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Human Rights Commission urged to probe claims of shambolic distribution of NSFAS funding scheme to poor students

Human Rights Commission urged to probe claims of shambolic distribution of NSFAS funding scheme to poor students
Students march to Parliament, protesting the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, 16 August 2023. (Photo: Ben Small)

‘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”. 

Stellensbosch University’s outgoing SRC chair, William Sezoe, has urged the SAHRC to probe NSFAS. Photo -Supplied.

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”. 

SAHRC Complaint Against NSFAS 2023_

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”. 

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Is this now as a result of Zuma’s middle finger prior to his departure as Chief Thief, to declare free tertiary education?
    Are these NSFAS students counted amount the many millions of monthly grant recipients as well?

  • cathy.wardle says:

    Just another thing run by the Government which is a total
    disaster! Why are we surprised ?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    They can’t really expect the ANC to do the right thing surely! Hopefully this hiccup will ensure that ALL students who want honest and ethical assistance will put their cross against a political party that does not rob taxpayers funding but ensures it gets to where it should be going!

  • Ben Harper says:

    Aw diddums – welcome to the real world! Nothing is free in this life, if you can’t afford it then do something else

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    Well, welcome to the real world. Before the Zuma folly, most “privileged” (read white) students had jobs to fund their studies, food and liquor. It was never a real problem as they paid for all their requirements themselves – that was in the “privileged” era.

    Now, students are able to even feed their family at home.

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