Generous South Africans help Wits University medical student raise R471 000 in 24 hours to pay her debt

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South Africans opened up their wallets to make Mumtaaz Emeran's dream of graduating and becoming a doctor, possible (Photo: Instagram)
South Africans opened up their wallets to make Mumtaaz Emeran's dream of graduating and becoming a doctor, possible (Photo: Instagram)

Mumtaaz Emeran was convinced her dream of becoming a doctor was about to be shattered just weeks before her graduation from Wits University.

“I had just finished my final medical exam when I received an email from the university telling me that I would not graduate until I had paid off all my outstanding debt,” she tells YOU.

The 27-year-old, who goes by Taz, shared the devastating news with her Instagram followers in a five-minute video where she explained that she was in desperate need of assistance.

“I just bawled my eyes out because I just kept on thinking that I had come so far just to get here. I was just so emotional,” she says. 

After contacting the university and its legal clinic, Taz was convinced there was nothing to be done, but Yonda Thomas, her boyfriend of five years, would not let her give up.

“He kept on saying, ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself’, and he reassured me that everything was going to be okay,” she says.

“I honestly had nothing to lose in that moment,” she says of her decision to ask for help. “After sharing that video I just felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and everything was going to be okay.”

It wasn’t long before she was in tears again – but this time because of the kindness of strangers.

“It was all so overwhelming, especially with the donations, where people spared as little as R15. It humbled me so much because that was all they had.”

Then the unexpected happened – Standard Bank contacted her to offer her a R250 000 loan to cover the balance of the debt that the donations would not cover, and to negotiate with Wits University to extend the payment deadline.

“Funeka Montjane, the bank’s CEO, reached out to me and said that she had seen my video,” she says. 

“By the time the loan was approved and cleared in my account, South Africa had helped me raise a total of R471 000 and cleared my student debt,” she says.

Those donations were used to pay off the bank loan.

“I will forever be grateful to South Africa,” she says. “This degree is no longer just mine but everyone that helped me make sure I get it.”

Like many university students who struggle to afford tuition fees, Taz worked during her first, second and third years, to go towards the high cost of her education.

“I applied for bursaries, scholarships and private sponsors, and I either didn’t receive any response or I was simply rejected,” she says.

“I worked part-time jobs so I could pay my fees while I was in medical school and in my third year I had to take a leave of absence because I simply could not afford the fees anymore. At first I was really sad that I was going to be a year behind my counterparts but I made peace with it.”

After years of failed attempts to get a sponsor, Taz received a scholarship from a foundation that would pay her tuition until she completed her studies.

Then, late last year, she got an email from the university saying her fee payment was overdue.

The foundation had failed to pay for her studies as promised, and after she contacted them, they agreed to pay for the year and Taz registered for her final year of study.

“Then the coronavirus hit. Because there was no communication from the foundation, nothing seemed amiss until I received an email from Wits that shattered me,” she recalls.

The foundation was unable to account for non-payment of her fees, and her dreams of becoming a doctor felt like they were slipping away.

For Taz, who is originally from Cape Town, being the first to graduate as a doctor in her family is priceless.

“My mother and step-dad supported me so much after I decided to book a one-way ticket to Johannesburg and go to medical school.”

The mother-of-one who had her son, Dhayaan Emeran (12), when she was 16 knew that she had to turn her life around.

“Before I fell pregnant I had fallen in with a bad crowd and given up on my dreams.”

Her son was born prematurely and spent two months in the neonatal intensive-care unit. “It made me realise I had to take care of him.”

She left for Joburg to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, despite the disapproval in her community about being a young mother leaving her son behind. She and Dhayaan visit each other at least four times a year, and video call each other regularly too.

As a result of the pandemic and travel restrictions, Taz will be seeing her son for the first time in person this month.

“I am feeling so nervous,” she says with a laugh. “He’s so grown up now and we haven’t seen each other in a while, so sometimes I feel nervous about how he’ll receive me.”

Taz believes her degree is a reminder that anything is possible when South Africans come together to achieve a common goal.

“I am in complete awe and still speechless by the love and kindness shown to me by South Africa. I felt alone while struggling during the first years of my degree and now I feel like South Africa is my family.”

After completing her two-year internship at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Taz hopes to specialise in cardiothoracic surgery.

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