So the year is 2015. I remember back in 2002 when I started my University education my tuition cost just under R13 000 for my Bachelor of Arts degree., excluding of course other needs like textbooks, lunch, and travel costs. By the time I did my Honours degree in 2005 I paid about R15000, excluding other necessities. If I recall correctly the registration fee was R1800 (I am open to correction), even back then having to acquire that amount in January for registration was somewhat cumbersome. My entire university education was funded by Standard Bank, and no I wasn’t given some scholarship or some poor man’s gift, I funded myself through student loans – and I say myself because I eventually had to pay that money back – so in essence I paid for my own education. I’m sure there is someone thinking “why didn’t your parents save for your education?”, well like everybody they have dreams and a couple of failed businesses later they couldn’t. No shade to my parents, I can only commend you for following your dreams.
Now to the #WitsFeesMustFall protest, for those who cannot seem to understand why the youngsters are protesting let me break it down for you. People of colour, and more specifically black folk, are stuck in a cycle of poverty. And the number one reason for this, is that we as a people were never afforded adequate educational opportunities as our brethren who are fairer of skin. And yes, before you think I’m sub-texting, this is a race matter. Let me take you back, when my 77 year old grandmother only learnt how to read and write when she was in her twenties. How is that possible do you ask, well my black grandmother was never given the privileged to go to school. You see the government of the time believed people of colour were only good for labour work. As such my grandmother got her first job cleaning offices at night with her sisters, she then went on to be a domestic worker, a profession she is still practicing today.
Now let’s move on to my father, who left school at the age of 16 to start working so that he could assist his mother in bringing extra income into the house, his brothers did the same. So in effect he left school in standard 8 (grade 10). He started working in the metal works industry, an industry that he still works in today. In my opinion an industry that lacks transformation, and where race relations leave very little to be admired.
I recall when I was 14 my father was studying his matric, because he wanted to further his earnings so in his 30’s my father earned his matric. He then went on to study something called CNC Programming and passed very well.
If we were to compare my family to a, specifically white family, and I compared my grandmother to a white grandmother elsewhere we will find a world of differences. I have informally made these distinctions over the years. Even white immigrants had better opportunities than my grandmother did. Painting the discrepancies in educational opportunities between black and white generations would give us an appalling picture of access and opportunity that is despairingly different. And this is at the crux of my #WitsFessMustFall debate. As a student at Wits, there has always been a gap between the haves and the have-nots. If we are to understand why a 10.5% increase matters, we must look at whether we all have had the same access to financial funding that will allow us to pay for our education. Now everyone has family that can pay for their tuition. Some of us, are stuck in a debt trap just after completing university, and as soon as we start working we begin paying off an immense amount of money. This situation is not unique to South Africa, and perhaps these conversation needs a global debate.
The current fee for a BA undergraduate degree at Wits is between R 33 640.00 – R 43 320.00, as stated on their site. Now multiply that by three that is easily R100 000 by the time you complete your degree should you get a student loan. Now imagine you come from a home situation where none of your parents are employed, may I remind you that South Africa’s unemployment rate of 25.27%. Never mind if you come from a child headed household. The challenges are plenty and no-one ever seems to take that into consideration.
We live in a world, where you hear things like “He/She is the first in his family to go to University”, or even pass matric. I am sorry, we should not be applauding this, in fact we should be looking at government and business and asking what are they doing about it? And to say that people do not want to prosper is incorrect, there are young people out there with so much drive and ambition and yet because of financial constraints they are unable to afford to be educated.
This is a matter very close to my heart. My heart bleeds for those who want to make a difference and yet cannot because finances continue to be a barrier. This leads to an unending cycle of poverty. Education and the application thereof, is an important ingredient in the eradication of poverty. I cannot emphasis how important access to education is, especially to a young black mind.
We need to relook at what are the gains of increasing fees, at all levels of education, if it means the majority of the populous will be unable to gain access to it? Are we not just adding to unending cycle that does nothing with rectifying a past filled with discriminatory practice in this very area?
When young people speak out, you better believe that a change is gonna come!