Only pork for Cuban students

2013-02-24 10:00

‘No food for four days’ as the health department had not paid their bills.

Angry South African medical students in Cuba insist they’re not trying to be “heroes” by embarking on what the government has called an illegal strike – they just want what they say is their fair due.

At least 187 of the students were arrested this week after staging a protest outside the South African embassy in the Cuban capital of Havana.

They were detained overnight and have refused to give up their fight over food and money.

There are about 1?200 South African student doctors currently studying in Cuba.

One of the students, who asked to remain anonymous, told City Press in an email: “None of us are trying to be heroes here, and none of us want to go home and lose our careers.

“The department of health might say that our demands are unreasonable, but, honestly, we wouldn’t go to such lengths for something we also didn’t believe in,” he said.

The students say they went without food for four days last week because the department of health allegedly failed to pay their food bills.

Some of the other issues that drove them to protest this week were:

»?Insufficient pocket money – the students want their monthly stipend of $200 (R1?770) to be increased to $700;

»?Inadequate food – the group claim to have been fed pork for two weeks, even though some of them don’t eat pork or are vegetarians; and

»?Insufficient stationery supplies.

The students have threatened to leave Cuba, where they are part of a student exchange programme, if their demands are not met.

But the health department says the students’ request for a higher stipend is “outrageous and unreasonable”.

Joe Maila, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s spokesperson, confirmed the students’ arrest and said their protest had amounted to an illegal strike.

“Our students are usually served alternate meals consisting of beef, chicken or pork but, for the past two or three weeks, the Cuban government had problems acquiring beef and chicken.

“They could only serve what was available, which was pork. For the students to believe that if such a demand is not met they would rather come back home leaves the minister with no option but to grant them their wish. Under no condition will the government meet such an outrageous and unreasonable demand of $700 per month,” said Maila.

“When the students accepted the offer by the government to study in Cuba they were doing nobody a favour, neither the government nor the country as a whole.”

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande also lambasted the students, saying: “They have displayed 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, is totally unacceptable,” he said.

The father of another student detained this week said it was unfortunate the department felt this way.

“When our kids complete their studies they return to serve South Africans. In many cases, they work in rural areas where local doctors refuse to go.”

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