An R11 million learnership programme launched by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande last November has ground to a halt.
The programme was meant to give 1 000 learners paid internships in the service industry, but the unpaid students and service providers have pulled out.
Students have not attended class for training, citing the lack of transport money and the non-arrival of the promised stipends. Out of fear of losing their cash, some service providers are still providing training, but to empty chairs.
Service providers in the joint project with the provincial department of social development, and the Services sector education and training authority (Seta), told City Press this week that they had not been paid since the training project started in November.
The project is split between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
Nzimande’s spokesperson, Khaye Nkwanyana, confirmed that students had stopped attending classes because of nonpayment.
He blamed the situation on “administrative problems” on the part of social development, which was asked to administer the learnership project.
One service provider, who asked not to be named for fear of losing business, accused the social development department of failing to authorise payments for learners (a R1 500-a-month stipend each) and the service providers.
Training had started in Pietermaritzburg in November and in Durban in December, but came to a halt in March after the contractors ran out of their own cash as the government failed to settle.
Another service provider, who also asked not to be named for fear of losing business, said they had not received “a single cent” for training they had carried out in Durban for four months.
An employee of one of the service providers, PMI Consulting, who declined to be named, said that they were contracted to train learners as cleaners, and confirmed that they had not been paid.
“We understand that the department is trying to resolve the matter,” he said, adding that training was on hold.
Another Durban-based service provider confirmed that a few of their youngsters got stipends but were yet to be paid.
“We were told an auditor has been sent to investigate the problem. We are not training now. We also have expenses and cannot work for nothing,” he said.
He added that the first service providers had stopped training in January.
At meetings in February, officials from social development explained that learners had not yet been loaded on the Seta database, but that payment would be made by mid-March at the latest.
“Some learners were paid R1 500 at the end of March. Most are still waiting for their stipends. There is no talk of when the training providers or the rest of the learners will be paid,” he said.
“This is a 12-month project, but training last took place in January,” another explained.
Nkwanyana said social development had undertaken to make payments by early this week. Should they fail to do so, his department would take over the running of the project, he said.
“We were given a commitment that payment would take place. If not, we are taking over this project and will manage it directly,” he said.
“We gave them this month to sort out the problems, failing which we will take over
running the project. Students cannot be allowed to suffer because of a lack of administrative capacity.’’
On Friday, KwaZulu-Natal social development MEC Weziwe Thusi met some learners in Pietermaritzburg to address their complaints.
Her spokesperson, Vukani Mbele, confirmed that a meeting had been held with the interns.
“We did have a meeting. We will conduct a quick probe and we will have a report in two weeks,” said Mbele, adding that some learners would be paid and “follow-ups” would be
made about those who had not received payment.
Calls to the Services Seta went unanswered.