A scramble for South African study permits has slowed down service delivery at the country’s embassy in Harare, leading to long queues — a situation many said was fuelling corruption.
Meandering queues have become the order of the day at the embassy as students from all over the country try to process their applications for permits to study in the neighbouring country.
Prospective students from outside the capital were the worst affected as they had to find accommodation as they went through the processes.
South African ambassador to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela said the delays could not be attributed to individuals as it was largely caused by the delay in the release of A’ Level results by the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council.
“This is not a new thing. It’s a yearly thing, although we have bigger numbers of students applying this year,” he said.
“The problem is that Zimbabwean students get their results late in January and they come in large numbers to apply.
“The problem is not designed by us, but by the system itself. If they applied, say in November, there wouldn’t be these queues.”
Mavimbela added: “Really, there are quite a number of documents they submit which need to be authenticated because sometimes people fake documents. It’s a labourious process.
“The system doesn’t allow us to work in an efficient manner.”
He said students were also not to blame for the situation.
Some students said that they ended up bribing officials to have their papers processed expeditiously.
This has also seen the emergence of middlemen and women who will be given different amounts of money to process the documents.
“I stay in Bulawayo and after I was offered a place at Rhodes University, I came to Harare to do the paper work for my study permit,” a student who only identified himself as Sam said.
“I submitted the papers three weeks ago but up to now, I am still to get the permit,” he said.
“This is draining my parents because part of the money I am using now was meant for my upkeep in SA.
“The other challenge is that I am missing out on school. This is a new environment and I would want time to adjust before I get busy with books.
“All that was disrupted and we ended up giving money to a middleman who promised to pull strings to have my application processed fast.”
In South Africa, Zimbabwean students have been getting to school late, prompting the majority of universities to relax their conditions to cater for the delays.
Another student said the situation was worse for those going to South Africa for the first time.
“Getting a permit late has so many dynamics for us foreign students. The biggest challenge is that you cannot register without a valid study permit,” said another student who refused to be named.
“Covering up for the lost time is a monster itself, you find that by the time you get in South Africa, lectures would have already started, assignments already handed in and such is a disruption of the academic programme, which will obviously affect you till the end of the semester.”
Another student added: “To those who don’t stay on campus, they face accommodation problems since most of the digs [houses and apartments that are rented out to students] will have been taken up.”
Others called upon the two governments to make a special arrangement to ensure that students were not inconvenienced by the delays.
Thousands of Zimbabwean students have crossed the border into South Africa for university education.