Delayed bursary payments leave education students hungry

HARD TIMES: Education students on the Funza Lushaka bursary have been struggling to make ends meet this past semester. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

HARD TIMES: Education students on the Funza Lushaka bursary have been struggling to make ends meet this past semester. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Wits students in the education faculty have been going hungry as their allowance for the semester quickly ran out.

The students are recipients of the Funza Lushaka bursary,  but have only been given R7000 for the entire semester, due to delays in discharging the bursary funds.

“It’s bad, I don’t have any food.  I’ve become a nuisance to people, it’s really bad,” said Thando Sibiya, 2nd year BEd. I don’t know what I’m going to eat.  How do they expect you to live?  How am I supposed to write exams?”

Students told Wits Vuvuzela that the problem was not that there was no money; but that the payments were irregular.  Unlike the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Funza Lushaka monies are not made available on a monthly basis.

Delayed payments

Bursary officer at Education Campus, Mfundo Mbatha said payments were delayed because Funza Lushaka funds were not ready at the beginning of the year.

“Funza Lushaka is a government initiative.  We have to wait for monies to be moved from National Treasury to Financial Aid,” she said.  The allowances given to students at the beginning of the year were borrowed from Wits Financial Aid because the government financial year only starts in March.

Mbatha said students received R5000 at the beginning of the year for their books. He added that students were asked by email and posters “to spend the money mindfully.”

Some time after, the bursars were given R2000 for “teaching experience”, where students go out to schools for practical training, under the supervision of a qualified teacher.

Sibiya said he spent his allowance of R2000 buy formal clothing and on transport costs for the teaching experience.  “Coming back here is like coming back to poverty.”

Mbatha said they tried to pay students monthly in the past but it did not work because Funza Lushaka is not like NSFAS.  “Funza Lushaka has been operating this way for years,” she said.  Every year at the end of June or July, students receive the first lump sum and a second one in September.

Bursars overspending

Mbatha said the students experience difficulties when they spend more than the allocated bursary amount of R75000 per year.  “Students are to use money at their own discretion,” she said.  When students spend more than the allocated bursary amount, at the end of the year they end up owing close to R10000.

In response to allegations that students were not given warnings in advance, Mbatha said, “We put up posters and they [students] don’t even bother to read them.”

Nonhlanhla Moholane, 3rd year BEd said, “We were warned well in advance to sort ourselves out, but not everyone has the means to sustain themselves from January to July.”

Ayshah Essop, 1st year BEd said she was awarded the Funza Lushaka bursary but because payments were late she decided to accept  a bursary from  the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) instead.  “I took the SANZAF fund because Funza [Lushaka] pays late, they only pay when the first semester is over.”

Sihle Nsibande, 2nd year BEd said, “I was on Funza Lushaka last year.  Previous people who were on Funza [Lushaka] told me you first get R5000.  Then after two or three months you get R18000.”  The remaining monies are paid out over a number of months, according to Nsibande.

“Coming back here is like coming back to poverty.”

The delayed payments were not a problem for Nsibande because he lives at home and can depend on his parents.

“I was expecting it, but it’s different for people in different circumstances.  I’m at home, I’m provided for.  Other people live at res.  Maybe if I was at res I would also be complaining because I’d have to take care of myself.”  He also said that new students on the bursary do not know how processes work

In the meantime, Wits education lecturer Bheki Zungu, who is involved with student affairs in conjunction with the Transformation Office, has been collecting food donations and distributing them among needy students. Education Students Council (ESC) chairperson Lebang Nong has confirmed that students will receive a lump sum payment by June 30.