.
The request came after an outcry over the aid scheme’s new direct banking system, which has been littered with high bank costs, confusion about implementation and a blockade of student funding for essentials such as food, transportation and hygiene products for funded students. Daily Maverick has reported on students’ frustration and anxiety over the implementation of the new system. After it launched at the end of June, students have reportedly not received their allowances for food, personal products and transportation.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Uncertainty, anxiety and frustration’ — NSFAS students cry foul over new banking system
In his letter to the SAHRC, Sezoe wrote: “the fact that students are now no longer able to focus their attention on their studies but worrying about where their next meal will come from due to ineffective governance but NSFAS must be noted as a Human Dignity issue, and hence a violation of that”.
The letter went further: “We can’t be accepting the fact that a child coming from a poor background must academically progress when they have nothing to eat while they are funded”.
Sezoe added, “We can’t expect those same students to show up to class when they were not able to bath /shower and or apply toiletries since they could not buy such necessities. Nor can we expect a student to come to classes when they have not received their travel allowances”.
I’ve today as student leader filed a complaint of human rights violations against #NSFAS at the Human Rights Commission. We can never condone the injustices against the most vulnerable and poor. The @SAHRCommission must ensure that we as students are protected! @OUTASA pic.twitter.com/EJf7tE0XgD
— William Sezoe (@MnrSezoe) September 5, 2023
Marches to Parliament and Union Buildings
While NSFAS said it would investigate complaints, funded students have marched to places such as the Union Buildings and Parliament over the new direct banking system, which comes with high banking costs and a lack of communication, according to students.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The NSFAS direct banking system and why students will march in protest to Parliament
In his letter to the SAHRC, Sezoe wrote, “Students at the University of Rhodes for example took it to the streets recently because they are suffering from hunger making it impossible for them to focus on their studies”. At the time, News24 reported students did not receive their monthly allowances for two months in a row.
Sezoe continued, “Since the introduction of the new payment system many students have been facing difficulties to onboard or sign up for this new direct payment system, leaving thousands of students at risk of hunger”.
“As a student leader at Stellenbosch University and the outgoing Students’ Representative Council Vice-President, I have seen and heard with my own ears how students are struggling to survive on a university such as Stellenbosch due to them not being able to sign up for this new system. Many students are currently going to bed hungry, and this must be viewed as a huge human rights violation perpetrated by NSFAS against the poor and most vulnerable NSFAS ought to serve.”
In July, Sezoe also laid a complaint against NSFAS with the Public Protector about the direct payment system. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has done extensive research on the direct payment system and has found links between service providers and NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo, who was placed on special leave in August and will be investigating his work with the Services Seta and how it could relate to “unacceptable conduct” in awarding of bids at NSFAS.
On Wednesday, the agency appeared before Parliament’s higher education oversight committee to explain the ongoing issues with the funding scheme. According to a NSFAS presentation, there have been 2,142,888 applications for new and continued students. Of this amount, 24% were rejected, 62% approved and 2.4% withdrawn. The rest were at different levels of processing, due to a lack of information from students, third parties or universities. DM