With just three days before she is set to hand in her research paper, Anthropology masters student Sisanda Msekele is facing homelessness and almost R100,000 in outstanding fees.
In late November last year, she received an email from the university that said her fees had not been paid for, despite being able to register with funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) disability unit.
Msekele has been blind since she was 18 and uses a guide dog to get around. Her mother died giving birth to her and she lost her father not long after, and has no family in Johannesburg. Msekele has relied on government funding since her first year of study.
But at the end of last year, Msekele received an email from Wits which said she owes the university R96 299. The emailed warned that if this amount was not settled by January 2015, legal action could be taken against her. She would also not be allowed to re-register, which would prevent her from pursuing her PhD in Anthropology.
She has lived in res throughout her studies and has been allowed to stay in university accommodation—for now. Claude Vergie, assistant registrar of Campus Housing, told Msekele via email that if she continues to stay at West Campus Village, she will be charged for the full year.
“In terms of university policy, we should have evicted you already,” he said in the email sent to her at the end of January this year. “This is a rather serious matter.”
Wits Vuvuzela attempted to contact Vergie, but he was unavailable at the time.
Msekele told Wits Vuvuzela that she thinks she will have to move out once she has submitted her research on Monday.
“A friend has offered me a place to stay in Soweto, but it’s really far and difficult to get around with Romy [her guide dog], but at least I know I have somewhere to go,” she said.
She has turned to both the Wits financial aid office and disability unit for assistance. Although numerous people at financial aid have been trying to assist her, she has not heard back from them for a number of weeks now.
Msekele also said that after she received a second notification threatening legal action if she did not pay the outstanding fees, she went to financial aid and was made to sign forms, but she could not read them and staff members did not tell her what they were for. It was also then that she found out the NSFAS disability unit does not fund Masters students.
Portia Simelane, who deals with all Wits-related NSFAS issues, emailed the department of higher education, but not yet received a response from them. “She told me there is no more NSFAS money left,” Msekele said.
She has received assistance from Dr Anlina Pretorius of the Wits disability unit.
“She has kept pushing the entire time,” said Msekele. “She emailed the CEO of NSFAS, but hasn’t got a response.”
“We have really tried to assist her in every way possible,” Duncan Yates, learning coordinator at the unit, told Wits Vuvuzela. “And we are still looking into the matter, but now there are various parties at the university involved.”
Msekele also contacted the vice chancellor’s office, which responded by saying that Prof Adam Habib does not make decisions regarding financial aid. Msekele was then referred back to the financial aid office.
Msekele does not know what lies ahead for her now.
“I’ve exhausted all the options and I just wish I knew what the next step was,” she said. She has been looking for a research job since November, because without one, she will not be able to rent a place to live.
She also cannot pay the outstanding amount.
“It is so stressful though, I just want my fees to be paid.”