The matric certificates of 77 pupils from Butterworth Revival Christian School have been withheld by the Eastern Cape Education Department after they were accused of cheating during their National Senior Certificate exams in December.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the group of pupils, told News24 that the ordeal had ruined their futures and negatively affected their emotional and mental health.
"This is so traumatic; one of us was admitted [to] hospital because of post-traumatic stress disorder. For days she couldn't even come to the hearing. We can't cope, some of the learners have started drinking their lives away due to this," one pupil claimed.
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The pupils claimed to News24 that provincial education department officials threatened them during a subsequent meeting at the school, claiming they would not be able to rewrite their exams for more than three to five years - this, despite the fact that none of them were found guilty of cheating.
News24 understands that a long-anticipated hearing into the matter was postponed on three occasions before it finally took place last month, on 13 February.
Despite the hearing, the pupils had not yet received any feedback from the school.
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Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: "The matter is still being dealt with by the Provincial Examinations Irregularities Committee (PEIC) before it comes to National Examinations Irregularities Committee. The department is the appeal authority, so we won't comment now."
Another pupil said:
"It's stressful for me because my life is on hold. I cry myself to sleep every night. Universities are inviting prospective students to register. The day before the hearing at school, I was hospitalised due to depression caused by this thing of our results being withheld."
Another pupil said she had been accepted at Walter Sisulu University based on her Grade 11 results and pending her Grade 12 results. "My life is on hold and there's nothing we can do," she said.
Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade's spokesperson, Vuyiseka Mboxela, would not be drawn into discussing the incident, saying that the matter was "sub judice".
The National Association of Student Governing Bodies (NASGB) has called for the matter to be dealt with expeditiously.
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NASGB Eastern Cape chairperson Mongameli Peter said: "We wish to urge those at the helm of the matter to deal with it immediately, for it is in the best interest of the learners, who are ultimately the future of our nation. We will certainly follow this probe to understand the status quo and as such to ensure immediate resolutions."
Mboxela said: "When it comes to investigation into cribbing or group copying, it is a bit of [a] sensitive matter and it must be treated with delicacy."
"I can confirm that if there is a student or a learner that would have been caught cribbing or copying, that process takes its own course because before there can be an arrival to a particular determination, proper investigations must have been done and there must have been proper evidence presented by both sides."
Mboxela said the claim by pupils that there was no copying would be decided by the evidence that would be uncovered.
"Such a claim of them not having copied, will be tested during the probe. For now, we will not go into details on this matter because we can't really discuss the investigation as it is sub judice."