South African student who had degree withheld by Limpopo University for 'being too poor' has debt settled by anonymous donor - eight years later

The graduate, now 32, hopes to finally make it into the media industry and out of poverty

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The Independent Online

An aspiring student journalist, who said he was being ‘punished for being too poor’ after his university withheld his degree, has been celebrating after an anonymous donor came forward to settle his debt – almost eight years later.

32-year-old Sello Molewa attended his graduation at South Africa’s University of Limpopo in 2008 to collect his BA in media studies when, instead, he was presented with an envelope with an outstanding debt notice for R9 770 (£505).

Speaking with Africa’s Mail & Guardian (M&G), Mr Molewa described how it was difficult to return to the squatter camp he was living in, to undertake menial jobs in the neighbouring province of Gauteng, while his fellow classmates went on to pursue other opportunities, saying he thought he would have been “far better off in life” by now.

However, things took a surprising turn for the graduate after an Australian national working in Johannesburg for a development bank saw the story in the M&G and offered to pay the debt where Mr Molewa’s pensioner parents could not.

The man, who wished to remain unknown, told the M&G he had received a sizeable bonus and said: “Why the hell wouldn’t I give a bit of it to help some local who deserves help?”

Mr Molewa, who comes from a poor family in the rural town of Tzaneen, explained how he had acquired the debt because of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) failure to fully settle his fees for the final year, although the NSFAS has not confirmed this allegation.

Now, however, Mr Molewa was said to be ‘elated’ by the news and, although the road into the media industry looks set to be a challenging one, it’s one the former student is ready to take, saying that, as long as he has his degree in his hands, he’ll see his way out of the poor rural town he’s in.

South Africa’s Council on Higher Education said in a 2013 report that less than five per cent of the country’s coloured population ever succeed at university, so Mr Molewa’s accomplishment was no mean feat.

As South Africa’s universities continue to battle massive student debt, the withholding of degrees has been standard practice across the country.

The deputy director general responsible for the country’s universities, Dr Diane Parker, said she understood why some universities withhold the degrees, but that she did not agree with the withholding of results which is also common practice, calling it “deplorable.”

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