Durban – South African medical students studying in Cuba have promised to spend less time in church and more time in class, KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said on Thursday.
They had undertaken to reduce the number of hours they spent on church activities, which he welcomed, he told reporters at Addington Hospital in Durban.
Dhlomo and a delegation of government officials visited Cuba on January 6, after reports that a group of 150 students in Havana was spending up to seven hours a day, seven days a week, on church activities rather than their medical studies.
Dhlomo said he met several Cuban officials and the managements of the universities where the South African students were studying.
Currently, 3 000 medical students were pursuing medical qualifications in Cuba, Dhlomo said.
"The other areas are running quite smoothly, with our students doing well in the country. It must also be noted that we do not have a problem with our students attending any form of religious observation. But when we receive reports that it is infringing on their reason for being in the country, it is a concern."
Dhlomo said the students had used their stipends to fly in a pastor from Pietermaritzburg.
"Student church leaders indicated they did not see anything wrong to use part of their stipend to buy a ticket and organise hotel accommodation for the pastor to visit them in Cuba. It was indicated that the stipend, once paid, was theirs to decide what to do with. We listened to this explanation."
He said some students had told the delegation they were grateful the matter was addressed.
"There is, however, another group that came to us expressing that they are part of the church and will never abandon it. In fact they are happier in the church activity then anywhere, including being at home."
Dhlomo said students told him that, if given the choice, they would give priority to their medical, instead of their pastoral training.