The Sunday Mail
Fatima Bulla recently in Beijing, China
What began as a dream to hone their skills and knowledge in international capitals of the world such as Beijing has turned out to be a living nightmare for many Zimbabwean students.
Duped out of their hard-earned fortune by scholarship scammers who purport to organise fully-funded study programmes for them, many prospective students are now at wit’s end. It is an all too familiar story that is told over and over again.
However, the scammers do not seem to run out of victims. Unfortunately, the biggest victims have been female students.
The Sunday Mail Society recently spoke to some of the students who are stranded in China, most of whose cases have come to the attention of embassy staff in Beijing.
Twenty year old Gugulethu (not her real name) claims she paid $700 to Michael Tapiwa Nyarugwe – an agent representing a company called SAACA – and only discovered she had been conned after Shangdong University of Finance and Economics in Jinan City demanded US$860 (RMB6 000) in tuition fees for her to be admitted.
However, when she left Harare, she was made to believe that she will get a fully-funded scholarship.
Gugulethu told this paper from her temporary base in Jinan City that the agent has since got off the grid.
“They said they won’t accept me at the school if I don’t pay the money. If I fail (to raise the money), they will send me home.
“They said they told all the agents that all students should pay, so they thought I was the one trying to deceive them. I told my family members and they sent me RMB3 000 (about $420) and now I owe RMB3 000, and I have no idea where it will come from. I really cannot go home. There are days where I only go to bed after eating peanuts and taking water that is sweetened with sugar. It’s really a painful experience,” she said ruefully.
There is both a paper trail and digital trail of communications between Gugulethu and the allegedly cheeky agent, Nyarugwe.
As it stands, if Gugulethu fails to raise her tuition, she will be deported in 11 days’ time (January 10).
Another victim is 20-year-old Nomsa (not her real name).
She paid $1 500 to Nyarugwe to pursue a degree of her choice, but after arriving in Beijing, she had to settle for a degree in Chinese language.
But again, she has to stump up US$1 300 (RMB 9 000) that is needed for tuition at Kunming University in Yunan Province.
Like Gugulethu, Nomsa, who hails from Bulawayo, fell to the same trick – she was told her scholarship was fully funded.
She now has to raise the tuition fees by January 18 next year or she will also not get a residence permit.
Most of the students seem to have fallen victim to the same agent – Nyarugwe.
In a recent interview, the controversial agent, who curiously says his company SAACA is not yet registered, said he was aware of Gugulethu and Nomsa’s plight.
“I think I should communicate with those guys and see how we can settle this whole thing before it gets out of hand. There are some who were complaining, there is one Nomsa who is in Kunming as we speak, then there is one in Shandong called Gugulethu – those are the people that I am aware who are complaining,” said Nyarugwe.
He indicated that the affected students should engage him first before running to the Press.
“Before a student comes to China, they need to communicate with us, then we will make the arrangements for all the airport pick-up, all the registration stuff, but if you do not clear your agency fees or our payment, we cannot give you the papers.
“But due to the cash crisis that was in Zimbabwe, we had to release the papers. Like I normally do, I will just give them so that they get assurance that they really got admitted, including the type of scholarship they would have got.
“When they get there, they have to pay one, two, three core things, and everything is clearly mentioned on the admission letters, even the JW2 forms. I am pretty sure that they can read and comprehend. . .
“Everything is done before they leave Zimbabwe. The least we can charge is maybe $500 or $300 and the highest we can charge is up to $800. We work with different agencies,” he said.
But daring agents, who are many, seem to be capitalising on information gaps that exist on what the structure of the various scholarship-funded programmes, particularly in China.
Another student who is stranded in Beijing, and who spoke to us on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said his application was processed by Godwin Mukara from Global Admission Service, which, in turn, was working as an agent of Sicas.
The aggrieved applicant claims he paid $1 500 and was granted a half scholarship by the Belt and Road Collaboration Innovation Centre.
However, upon arrival in Beijing, he was told to pay $3 600.
“When I arrived (in Beijing) there was no class, no teacher. We were being told we are the first-year students and we will be learning Chinese. Then I realised everything was different from what we were promised. My residence permit will expire soon,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Mukara declined the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
The story of stranded Zimbabwean students in foreign lands is as heartbreaking as it is unending.
Zimbabwe’s acting Ambassador to China Mr Mqabuko Dube urged prospective students to be wary of scholarships offered by individuals and private companies.
“I can safely say we receive such cases from time to time. The embassy would like to urge Zimbabweans to be careful because it is clear that there are bogus organisations that claim to provide scholarships. Therefore, before students can sign to anything, they should make it a point to check with the Department of Scholarships, as well as with the Embassy of Zimbabwe,” said Mr Dube.