“If you think NSFAS is hard to get, wait until you have to find a job and pay them back”

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is reportedly seeking to recover an estimated R8-billion from beneficiaries defaulting on their student loans. Acording to NSFAS, if it is repaid this money could assist in supporting almost double the number of students benefiting from the scheme. But according to VHANGANI TSHILILO* (26), an unemployed beneficiary of NSFAS, paying back the money is not always easy. He told Bongiwe Tutu his story.

I had used NSFAS from 2008 to 2010 while I was doing my diploma in film and television at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I knew that if my mom paid for my studies then we were going to struggle at home, so I applied for the NSFAS bursary loan, using my grandma as my guardian and it worked for me.

I studied and passed, and I graduated, but now I’m still looking for a job. Being 21, jobless and in debt then was not a biggie because I thought I was going to get a job and pay them back, but years later it was still the same and that’s when I realised I am in deep trouble.

I am from a rural area, a village called Mamvuka Jazz Village, Limpopo. It’s a nice place, we have got some rich people and poor people and, of course, middle-class people. But most importantly, people of Mamvuka Jazz Village are very supportive when it comes to education and those of us who went to school are well respected – but mostly, we set a good example for the rest of the village people.

What I can say about NSFAS is that it really helped me: I do not want to lie. I was only expecting them to pay for my tuition and residence, but they gave me an allowance for food as well. So I studied comfortably, and I wish I could get a job and pay them back.

In 2011, I went to Pretoria and studied at Tshwane University of Technology for three years. I did a Btech in film and motion production, which my mom paid for. And still, I did not get a job. But my mother paid for my studies there, so I didn’t add onto my debt.

My mom is an administrative clerk in the civil service, she has been there for more than 20 years now, I think. So she did her best at paying for my studies.

Now I am in Polokwane, at the University of Limpopo, doing my masters in media studies. I actually enrolled here because they have promised to hire me but now it is my second year and there is nothing yet. I am paying for my masters studies with the little student assistance stipend. I am a student assistant here and get about R2,250 and then they deduct 70% of that to pay for my studies. It’s their policy and it serves me well.

But I am still not fully employed, I can’t live my life the way I want to because I do not have money. I want to be responsible, but one needs capital. And NSFAS continues to send me letters that I must pay back the loan, but even if I want to I would not pay it back because I do not have a job.

At some point the money I owed decreased because I did not have a job for more than two years, but it is still over R30,000. They send a letter every year with a deposit slip that obviously suggests that if you’ve got money, you should pay your debt. But If I would get a proper job I would most definitely pay them back.

But the thing is I do not think I’ll pay them right away. I mean if I get a job today I’ll first do a few things, then pay them off. I want to buy a car and a house first.

If you think NSFAS is hard to get, wait until you have to find a job and pay them back. That’s the hardest part.

But initially, NSFAS is a great plan, which can still help a lot of people. I just think at state universities it should provide free bursaries or scholarships with conditions.

And I think they should just erase my name — I’ve been unemployed for more than four years!

I feel guilty about not paying because that’s just how I was raised – if you lend some cash you bring it back, and I owe them, full stop.

– As told to Bongiwe Tutu.

* Not his real name

– Featured image by Zimasa Matiwane

Read more about paying back your NSFAS loan here.

Do you owe NSFAS money? Or did you make a plan to pay them back? If you’d like to share your story, please get in touch (remember to include your phone number so we can contact you).