Desperate Zimbabwean students on the presidential scholarship programme, faced with rising costs, are turning to prostitution, gambling and other dangerous pursuits to fund their studies, Parliament has been told.
With part-time jobs scarce and the cost of living being squeezed with rising prices, MDC MP for Harare West Jessie Majome said young Zimbabwean students on the scholarship programme were taking desperate and dangerous measures to pay for their education as they struggled to make ends meet.
Majome moved a motion in the National Assembly to push government to disburse funds for 460 students studying at a University in Algeria as a matter of urgency.
The motion, which was seconded by Mutasa South MDC MP Trevor Saruwaka, seeks to force the minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Amon Murwira to report to the House how he intends to rescue the stranded students.
The motion urges the parliamentary portfolio committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development to “urgently inquire into the status and living conditions of Zimbabwean students on bilateral scholarships in Algeria, Russia, Cyprus and other destinations and report its findings to the House.”
Majome told Parliament that there are 460 students as of December last year studying under the scholarship called the Zimbabwe-Algeria Bilateral Scholarship Programme.
“Since 2015, none of this $3 000 per year has been disbursed,” Majome said, adding that “at the beginning of the year at the start of another semester, 60 more students were destined to join them.”
“I move this motion because I found myself receiving an email in my inbox from female students who were pleading – actually, they sent a heart-rending cry for help.
“I do not know where these students got my email address from. They are appealing for help so that disbursements can be made to them,” Majome said.
She read out some of the heartbreaking emails from female students who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.
“For the academic year 2016-2017, we never received a single cent. For the current academic year, we have not received anything,” the student allegedly wrote.
“We last received our stipends for the academic year 2015-2016 and only a quarter of it was paid.”
“We are suffering and now known as beggars. Our academic performance has gone bad. Our permits were written ‘strictly education’ and working is very illegal. We cannot work. Our Zimbabwean boys try to work in the construction industry sites where they receive $4 per day after working for a good nine hours. Sometimes they are arrested and mistaken as illegal immigrants.
“During the summer school holidays, the school facilities were closed and they are now in boarding houses. They must cook on their own and fend for themselves but because of that, they ended up using the little money they had.”
The letter further reads: “We ended up selling our cell phones and laptops for food. Some borrowed money from other students from Nigeria, Angola and so on who had received their stipends thinking that the government would give us ours but they have not.”
Majome said the students end up failing to pay back the borrowed money resulting in the foreign students “taking everything we have – that is students from other African countries because we cannot pay them back.”
“Some are promising to sue us. We were doing all this because we had no money to buy food or even soap. We want your help if possible – whether you can raise our issue in Parliament.”
Previously, several embarrassing reports came from Fort Hare University in South Africa where Zimbabwean students on presidential scholarship reportedly resorted to selling their bodies and engaging in drug peddling and theft because they had gone for years without the promised government grants.
Government has always proffered the excuse that it is facing a critical funding shortfall.