A PhD candidate from Zimbabwe died by suicide, supposedly after experiencing difficulties registering for the academic year at Wits University, as his study permit had expired. 

According to reports by News24, PhD candidate from Zimbabwe, Philip Chuma died by suicide in early May 2022 after failing to register for the academic year at Wits University due to the expiration of his study permit. 

Gita Patel, manager of the International Students Office (ISO) says, “Chuma was assisted with the relevant documents to submit to home affairs for the renewal of the study permit,” however he was not successful in renewing his permit. 

Chuma’s death shed light to the difficulties experienced by international students who are unable to register due to the delay in the processing of visas by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).  

According to a statement released by DHA, Chuma’s registration was not dependent on the renewal of his visa, which expired in January 2022. Adding that his visa was still valid and that he only reapplied for his study visa on April 21, 2022. 

Patel explains that she is unable to give an estimate on Zimbabwean students who registered late as these matters are handled on a, “on a case-by-case basis.. According to Patel, students are often referred to their respective faculties, which grant extensions and only then can ISO assist.  There are 736 registered Zimbabwean students, who make up approximately 63% of the international student population at Wits.  

Patel states that ISO is working with home affairs and has received communication concerning the delay in the processing of some visa applications. The office, however, is not sure how the department plans to resolve the persisting problem.  

SRC International Students’ sub-council chairperson Sphesihle Mndzebele, says that she was aware of the delay in registration by students from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and eSwatini. The backlog was caused by covid-19 related closures at DHA offices. This delay, according to Mndzebele has lengthened the waiting period of study permits, she says “according to law is supposed to be eight-weeks,” which prevents students from registering on time.  

Brett Dube, the chairperson of the Wits Zimbabwean Students Association (ZimSoc) has assisted Zimbabwean students experiencing visa issues. The association had asked ISO to allow students awaiting their visas to register using Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) receipts which are traceable and can be presented to the office. VFS is an independent company that manages visa and passport related matters in collaboration with DHA.  

ZimSoc and the Zimbabwe Consulate have recently started working together to help Zimbabwean citizens in South Africa. Dube explains that the purpose of the partnership is to, “Create a relationship where through the Consulate, they can give referrals or can hire these students.” As a result, the Consulate has given priority to students who seek to renew their study permit.  

The university, the SRC and ZimSoc offer support to students struggling to register by creating alternative methods to access tertiary education while they wait. However, systematic issues and late communication by home affairs will continue to delay international students seeking to further their education.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Brett Dube, Chairperson of ZimSoc. Photo: Malaika Ditabo