By LIKHAPHA THAATHAA
Studying in South Africa presents international students with exciting opportunities; however, the excitement comes with challenges. These challenges include stressing about admission, scholarships, and, above all, preparing to get a visa.
In 2018, I received a full scholarship from Lesotho’s government, so I set off to study in South Africa for the first time. In 2020, I obtained a BA in Journalism at the University of the Free State. I was accepted into the Honours programme, but I did not have the funding – nor did my parents – to pay for my university fees. I, sadly, had to sit this one out.
In 2022, I decided to try again and received full sponsorship from the government of Lesotho to study at Rhodes University, so I thought my postgraduate journey would begin. I was excited, but little did I know what I would face when I applied for my South African Police Clearance Certificate (PCC), a prerequisite for a study visa. A PCC is a supplementary document required for individuals who apply for a study permit or visa if they had previously stayed legally in South Africa.
On 7 January 2022, I went to the Ladybrand Police Station – the closest station to my home – to apply for my PCC. I was told that the process could take anything from 5 to 15 days, but to be prepared for a possible waiting period of eight weeks. My application at the Ladybrand station was couriered along with my fingerprint form to the SAPS Criminal Record Centre in Pretoria.
The form was delivered on 12 January and registered on 18 January. This is where the waiting began. At first, the SAPS said that delays were due to a recent electricity outage that affected their work and the ongoing project of building a new fingerprinting system. Following that, the building was closed due to unpaid rent.
I became even more nervous as I missed the university registration deadline and crucial teaching contact time. I felt defeated, depressed, and unable to focus on my studies. I struggled to sleep because my thoughts were so caught up in wondering when and if I would get my PCC. Imagine trying to study remotely but not being sure you could continue if your visa did not come through in time before the registration cut off.
I had everything I needed to apply for my study visa: a valid passport, proof of funds, passport-sized photographs, an acceptance letter, academic certificates, birth certificate, medical aid, medical report, radiology report, a Lesotho police clearance certificate, a completed South African High Commission application form, and the application fee. The only thing holding me up for over 15 weeks? The South African PCC.
This was a really tough time in my life. When I think about waiting for police clearance, I remember one of the worst moments in my life. Added to this, the situation back home in Lesotho was not conducive to me being able to focus on my studies entirely.
At home, there is no electricity – the infrastructure does not exist. We make use of a generator for charging devices. I cannot use the generator to charge my laptop or cellphone when it rains. To use the generator, we need to buy petrol which is currently about R21 per litre.
On top of this, I couldn’t access my learning materials because I could not register. My scholarship covers my tuition, residence and food costs, but I could not register and access the learning sites because my visa was pending. Luckily, the university allowed me to register as “not in attendance”, and only after I made my way from Lesotho to Makhanda to manage that in person. After this, I was able to access my learning materials, which made things a little easier.
I also needed to buy airtime for data to be able to attend classes on Zoom. If I’m lucky, the connection is good, and I can listen to my lecturers and classmates and participate in discussions. But it isn’t the same as being there in person.
Eventually, after several calls and many weeks, the SAPS office answered my calls on Tuesday, 12 April. I was told that my PCC had been finalised on 4 April and was ready for collection. But this was not reflected on the online system on my end, and I had not received an SMS notification to inform me that it was ready.
The officer told me it might be a technical issue and that I should simply go ahead and send a courier to collect the PCC for me. I contacted a courier company to collect it on my behalf and deliver it.
Later that day, the courier informed me that they were told that the PCC was not ready for collection! I kept on checking, but nothing was finalised until 19 April, and the following day the PCC was finally in my hands. I immediately applied for my study visa!
And today, Thursday 28 April, I was told it had been granted. Tomorrow I will collect it, and on Saturday night I am taking a bus to Makhanda. At last, I will join my classmates in person for my first lecture at Rhodes University as a postgrad diploma student and as a journalist for Grocott’s Mail.