For the past 3 years I have been in South Africa, on the pretext of pursuing higher education like thousands of other foreigners in this country. It has been an enriching experience, for which I am grateful and this has made me a better person than when I left my native Cameroon. According to University of Pretoria academic Chika Sehoola, foreign students, particularly those from the Southern African Development Community and the rest of Africa, are attracted to South African higher learning institutions for several reasons. They feel a South African qualification will improve their chances of securing a job, the proximity of South Africa is very favourable distance wise in comparison to other study destinations within and outside the continent, relatively affordable tuition rates, the presence of opportunities for future research and the desire to experience a multitude of cultures (lets not forget South Africa is the Rainbow Nation). However, many foreign students, myself included, to our dismay and disappointment have been confronted with challenges that our South African peers and fellow compatriots who study elsewhere, would find bizarre and even troubling.
Institutionalised problems such as access to funding, training and employment, is an issue all foreign students have faced at one point or the other. I mean, we all dread that last requirement at the end of a bursary, training or scholarship offer which reads; “Eligible only for South African Citizens and Permanent Residents”. The new visa laws are a thorn in the backside, which have left countless students stranded in their home countries and even within South Africa, unable to register, attend classes, and whose fees amount to a small fortune. Access to affordable accommodation can be a b***h, if I bluntly put it, as foreign students are at the mercy of school accommodation offices and rental agencies, which tacitly raise prices, based on the perception, foreign students “have more money”. Interestingly enough, these high prices do not usually guarantee top notch housing, I mean, just take a stroll around some of the housing on Ivana Drive and the infamous “Dunes Estate” in Summerstrand and you would probably agree with this assertion.
Furthermore, and I know this will give me some invisible nods, but many foreign students perceive South Africans, as not being receptive. Now, this is not a normative statement, as I personally have met many wonderful South Africans young and old, who have accepted me, not only in this country but into their homes. But I have sadly met more, who are not willing to acknowledge me because my pronouncement of “Qaqamba” wasn’t authentic (well I guess I don’t count on account of my adulterated American accent). Sadly, the scourge of xenophobia and Afrophobia, has been a worry which encircles the minds of foreign students over the last few years in this nation. Most recently, the xenophobic attacks in April drew outrage from right-thinking South Africans, towards fellow humans, being violated on the basis of holding a different passport. Despite this, many South Africans harbor a dislike of foreigners, students included, who they perceive take away their jobs, exhaust their resources and steal their women (In the latter case South African men seriously need to up their “games” though). This state of affairs has broken a bond of good faith which many of us students had upon arrival in South Africa.
To conclude, I acknowledge South African students have their own challenges yet the difficulties of foreign students are rarely looked at, as they are widely considered as privileged or “la crème de la crème” due to the massive financial resources it takes to be a student in the country. However, this was just a snippet of some of the struggles “we go through” and if you are more interested in finding out about this topic, you are free to find out from any of the multitude of foreign students we have in our community and beyond.