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Students left homeless, hungry as Wits, Arts dept squabble over bursaries

Some Masters students have been left homeless and hungry as 19 of them are still waiting for their bursaries to be paid out by the Department of Arts and Culture.

A Wits student sleeps in the postgraduate lab. He is one of 19 students waiting for the Department of Arts and Culture to pay the funds of their promised bursaries. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Wits University Masters students who were promised bursaries by the Department of Arts and Culture have told Eyewitness News how a delay has had a serious impact on their lives and studies, with some left destitute.

Nineteen students have been waiting for funds from the department, which confirmed in August that it would be covering their accommodation, tuition, meals and books.

On 20 August, in a letter to the institution, the Arts and Culture Department’s Reinette Stander confirmed that funding would be processed for the students.

Not a cent was paid since and the department said that Wits was to blame as it had not submitted all the required documents. Meanwhile, Wits has denied this.

WATCH: Homeless & hungry after Arts & Culture Dept fails to pay bursaries

But while the squabbling continued, the affected students were suffering. At least one of them was forced to sleep at the Johannesburg's Park Station, while others sought shelter at laboratories and lecture halls.

There’s been no progress, and some students have found themselves in a desperate situation, relying on handouts from good Samaritans to survive.

Just as quickly as their hopes were raised when their bursaries were approved, 19 Wits University students found themselves back to square one.

They’ve told Eyewitness News they’re stressed, hungry and frustrated.

Those that spoke to EWN have detailed their frustrations.

"I'm unable to get my food and textbook allowance. My fees are high," one student said.

"That money needs to be paid...," said another, "...if the department doesn't pay the money, then we won't graduate next year, we won't get our certificates next year."

Some of them have told Eyewitness News they’re forced to sleep in laboratories which was against the rules.

One student from the Eastern Cape explained that it’s been hard.

He’s had to rely on food handouts from fellow students.

"A friend of mine got me lunch. If someone from the residence is lazy to go and collect their meal, they'll give me their meal."

This final year student, who’s also far away from home, said that having lost both his parents, he was relying on the bursary.

"I'm surviving by the grace of God. I don't have parents, I'ms squatting with a friend from Newtown because I came from Richards Bay knowing that the department would provide me with money for accommodation, tuition fee and meals. It's November and I haven't received that yet.

The students were hoping that outstanding issues between the department and the university would be resolved soon, so that could get their lives back on track.

LEGAL WRANGLING

In response, the department said that funding was delayed because of the outstanding papers from the university. Wits said this was not true, insisting that it had forwarded everything that was required.

The department’s deputy director of international conventions and legislation Reinette Stander said that the money would be processed in the next two weeks.

"We've already received approval from our director-general for the funds, because we have to do that first, and the contract is now with our legal department. The university's legal department has already looked at the contract, they've made some changes which our legal department will now effect and from there on the recipients will be informed as quickly as possible."

Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma: "Wits has complied with all the requirements from the department. We are confident that this process will be completed soon."

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