The financial aid scheme missed its own deadline, March 31, to resolve all appeals.

As many as 450 Wits students remain unclear about the status of their NSfas funding appeals.

This was revealed after an April 17 meeting that the SRC had called to deal with an increasing number of students who are being evicted by private residences because it is not clear if they will be funded, according to treasurer general, Kabelo Phungwayo.

The meeting, which took place in the SRC boardroom at the Wits Matrix, was attended by more than 80 students who spilled into the hallway for lack of space. 

A second-year bachelor of health sciences student, Isikelele Mpoto, told Wits Vuvuzela that she was facing eviction from her accommodation. She said she was funded by NSfas for a year-and-a-half, until she was academically excluded.

This year she had travelled from the Eastern Cape to attend a Wits Readmission Committee hearing on January 17, and could not afford to go back home. Her mother, who is the sole wage earner in the family, and is supporting five children, then took on the burden of paying for her accommodation, hoping that NSfas would take over.

“My mother had to take out loans [for my accommodation]. She cannot always send money, so sometimes I eat once a day, and I still have to cross-night and study,” said Mpoto, who, like many students, does not have a book allowance or stipend to get essentials.  

Phungwayo said that during the fee protests in February, the SRC had met with NSfas and brought up the issue of students who were sleeping in libraries and toilets, because of the financial uncertainty created by the slow pace with which NSFAS was communicating the statuses of their appeals. NSfas had then promised to resolve all appeals by the end of March and established an appeals tribunal to fast-track the processing of the 70 000 appeals they had received nationally, for 2023. This did not happen, according to Phungwayo.  

He added that since 2020, students have had to use a centralised portal to lodge appeals, and the SRC recommends that appeals be relocated to individual universities, to avoid this kind of breakdown in progress.  

Samora Mbomba, the regional coordinator of the South African Students Congress who has been working with the SRC on the matter, says that the problem is that once on the NSfas portal, “students were asked to upload certain documents, but when they go to upload those documents, the portal says no documents required.”

She says she has recently been in contact with the National Assembly chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, a former SRC president, who had requested the names and identity numbers of the affected students. Mbomba says she believes that things will move a bit quicker now. 

The SRC announced on its Twitter page that any students who had missed the April 17 meeting were welcome to come to the office every day between 3pm and 7pm, so they could be added to the list.

Wits Vuvuzela contacted the Wits NSfas office on April 18, and was told to write an email to the office of the Wits CFO. Executive secretary to the CFO, Marelize van Niekerk then forwarded the email to the financial aid and scholarships office manager, Charlene Timmerman, who did not respond. Wits Vuvuzela followed up with further emails to Timmerman on April 20 and 24 but has yet to receive a response.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits students who have yet to receive outcomes of NSfas their funding appeals, met in the SRC boardroom on April 17. Photo: Morongoa Masebe