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By Kwazi Dlamini

The tale of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and corruption is almost as old as time. Corruption at the entity has historically gone unchecked because its biggest victims individually do not have a voice – they are often underprivileged young people, particularly black people. The nonchalant attitude at NSFAS and the long-standing corruption should be of huge concern for those who serve oversight on the scheme, since they are the same people who, year after year, promise financial relief to the underprivileged.

To understand how life-crippling and dream-crushing the situation at NSFAS is, one should not look at it through a media lens. Instead, to truly comprehend the consequences of unabated corruption at the scheme, one needs to look no further than affected students on an individual level.

Students defunded

A number of current issues drastically affect the future of these students. NSFAS introduced a new policy that seeks to root out corruption but only from the students’ side. As a result, the scheme started to defund students who were found to be dishonest in their application for financial aid.

The scheme’s rationale is that the undeserving students are taking away funding that could be used to fund the underprivileged and deserving candidates. However, because of NSFAS’s incompetence and corruption, deserving students got defunded in droves and their calls continue to fall on deaf ears or should they want to be heard, they must pay a bribe.

Nomonde Mkhwanazi, a third-year student studying for a Bachelor of Education at the North-West University, is currently sitting at home with little to no hope of finishing her qualification. Mkhwanazi bemoans being dumped by the scheme when she had ambitions of breaking free from the shackles of poverty through education.

Her dreams were crushed around May this year when she discovered that the reason she was not receiving the NSFAS benefits other students funded by the same scheme were receiving is because she had been defunded. Realising this, she confirmed that she does in fact meet the stipulated requirements for financial aid, and launched an appeal.

Her close relatives had been funding her accommodation and meals in the period she was not receiving NSFAS assistance, as delays in getting the benefits are normal. However, the financial pressure on her family became so intense that she had to go back home to Ngwelezane, KwaZulu-Natal. Mkhwanazi is currently awaiting a response to her appeal – a process that can take several months.

Direct payment system

Another predicament facing students is the new direct payment system that NSFAS introduced in the middle of this year. The direct payment system from its inception was marred by controversy including unexplained delays in payments to students. The system requires students to pay high bank charges to receive their allowances and the most controversial part of it was the appointment of the system’s service providers.

The companies appointed by NSFAS to disburse funds to students allegedly do not have the required skills in financial technology, nor are they registered financial service providers. Furthermore, NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo was placed on special leave in August on corruption allegations relating to the appointment of these service providers, including student accommodation service providers.

The mother of a young student at the Durban University of Technology who is directly affected by the new direct payment system, echoes the cries of thousands of students across universities in the country.

She says the system is unreliable and not only does it affect the family financially, but it also delays the continuation of classes as protests against this system affect her child’s studies. She also decries its financial implications as she cannot have a fixed budget to assist her child because her financial needs depend on the system.

“I usually help her financially with whatever is short every month but it’s mostly nothing big, it’s essentials like toiletries. But now I find myself having to pay for everything she needs. This affects our family a lot financially,” she says. “It must get fixed.”

The future of students affected by the defunding policy remains unclear and there’s uncertainty around the appeal process. The fight to do away with the direct payment system continues, with higher education minister Blade Nzimande breathing down the scheme’s neck to resolve the issues.