Students frustrated over stipend delay

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By WENDY NZAMA

After three months without their stipend and their applications for Covid-19 social relief turned down, a group of young adults enrolled in a learnership programme are at the end of their tether. They say they’ve been sent from pillar to post, and in their frustration, they’ve turned to Grocott’s Mail to tell their story.

In August 2019, 125 young adults from Makhanda began a 12-month learnership under Agri-SETA, the agricultural sector’s training authority.

Alongside practical experience, they were enrolled in three courses: New Venture Creation;  Plant Production and Animal Production. Management of the learnership programme was triangular, with the UIF as the project owner, Walter Sisulu University (WSU) as the executor and Khunjulwa Marketing Service (KMS) as the implementing agent contracted by WSU. This group was taught at Nathaniel Nyaluza Secondary School.

Their 12-month learnership began in August 2019

They normally receive a monthly stipend of R2000.

Student representative Fezeka Noqayi said, “Our initial agreement when we started on 5 August 2019 was that we are going to get paid on the 5th of every month, or the end of the month.”

In March, at the start of the national lockdown, minister of higher education and training Dr Blade Nzimade said, skills and development providers had to stop training activities, but would continue paying stipends to students during the lockdown.

Students said it was difficult to cope without the stipend. But they’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

The contract they signed with KMS prohibits them from being employed by other companies, but the fact that they are nominally receiving an income means they’re not eligible for social relief funds.

“I even tried applying for the SASSA social relief grant and my application was declined” said one of the students, Sinethemba Mbane.

According to SASSA’s guidelines for the Covid-19 grant, an applicant must be unemployed without any kind of income, including government assistance such as UIF and NSFAS or social grants and must be above the age of 18.

“As KMS we are aware that since the lockdown students haven’t been paid,” said Phumza Bodoza from KMS. The agreement with WSU was that students are going to be paid per attendant. We are waiting for instructions from the contractor WSU for the payments for us to process them and make the payments.”

Emails sent by the students to the Director General of the Department of Employment and Labour had not been responded to, they said. The Manager in the Grahamstown office had promised to call them about the way forward, but had not yet responded.

Responding to questions from Grocott’s Mail, WSU spokesperson Yonela  Tukwayo confirmed that the students had not received their stipends; however, this applied to all areas, not just Makhanda.

“This delay is caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which presented us with challenges in terms of fulfilling our contractual obligations to UIF because students have not been in class,” Tukwayo said.

WSU had to wait for the funder, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, to indicate whether to pay or not during lockdown.

“We will process stipend payments as soon as we receive payment from UIF,” said Tukwayo.

The Department of Employment and Labour has yet to respond to Grocott’s Mail.

Grocott’s Mail will continue to report

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