Eviction blame-game not helping Makhanda students

Landlords turfed out 45 students for not paying rent. The evictees accuse their college of rendering them ineligible for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme but the college disagrees.

By: Zandile Bangani

Evicted students blamed the Eastcape Midlands Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in Makhanda for failing to provide the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) with registration information so that they can receive funding.

Forty-five of the institution’s students were evicted from their private accommodation on 27 May for failing to pay rent. This happened after NSFAS delayed releasing their funding. Sinalo Peyi, 23, a second-year student doing business management, is among those affected. 

Her NSFAS status states: “Funding eligible pending valid registration.” This is despite Peyi registering with her college. She says her lack of funding is because the college failed to provide NSFAS with her registration information. Before the eviction, Peyi said students protested in April. 

“The protest was about the NSFAS allowance delays,” said Peyi. “On our last strike in April, we were writing internal exams, so the college hired security from a private company to stand at the gate and force us to sign forms that we will never strike again. And if you don’t sign the form, you were not allowed to enter the premises to write the internal exams.”

Peyi says the eviction has badly affected her. “It is hard to concentrate on my books knowing I have nowhere to go.” 

Another evictee is second-year tourism student, Asiphenathi Ngesi, 21. Ngesi’s NSFAS status says: “Awaiting proof of registration from the institution.” She has been getting eviction notices but held on to the “promises” by the college that funds will be available. 

“The landlord got tired today,” said Ngesi.

Administrative dead-end

Not only is Wombisa Magwanya, 23, evicted, but she still has not received certificates for the business management course she is doing. This year, she is doing N6 and has no documentation of the levels she has completed.

“I have asked the college for my N4 [and] N5 certificates and a letter stating I am doing N6 to apply for in-service training. I didn’t receive these. Instead, I was told that coronavirus is delaying administrative processes.”

Magwanya said, at times, students are “viewed as liars by landlords for not paying on time. But it’s not us who are the problem. It’s the college and NSFAS”.

The college’s spokesperson Elmari van der Merwe says she did not know when they would submit the necessary information to NSFAS so that qualifying students could be paid their allowances. She also said that the evicted students would need to prove they had been evicted by supplying the contact details of their landlords.

“If it is the case that the student has been evicted, we have spoken to the Grand Res [a local boarding establishment], and we will house the student until the issues are sorted out at no charge to the students,” she said.

But Peyi said the students did not want the college engaging with their landlords because in the past they have made similar promises but didn’t meet them.

Fatal problem

Lack of accommodation across higher institutions of learning is a common and serious problem in South Africa. For example, The Sunday World recently reported that a student died after being evicted. “The 26-year-old Yonwabo Manyanya, who was studying towards a diploma in electrical and infrastructure construction at eThekwini TVET College, is alleged to have died of hunger and fatigue after spending three days sleeping outside the campus,” the paper reported. 

However, NSFAS denied claims it delayed paying allowances to cover the cost of accommodation for Manyanya. 

“For funding to continue, a student is required to meet the NSFAS progression requirements. While Ms Manyanya was an NSFAS-funded student in 2020, for the 2021 academic year her funding had not been confirmed. The information on NSFAS record is that Ms Manyanya had not met the progression criteria as at the time of her passing. She is part of a group of students whose progression status was continuously being queried with the college,” reads a media statement issued by NSFAS.

These delays have dire consequences. “The temperature will drop right down to 8 degrees celsius tonight, and at least 30 young Eastcape Midlands College TVET students will be sleeping out on the street in Makhanda,” reads a statement issued on 27 May by the evicted students. 

The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) intervened to raise money from the local community to pay for four nights of emergency accommodation and taxis for the students after management failed to help. Following the students’ evictions, there was a meeting between the students, the UPM and the college’s management, with media houses invited.

“We housed the students last night [27 May] after they were evicted from their rooms and then evicted from the college to give the college a chance to resolve this matter. But the hunger and accommodation questions are serious issues now. We came here today [28 May] to hear the college’s plan, whether that might be to provide food vouchers or accommodation… How do you expect these students to write exams when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from?” said UPM spokesperson Ayanda Kota.

Broken promises

Reverend Lithemba Busakwe, head of student support at the Eastcape Midlands TVET college, said at the meeting: “The institution has committed to assist the students. We might not have specified where we will accommodate them, but we have committed. They are not going to be stranded outside. The institution has fully committed. Abantwana (the children) need to be in a space where it is conducive to prepare for upcoming exams.”

But by the end of the meeting, Busakwe had failed to make good on his promises, saying instead: “The college does not own accommodation, so it enrols students who have to find private accommodation. There is no link [to the college]. The link is between the student and landlord.”

Sive Gumenge, the institutional support manager at the college, proposed at the same meeting that each affected student sit down with him individually to see if they had been approved for NSFAS or not. But Yonke Ngunda, 22, a second-year tourism student, read Gumenge a message received from NSFAS saying that she had been approved for funds but the Midlands college had not confirmed her registration. 

“Even in 2020, I was approved for NSFAS, but I only got my money in September,” she said. “I want the college to help us as students who have not received their allowances by sending our registration data to NSFAS.”

Kota described the situation as one of “maladministration”. 

“This has been going on for years. We keep coming here, and we cannot converge here again next year. If we want to discuss bureaucratic nightmares, we will be here until midnight. Although we are interested in these explanations, our concern is for students who need food and accommodation, so we need a plan,” Kota said during the meeting.

The students had to vacate the emergency accommodation that the UPM organised for them on Monday 31 May because of a lack of funds. The students had to leave the house at 11pm and move into Kota’s small family home, where they stayed for two nights.

The 45 students are now staying at Cindy’s African Restaurant and Accommodation. “The owner of the restaurant provided us with free accommodation until we complete our exams,” said Magwanya. However, Ngunda is concerned about the limited space. “We can’t study.” 

Ngunda doesn’t know what will happen to them when they resume with their studies in the second semester. The restaurant is within walking distance of the campus.

One of the evicted students is pregnant. According to Magwanya, they had to call an ambulance for her on the evening of Saturday 5 June. She had experienced cramping after being exposed to the cold weather. The student is still in hospital but transferred to a facility closer to home in Komani, said Magwanya.

Additional reporting by Anna Majavu

This article was first published by New Frame.

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