Money is fast running out, visas are expiring, accommodation leases are ending and flights home have already been booked.
This is the crisis facing nearly 1 800 international students enrolled at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) who feel their future is hanging in the balance after almost a month of no lectures.
Musonda Nsakanya, 24, a final-year law student from Zambia, is panicking because she has a flight to return home on November 9 and cannot afford an extension.
“My dad is wondering if he should change my flight details but we still do not know for when,” she said.
“Also, I stay at residences, and we have to be out by November 15.
“Even if I can manage to stay longer, it will be an extra R30 per day. My parents are angry and worried. I am wondering if I should just go home and finish my degree with Unisa instead.”
Nsakanya said the shutdown had made living conditions unbearable at the student residences.
“I use textbooks from the library to study, but the libraries are all closed. We cannot access the computer labs and none of the residence managers is here.”
She said the shower’s drain at her residence had been blocked and there was no one to fix it.
“Also the cleaning services no longer come. Our lecturers are not available and I cannot print information from the student portal in order to study,” she said.
Nsakanya is just one of the international students who account for 8% of all students registered at NMMU.
The bulk of students come from Southern African Development Community countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda.
Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa press secretary Nicky Shabolyo said they were willing to help students needing assistance.
International student Zeynab Ladak, 23, from Tanzania, said she did not believe the rights of protesting students should infringe on her right to study.
“I am very worried because I have to leave the country by December. I have only budgeted to stay here until the end of November and my money is quickly running out. “Even if I could afford to stay longer, my lease expires at the end of November and then this apartment becomes a holiday house.”
While Ladak understands the reason behind the # FeesMustFall protest, she said the students forcing the closure were not thinking about the international students.
“These [protesting] students have options and a home to go to. They do not have visas that are expiring. “I have no idea what is going to happen but time is running out. If I leave, there are no guarantees I can come back.”
The third-year media, communication and culture student said:
“I believe these protests will definitely impact the number of students who come back next year. “If I cannot finish this year I cannot come back, which means I would have wasted three years of my life.”
Sophie Belle, 23, a third year business management student from the Seychelles, said her visa and accommodation lease were expiring on November 31.
“My exams were meant to finish on November 17 but it does not look like that is the case anymore,” she said.
“We haven’t heard anything about exams and nothing is being communicated.”
Belle said she believed international students were the ones most affected by the ongoing shutdown.
“I feel like my future is in the balance. I feel uneasy and hopeless. What can we do to be heard? “I was thinking about doing my honours but I will not anymore.”
Home Affairs immigration director Phindiwe Mbhele said they had been approached by the International Education Association of South Africa (IEASA) to assist all universities.
“We have made a number of proposals which will be announced by our director-general after the universities have been consulted.”
NMMU spokeswoman Debbie Derry said the university was concerned about the impact the shutdown had had on all its students.
“Students receive a visa for the full length of their studies. These visas are until the end of the year. We will only really worry if NMMU is forced to close and complete the year in 2017,” she said.
The university remained confident it would complete the academic year by November 30.
Derry said the International Office had set up a temporary office and was responding to the needs of current students and those who wished to study at NMMU next year.