Tired of having their lives on hold for up to six years, college students are launching a class action against the state for not ensuring that they receive their certificates of graduation.
Keneilwe Molawa, a former student at Motheo technical and vocational education and training college in Bloemfontein, has been desperately trying to get her civil engineering and building construction national vocational certificate since 2010.
“I’m the only hope to improve the situation in my family. No one ever passed matric and they hoped that I will be the one to make it in life. It has been a frustrating journey. I’ve done whatever I could to get my qualification,” she said.
Her six-year struggle could soon come to an end if a private law firm launches a massive class action – pro bono – against the government for failing to force public colleges to issue certificates to hundreds of deserving graduates like Malowa.
“I never received my certificate during the graduation ceremony. It was a normal graduation without certificates presented to us ... this has put my life on hold for so many years,” said the 35-year-old Molawa, who initially started her college campaign in 2008.
Empty certificate holders were handed over to graduates with a promise that their certificates would follow later.
It has been a treacherous journey bedevilled with lies and empty promises.
Higher Education and Training Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize admitted to City Press in an interview last month that there were delays but argued they were being prioritised.
Her predecessor, Blade Nzimande had also admitted to the delays during his tenure.
In an interview with City Press, Mkhize said at the time that her department was dealing with the challenge.
The issue started after the government took the decision to transfer colleges from the provincial education departments to the national department of higher education and training in 2013.
Mkhize said a process had been undertaken by the State Information Technology Agency to establish a central database, which would accurately store graduates’ information and speed up issuing of certificates.
Molawa has written to many organisations including Section 27, asking for intervention to force the Motheo college management to issue the certificate. Even the Free State provincial government and the ANC in the province failed to help.
City Press has seen a letter written by the chief directorate for national examinations and assessment in the department of higher education confirming that Molawa had completed the qualification and needed to be given her certificate.
“The above candidate meets the minimum requirements for admission to higher certificate studies as per Government Gazette 32743, November 26 2009. The department is currently unable to issue a certificate for the candidate and the certificate will only be available in February 2016,” the memo read. Molawa said this memo was sent to her in 2015 but nothing has happened.
“There should be some justice for all those wasted years and others like me,” she said.
Molawa said she was currently doing clerical work for a construction company but that was not what she studied for and qualified to do.
“I’ve missed so many opportunities. Other children in my age group are successful. I’m stuck,” she lamented.
City Press understands that Pretoria-based law firm Maluleke Seriti Makume Matlala Incorporated agreed to take on the department on behalf of the disadvantaged graduates but it needed to have a list of at least 100 affected students to lodge the case.
Lawyer Mmuso Matlala said: “The relief sought is self-explanatory. Any person who has written an examination and passed is legally entitled to a certificate. The matter will be done pro bono and our wish is to issue court processes latest January 2018,” he said, adding that currently, they had names of 20 affected students.
“We’d like to urge as many as possible to come forward,” he said.
Madikwe Mabotha, higher education and training spokesperson said that in a parallel project involving the college management, State Information Technology Agency and the quality assurer Umalusi, the department had successfully managed to clear all outstanding national certificate (vocational) for technical vocational education and training colleges going as far back as 2007.
“As at September 2017, more than 230 000 certificates were processed and released to colleges. Accordingly – for the examination cycle period between November 2007 and November 2016 – all eligible candidates’ certificates have been processed and distributed to colleges.”