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Last group of SA medical students finally on way home from Cuba

A group of medical students, who have completed their fifth year of studies in Cuba, say they have been living in deplorable conditions. They have been stranded in Cuba since last year.


A group of medical students, who have completed their fifth year of studies in Cuba, say they have been living in deplorable conditions. They have been stranded in Cuba since last year.

  • Medical students stranded in Cuba will soon be back in South Africa.
  • They are expected to fly back home on Sunday. 
  • The health department’s director-general promised that students would receive their stipends in two weeks.  

The remaining South African medical students, who had been stranded in Cuba, are finally on their way back home.  

The health department promised the students they would receive their stipends in two weeks’ time – once they are back on home soil.

More than 400 students were supposed to fly back to South Africa on Friday, but about 160 were turned away from boarding the flight. That group is expected to fly home on Sunday.

In a letter to the students, the health department’s director-general, Sandile Buthelezi, said they are aware of the challenges.  

READ MORE | SA medical students stranded in Cuba coming home, says health department

“The health department is concerned about the processes that led to the blockade of the transfer of stipends to students in Cuba. Although we have been appraised of the opening of the new account, and are happy that the first charter arrived on 6 August in South Africa with students, we have been informed of the delays in the final amount of stipends to students in Cuba. We are, therefore, committing to pay students in the first two weeks of arrival in South Africa.

“The health department will now take charge of the process of fast-tracking this payment, understanding how much this will assist the students in the preparation for their final year in South Africa,” he said. 

A student, who spoke to News24, but did not want to be named, said the weekend had been “hell”.

The student said:

It’s been hell, more especially with the empty promises, but what can I say… we live to see another day and grow stronger from our challenges. The group that got home was paid their stipend, but the rest were left behind without being paid. We need the money, so that we can start our lives at university in SA because our families are struggling.

He added that students were told to get the next flight, which leaves on Sunday, and their stipends would be in the bank in the next two weeks.

160 SA medical students were stranded over the wee

160 SA medical students were stranded over the weekend after the plane left without them

News24 supplied

160 SA medical students were stranded over the wee

160 SA medical students were stranded over the weekend after the plane left without them

News24 supplied

Another student told News24: “We’ve been here without the stipend for like two months now and they still don’t show any sign of paying us. When we got to the airport, Cuban officials told us we should wait for our embassy and health attaché, while some students were checking in… we stood there for hours only to be told that we have to go back.”

Most of the students have completed their fifth year of study.

They have, for several months, been complaining about the deplorable living conditions since the pandemic started. The students had also not received their monthly stipends from the health department since May.

The group was supposed to return last year, following the completion of their studies, but have not been able to travel due to the global Covid-19-related travel restrictions. 


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