SA-Cuba medical students’ demands rejected

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pretoria – Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has rejected the demands by the individual South African Medical students in Cuba who are on an illegal strike demanding an increased  stipend of more than 300% from $200 to $700 per month.

From 7 February 2013, 187 out of the 1 200 South African medical students presently studying in Cuba embarked on an illegal strike. 

Their demands include a stipend increase by more than 300% from $200 to $700 per month, the Department of Health should send a Health Attaché to Cuba and that they no longer want to be served any meal that consists of pork.

Department spokesperson, Joe Maila, said that in the letter written to individual students, the Minister has stated the point of stipend increase unambiguously and emphasised that at no stage will such a demand ever be entertained. 

“The position of the department is firm and will never change. Accommodation, food, transport, tuition and all the necessities that enable a student to study are already sponsored jointly by the South African and Cuban governments. 

“The stipend is just to enable the students to buy toiletries, soft drinks, comfort pads, entertainment and indeed for their general comfort. For the students to firmly believe that if such a demand is not met they would rather come back home, they have left the Minister with no option but to grant them their wish because under no condition will the government be willing to meet such outrageous and unreasonable demand of $700 per month,” Maila said.

The department warned that since opting out of the South Africa - Cuba Medical Training Programme is voluntary, there shall be no arrangements made by Dr Motsoaledi or the department, including MECs for Health to complete studies at any South African Medical Schools.

Students are however free to make their own personal arrangements and the department shall not interfere in those.

The department said that it suspected that there might also be problems of cultural differences, adaptability and perhaps psychosocial changes which make it difficult for students to cope with their studies.

In addressing these, the department promptly dispatched a team consisting of a senior social worker, a senior psychologist, HR manager and a doctor who himself is a beneficiary of a Cuban medical studies to Cuba to assist the students accordingly.

“The team joined our Ambassador in Cuba to negotiate with the students with a view to settling this problem. The Cuban government and the academic staff in the University affected joined the team and tried their best to have the matter resolved,” Maila explained.

During the negotiations, the students presented the South African Embassy in Cuba with two ultimatums, that the Ambassador signs a document that their demands will be met or they come back home.

Maila noted that ever since the South Africans-Cuban medical programme started, South Africa has never had a Health Attaché in Cuba.  However, the Minister decided last year to appoint and sent a Health Attaché to Cuba.

“The Attaché was due to start work in January but unfortunately have to complete some commitments in South Africa before taking over this posting. It is therefore not understandable why this matter is arising as a demand to be negotiated when the decision has already been made long before the strike.”

On the issue of food, Maila explained that the students in Cuba are usually served alternate diets consisting of beef, chicken or pork.

“However, for the two or three weeks, the Cuban government had problems in acquiring beef and chicken hence they could only serve what was available, which was pork. Up to now, we know of no student who has to abandon studies because such a matter was not resolved.

“The Cuban government was working around the clock to resolve this problem, which was a general country problem, not affecting only the students,’ Maila said.

The department has further disputed rumours circulating in the country that the Cuban authorities have arrested 187 South African students.

“We dismiss such rumours as misleading and baseless. We wish to state once more that not a single medical student has ever been arrested in Cuba.”

There are about 22 580 international students from 125 countries around the world studying in Cuba with a total of 19 125 pursuing medical studies. Of these, 1 200 are medical students from South Africa. –