Students who bribed their way into the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to study medicine and other health science courses have been told that they must turn themselves in within five days, reports the Sunday Tribune.
This is the demand from the Medical School’s Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), made up of the ANC Youth League, the South African Students Congress (Sasco) and the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA). They are also calling for the immediate removal of staff implicated in the scandal that recently rocked the university.
It saw three people arrested in a search and seizure operation by the Hawks Organised Crime Unit. They were nabbed when police swooped on their businesses and homes in Umhlanga, La Lucia, Reservoir Hills and Durban’s CBD. The accused were the owners of the Little Gujarat restaurants, Varsha, 44, and Hiteshkumar Bhatt, 46, and Umhlanga businesswoman Preshni Hiramun, 54, who were charged with corruption related to the sale of places to study medicine and other health sciences at UKZN for up to R500,000. The report says the three were granted bail of R40,000 each in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court and intend to plead not guilty.
The Bhatts, through their attorney Roy Singh, said: “We have the utmost faith in South Africa’s legal system. We await our day in court and are confident we will be cleared.” Hiramun also protested her innocence yesterday.
The report says the news of the arrests sparked an uproar within the university community. The PYA said that those arrested did not have access to UKZN’S system.It is then unacceptable for us to view the arrest of the middleman as a success when the snake in the system goes undiscovered. We have no faith in the university leadership seeking justice after allowing such a syndicate to go undetected for years. “This is a symptom of a lack of leadership in the College of Health Science,” said the PYA. It added that if students did not come forward, they would apply pressure on the institution to identify, isolate and exclude them.
They urged students to co-operate with the police. “We are aware the Hawks are coming for you. This (coming forward) would be the act of a remorseful citizen who appreciates wrongdoing and is self-correcting – this is a cry not to have selfish minds and bury this institution in our time. It’s our duty to society, to our country, and we dare not betray it because history will judge us harshly,” said the PYA.
The report says it is also investigating the syndicate’s national links, in particular to the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) formerly known as the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) where Hiramun has two children studying medicine. Sources approached the university claiming to have known about Hiramun’s involvement at SMU.
SMU spokesperson Eric Pule confirmed that the institution was conducting its own internal investigation into the matter. “SMU will not tolerate any form of corruption at our university. We are aware of the allegations and have therefore instructed that an internal investigation be conducted,” said Pule. Hawks spokesperson Mhlongo said this was just the start of the investigation and more arrests were imminent.
Meanwhile, the report says several tip-offs have been received regarding the accused’s involvement in the syndicate with some claiming to have been allegedly approached by the Bhatts as well as Hiramun to get their children into medical school and pharmacy.
UKZN’S fraud hotline toll-free service has received several tip-offs.
UKZN vice-chancellor Albert van Jaarsveld said the university’s forensic services unit was working closely with law enforcement agencies to identify any accomplices and beneficiaries.
The South African Medical Association said that the allegations need to be investigated swiftly, reports News24. “We are extremely concerned about these allegations and call upon the Ministry of Education to investigate them quickly and effectively,” chair Dr Mzukisi Grootboom said.
“If any staff members are found to be complicit in these activities they must be dealt with decisively.
“The leadership of the university must be held accountable, and explain how such a scandalous situation could have occurred in the first place,” Grootboom said. He added if the allegations were true, they would cause the institution severe embarrassment.
Students who had to pursue their dream of becoming doctors by studying abroad because they could not get into Durban’s medical school were, meanwhile, furious when they heard of the scandal, says a Sunday Tribune report. Some said their families were burdened with debt as a result of sending them abroad as well as emotional stress, but they had to do it because no university in the country would accept them.
One doctor, Nikita Doorgha, 24, from Umhlatuzana, Chatsworth, said she and some of her colleagues scored distinctions in matric but were refused entry to the school. “We had a passion and despite our distinctions, our applications were not considered. I heard of friends with no distinctions studying medicine,” said Doorgha. She had no choice but to leave the country.
“We left our homes and families and everything we knew to study abroad. We returned and gladly endured all the paperwork, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, and Board exams to prove our integrity as doctors. But now we hear wealthy children bought their way into a career that we have devoted our lives to and cost our families almost three times as much. This hurts us.”
She said being a doctor meant you gave a piece of your daily life to your patient. “Death and sickness plague your thoughts daily. There are a million careers that can give you status and money but medicine is for those who want to become a humanitarian.
“Doctors are the real superheroes, or so I thought. To know there are doctors who just craved the title and status to the extent they were willing to buy a place instead of earning it, I shudder to think how patients are being treated by such superficial beings.”
Another Durban doctor, Irshaad Saley, who created Student Alliance to help deserving scholars study in China, said he formed the organisation because he, too, had difficulties getting into every medical school in the country in 2007. He said he and his students were outraged when they heard about what had allegedly been going on at UKZN. “We are upset by the lengths we had to take and the sacrifices our parents had to make to send us to study abroad to get a medical degree, something that is so easy buy here. At the same time, we do not regret the choices we had to make to study abroad. It is still way better than doing something illegal. The right way is not always the easy way, but it is always the better way and will have more blessings,” Saley is quoted in the report as saying.
Musgrave resident Reaz Moolla, who also studied medicine in China, said he had applied to Wits University, UKZN as well as the UCT. “It was a big change for my family and I. Many sacrifices had to be made for me to become a doctor. But when you hear about people being able to buy places, it makes you wonder. It is cheaper to pay a R500,000 bribe here as opposed to going abroad?”