Little sympathy for Cuba students

2013-02-23 00:00

ONLY seven of the 1 200 South African medical students in Cuba are refusing to eat pork for religious reasons.

The other 180 who are reportedly on a hunger strike over food and money are apparently just being troublesome, Health spokesperson Joe Maila said yesterday.

The protesters are threatening to return home if the government doesn’t raise their stipends from R1 776 ($200) a month to R6 216 ($700).

The department has refused their demands and Maila said they are awaiting replies to letters Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wrote to them.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the students showed a lack of gratitude.

“The sense of entitlement and lack of gratitude displayed by these students who come from a country with such high levels of desperate need for higher education, and with limited state resources, is totally unacceptable,” Nzimande said in a statement.

Nzimande said the government spent about R500 000 per student over six years for language courses, medical training and living expenses in Cuba.

“If they are demanding something that is a privilege … as if it is a right and threaten to come back home,” he said, “then maybe they should do just that and open up an opportunity for other equally deserving young people who are thirsty for such opportunities.”

The students’ complaints on Facebook about their plight have not met with much sympathy.

A South African doctor who trained in Cuba said they should resturn to class because their behaviour is “embarrassing”.

Another comment read: “Maybe it is better for you to come home, because I don’t think you understand the purpose of your stay there. It’s not about materialism and accumulation.”

“There are lots of other students in other areas who don’t get any pocket money and live in worse conditions in crowded hotels.”

Some defended the students: “You speak as if Cuba is heaven and these children are spoilt brats. They think they are doing us a favour because we are poor.

“The situation in Cuba isn’t like it was 14 or even five year ago.

“If students complain they are told: ‘You are not here to eat, but to become doctors’.”

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