student. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Plans to reunite the 114 South African citizens repatriated from Wuhan City in China with their families are underway, as their 14-day quarantine period has ended.

Addressing a media briefing on Saturday, in Tshwane, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, said the Department of Health is working on the modalities for their release home.

“The department is responsible for transporting the students to their respective provinces and to ensure that they are reunited with their families. Buses and mini vans have been secured to transport the citizens from the Ranch in Limpopo to the rest of the country. Transportation of the citizens will commence on Monday,” the Minister said.

Nzimande was addressing the COVID-19 National Command Council media briefing on his department’s response to the pandemic.

Globally there are 512 701 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 202 countries with 223 495 confirmed deaths.

The 76 TVET college students who returned from China after having been in work placement at Chinese companies arranged through various Sector Education and Training Authorities are currently under quarantine at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Kempton Park, for 14 days.

“Three Department of Higher Education and Training officials have been deployed to oversee the students over this period. In addition, a circular has been sent to all colleges on the requirement for all students to be placed in a quarantine facility following their return from placements abroad,” the Minister said.

The students at Birchwood will be transported back to their homes once their quarantine period is over.

Clearance letters have been prepared for transportation arrangements to be facilitated. The Gauteng/Free State Regional Manager is assisting in this regard.

On 23 March, a further four students arrived from China and were placed in quarantine at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre.

“Two of these students tested positive for Tuberculosis before landing in South Africa, and were discharged from observation back into the quarantine facility at Birchwood on 26 March 2020. Both tested negative for COVID-19,” Nzimande said.

Online Learning

The department is engaging with colleges on pursuing online learning modalities where possible, whilst also looking at the possibility of using readily available study guides for the trimester and semester programmes.

“I am in discussions with Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni Abrahams, on how to deal with access to data for expansion of online learning,” Nzimande said.

E-Learning Guides has been made available to all Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges. These guides can be downloaded on smartphones, tablets and laptops.

“We will further develop a structured catch-up programme for the annual National Curriculum (Vocational) programmes will be developed once colleges reopen.

“A process is underway to upload previous examination papers for students to work through in preparation for examinations. Colleges will be informed in the coming week on how students can access these examination question papers,” the Minister said.

The department has requested all universities to complete an updated survey on their Information Technology capability for offering online learning.

“As a department, together with the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET), we now have started to analyse the survey results to identify any institutions that require immediate assistance to enhance their capability,” he said. –


  1. The staff at the Birchwood Hotel were not informed that it would be a quarantine a site and continued to be on site until last week whilst the students were there. Over 600 staff were layed off indefinitely without pay. When staff questioned management about notice pay etc they were told to ask the government because it was the government’s decision to impose restrictions etc. Apparently Birchwood has received R3m payment for this quarantine facility but staff have been left high and dry.


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