Zim Wits PHD Student Suicide: SA Home Affairs Rejects Blame

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The Department of Home Affairs has rejected suggestions that a Zimbabwean PhD candidate living in South Africa committed suicide because he failed to register for the academic year owing to an expired study permit.

Media reports from Zimbabwe and South Africa said Philip Chuma, a Zimbabwean PhD Candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand, committed suicide earlier this month after failing to register for the 2022 academic year due to an expired permit.

Chuma was doing his PhD on the transition of newly qualified teachers into their first teaching position in Zimbabwean schools.

Responding to media speculation about why the student from Zimbabwe took his life, the department has given several reasons why such reports were misleading.

The department said it “wishes to place the following facts on record: This student was not an exemption holder commonly known as Zimbabwe Exemption Permit (ZEP)”.

The department added: “The ZEP is not applicable to him or his case whatsoever. Even if he was the holder thereof, the Minister of Home Affairs has issued Directive No.1 of 2021 extending the validity of the exemptions granted to Zimbabwean nationals until 31 December 2022.”

However, the department confirmed that the student was a holder of a study visa, which expired in January 2022.

“Nothing prevented the said student from registering since September 2021,” said the department.

“Furthermore, there was no hurdle for him to register with the University without the involvement of the Department of Home Affairs.

“Indeed, many foreign students successfully registered at various learning institutions, including Wits University.

“In his case, the process of registering was not dependent on renewal as his study visa was still valid.”

The department said the student only applied to renew his study visa on 21 April 2022.

Online publication, Bulawayo24.com, quoted former Zimbabwe higher and tertiary education minister, Professor Jonathan Moyo as saying: “Philip Chuma, a PhD candidate at Wits University in Johannesburg, died by suicide over the weekend; in a tragic case that has the evil trappings of the anti-Zimbabwean Afrophobia being pursued by Minister Motsoaledi at Home Affairs. Chuma played by the rules, to no avail. MHSRIP!”

South Africa’s iol reports that all attempts to have Chuma’s documentation processed did not yield a speedy resolution as a result he was unable to register for the 2022 academic year.

Responding to the criticism, the department said “it condemns the insinuation that the tragic death of the said student can be laid at its door.

“This is rejected with the contempt it deserves. On the contrary, Wits University owes an explanation to the public on this tragic event.

“In the circumstances, shifting the blame to the Department of Home Affairs is unhelpful.”

TOOK HIS OWN LIFE: Philip Chuma, Wits PHD student