Following a week of violent protests involving students from various universities nationwide, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has come out in defence of its newly introduced eZaga direct payment system.
Last week, students from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the University of Limpopo, and the University of Venda protested outside the offices of the Department of Higher Education and Training in Pretoria, forcing police to disperse them using stun grenades and rubber bullets when the protest action turned violent.
The students complained that the new system was fraught with online technical glitches, payment delays, and banking charges, amongst other issues.
Some said they were forced to write exams without having textbooks due to unpaid funds for study materials.
TUT Student Representative Council President Keamo Masike told the media that the system had caused “havoc” at institutions of higher learning nationwide.
“Scores of our students are facing eviction from private residences because beds are commodified. We have opened a case of corruption against NSFAS because students received notifications that amounts have been debited to their accounts, but when they log onto the App, the money has disappeared,” said Masike.
However, NSFAS board chairperson Ernest Khoza said the protests were disturbing as the fund introduced improvements favouring students.
“NSFAS is perturbed, to say the least, by the occurrences of the past few days; the disruptions in learning activities for our beneficiaries in universities and colleges is not something the scheme takes lightly as it is adverse to what we have been mandated to achieve.
“These interruptions have been mainly to the changes in policies and guidelines that govern how the system disburses funds to students, especially the new allowance payment system introduced by NSFAS,” he said.
Khoza said they consulted various national and regional role players on the eZaga system between June 2022 and October 2022, emphasizing that direct payments eliminated fraudulent activities involving the payment of ghost students.
“We continued to engage with university management and student leadership on implementing the direct payment solution until 21 July 2023. It is, therefore, worrisome that the disturbances in question are attributed to an insinuation that NSFAS is imposing system changes.
“Most frustrating for the students who called on for the streamlining of these payments was the inconsistencies in the payments date by institutions, with most payments being late, institutional appointed service providers disbursing wrong amounts, classic case being that of the R14 million paid to a beneficiary at Walter Sisulu University,” he said.
According to Khoza, NSFAS is aware of the technical glitches experienced by students due to high traffic volumes on the Ezaga website.
He said so far, a total of 355 270 students have been paid, constituting 86% of those who managed to authenticate themselves and successfully receive their allowances.
NSFAS has sent teams to campuses to assist students with their authentication and verification process, Khoza explained.
“The system is secure and provides students with peace of mind in knowing that they can hold NSFAS and NSFAS only for either non-payment or late payment of allowances. We do note that some students have been unable to authenticate themselves due to connectivity issues,” Khoza said.
“As with any introduction of new systems, there have been some teething issues and the genuine case of students who have not been able to access their allowances with the new solution, like the 14% we have indicated.