ZIMBABWEAN students at Fort Hare University, South Africa, have turned to menial jobs such as car-washing, security guarding and street vending to earn a living after the government failed to send them money to return home.
Worse still, the students who are on government scholarships have found themselves living in the open after the university authorities chucked them out of the institution’s accommodation they had been offered after campus closed for the festive season.
The university, where President Robert Mugabe was once a student, closed its doors for the year a fortnight ago and authorities advised the Zimbabwean students to return home for the festive period.
However, the government, stung by critical foreign currency shortages, has failed to come to the rescue of the students.
Parents who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent said they were disturbed by the government’s failure to send home the students when it was the state bankrolling their studies at Fort Hare.
“My child is stuck in South Africa and the government is not taking action,” a parent who asked for anonymity said. “They did not even bother to tell us that they have no money or transport to send our children back. Right now, I don’t know how my child is surviving without food or shelter. It is very worrying.”
Criticism and complaints have dogged the scholarship programme over the years, especially in the manner the government selects beneficiaries.
Complaints of favouritism and nepotism have rocked the once efficient programme whose major intentions have been to support underprivileged students.
The programme has of late become a Zanu PF project meant to buy loyalty and votes.
Mugabe initiated the scholarship and has since established similar programmes with the universities of Rhodes, KwaZulu Natal, Witwatersrand, Cape Peninsula, and Walter Sisulu.
In 2008 alone the government through the presidential scholarships sent more than 481 students to South African universities.
While the government has expanded the presidential scholarship programme, it has ironically slashed financial support to students at local institutions owing to the crunch financial situation back home.
Student riots over payouts are now the order of day at various institutions of higher learning.
Lecturers’ strikes over poor salaries and working conditions have also become a permanent feature in the education sector, painting a gloomy picture of the future of education in Zimbabwe.
Efforts to get a comment from the coordinator of the presidential scholarship fund Chris Mushohwe and Higher Education minister Stan Mudenge were fruitless as they were reportedly out of their offices.
By Henry Mhara