‘We’ll study more’

2016-01-22 12:00
Sibongiseni Dhlomo (Picture: The Witness)

Sibongiseni Dhlomo (Picture: The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Medical students from KwaZulu-Natal studying in Cuba have pledged to pray less and study more.

The commitment was made to Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo on his recent visit to Cuba when the students were threatened with losing their scholarships and being forced to pay back the money the state had already invested in them.

According to Dhlomo’s department, 150 students, almost all from KZN, had been indoctrinated by Pietermaritzburg pastor Apostle Sipho Maduna of the Threshing Floors Bible Church.

Earlier this month The Witness reported that Dhlomo would travel to Cuba to “engage with KZN students adversely affected by a religious sect”. The “sect” was accused of preaching to the students, taking them away from studying and instead committing them to seven hours of prayer a day and ministering to Cuban locals.

According to the Health Department, one student had become “mentally disturbed” as a result of the sermons. The church was also blamed for the students’ high failure rate — 26 KZN students failed the 2015 academic year and a further 22 faced exclusion due to high absenteeism.

The church has denied all the allegations, claiming it was being used as a “scapegoat” for the students’ poor performance. It said Maduna had travelled to Cuba at the students’ invitation, and that they had been “experiencing personal and life­style problems” before Maduna’s visit.

Currently there are 3 000 South Africans studying medicine in Cuba.

“It must be stressed that only 150, mainly from Havana, have been involved with this church. They have committed to reduce their time dedicated to religion and instead focus more on studying medicine,” said Dhlomo.

He would not say whether his travel to Cuba, along with a clinical psychologist, had resulted from pressure brought to bear by the Cuban government, but said that the South African Embassy had asked the department to intervene.

The SABC reported in September last year that the Cuban embassy in South Africa had “expressed concern to the government in Pretoria”, claiming that students had resorted to “faith to cure ailments”.

South African students are one of 45 nationalities studying in Cuba.

“I do not intend to meet with [Maduna]. On Wednesday night I met with other pastors in Pietermaritzburg and did the same in Durban [on Thursday]. I have also fully briefed the provincial cabinet. They might talk to him,” said Dhlomo.

Threshing Floor PRO Ntokozo Biyela said Maduna would not speak out publicly as he “was fasting”, keeping to himself and “spending time with the Lord”.

Biyela said it was “odd” that while Dhlomo claimed to have met with pastors, their church was not contacted once.

“The reporting of this matter did initially shake us, but knowing where we stand as a church and knowing why our pastor went there, we have since moved on. Our hands are clean. There is nothing truthful in what Dhlomo is saying,” he said.

Read more on:    cuba  |  pietermaritzburg  |  medicine

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