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Special editorial: The Wits protest is not just about university fees

The ongoing protest against fee increases at the University of Witwatersrand is not about the whim and fancy of students who feel entitled to a free ride. It is about the ongoing struggle of black youth to secure a future unencumbered by the burdens of a history of disadvantage.

Let’s be honest here. The proposed 10.5% fee increase at Wits will marginally inconvenience those who are able to afford higher education anyway. But it will be catastrophic for others, especially for black students from disadvantaged families who are already struggling to afford a university education for their children. It will force the exclusion of poorer students from the system, further entrenching inequality.

As students barricaded the gates of Wits yesterday, NSFAS was telling parliament that despite rolling out more funding, fewer students have been assisted due to the rising cost of tertiary education. NSFAS chairperson Sizwe Nxasana says despite a R3-million increase compared to the last financial year, the scheme funded 1,300 fewer students this year.

And the shortfall of state funding to tertiary institutions goes beyond NSFAS.

According to media reports, Universities South Africa, which represents higher education institutions, has complained that the current financial year’s equitable share to universities from government – which is R22-billion – was still about R12-billion short of the R36-billion they need to meet all their financial needs.

It is impossible to address inequality when universities are perennially underfunded. But it is especially damning to place the burden of shortfall on students.

In the words of Rhodes vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela, “Using student fees to address the financial shortfall in higher education creates a significant financial burden for students who come from poor, rural and working class communities as this makes higher education unaffordable.”

The minister of higher education Blade Nzimande has alluded to the state of the economy, saying this won’t be resolved until the economy gets better. So when do we start talking about the abysmal failure of the Zuma administration to create jobs? When do we start talking about the failure of the ANC government to improve education? When do we start talking about the fact that while a small section of South Africa can afford these proposed fee increases, it is still black students who have to toyi toyi for their right to an education?

The Star rampage picAnd while there have been expressions of solidarity with the protesters, there has also been great disdain for the protestors.

The protesters have been made out to be violent when the protest has been anything but violence. More violence has come from people trying to force their way past or through protestors. And yet, The Star, for example, headlined their story about the protest as students being on a rampage. One definition of a rampage is “violent or excited behavior that is reckless, uncontrolled, or destructive”. But the Wits Fees Must Fall protest has not been characterised by recklessness or destruction.

The perception then, that students who protest fee increases simply feel entitled to free stuff and will resort to violence if they don’t get it, must be quashed. There is no recognition of the fact that mostly poor, black students who are steadily making their way through university will be consigned to a life of struggle if fees increase and they’re forced to drop out, while the previously advantaged, mainly white students simply continue merrily on their way.

Meanwhile, the immediate focus of many news reports regarding the protest has been on how it is affecting Johannesburg traffic.

Some people will talk about bursaries and academic excellence, but how is it fair that well-off students averaging results in the 50- and 60-percent range can go on to get their degree because they can pay fees due to their family’s history of privilege, while only the hardest working and smartest disadvantaged students, with the best support structures, become eligible for bursaries, for which there is stiff competition?

This plays into the idea that black people have to do things twice or thrice as well as white people to achieve the same goals. And you’re just supposed to suck it up.

The students’ protest is a robust idea. It may not yield immediate results. It may fizzle out under the strain of its own toil or fall prey to internal, campus politics. It may also hold contradictory values. But it has taken students once more to show us the faults in the present day South Africa, that they must carve a future from, for themselves, yes, but also for the rest of us.

This protest is about a South Africa in which young people are still struggling to be free.

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About The Daily Vox Team

The Daily Vox Team
Citizen.Speak.Amplify.

10 comments

  1. When do we talk about the fact that education could be free in South Africa for all underprivileged people if the government was not busy stealing the money? Why won’t the students protest the government????

  2. brilliant honest article- so true. Thats what the star needs to run and stop appeasing to the small “bracket” that still runs our economy from 50 years afo

  3. Privileged Academic

    Oh what poppy-cock and drivel. If I had to mark this as an academic paper, I would qualitatively grade this effort as “competence not achieved”. Or perhaps, if I was kinder, I would say “Approaching competence”. Speaking of putting two and two together and getting five?

    What I don’t disagree on:

    The ANC government is robbing us blind
    Higher Education is under-funded

    What I fundamentally disagree with:

    – The lame assumptions and generalisations you wield. Really? Another “poor us blacks”?
    – That all young people have a right to Higher-Education. If I see how irresponsibly some students (in fact, a large portion of) go about this privilege they have been granted (amidst this sea of inequality) , can you imagine how exponentially the number of irresponsibles will grow? The direct consequence of this disrespect to academia and the values it holds dear, is incredibly large numbers of failing students . And that is why the system is overburdened.
    – That the lobby that you represent gives itself the right to be disruptive. So mock those who complain about the disruption in traffic. Those people own cars with money they earned, with wealth they created not by having little pity parties like you, but by facing challenges and overcoming those. Mock those students who want to get on with studying and learning, and who are intolerant of the hooligans. They are black and white by the way.

    You are re-emphasising the notion of the poor, abused and “taken advantage of” black man who stands with open hands and asks: give me give me give me. Just get on with it.

  4. An extract from your article reads:-

    Your accusation that nonprotesting people are using force (“people trying to force their way past or through protestors” is not correct. If any person blocks another’s right of way by standing there and refusing to move, he has committed a violent action by moving into that position.

    Your claim that protesters are not destroying (” … protest … not … characterised by recklessness or destruction”) is also not correct. If any person blocks another’s right of way by standing there and refusing to move, he has destroyed that right of way.

  5. To The Privileged Academic

    It is unfortunate to read academic in your name and then drivel in your reply to the article.

    “What I fundamentally disagree with:

    – The lame assumptions and generalisations you wield. Really? Another “poor us blacks”?” – so you grade the article in the competent achievement range and then YOU reply with this? I fear the term academic has lost all meaning then. This article is not a “poor us blacks” but about a lack of student funding for the previously disadvantaged, who due to SA history will always be “mostly Black” and how the economics of studying of the qualified but poor are playing out at Wits – leading to financial exclusion academically qualified. Nowhere is the above about mere Balcks merely complaining for the sake’s sake as you condescendingly think so. So save your contumely attitude and at least learn some comprehension. But what do I know, I am not an “academic”.

    “That all young people have a right to Higher-Education. If I see how irresponsibly some students (in fact, a large portion of) go about this privilege they have been granted (amidst this sea of inequality) , can you imagine how exponentially the number of irresponsibles will grow? The direct consequence of this disrespect to academia and the values it holds dear, is incredibly large numbers of failing students . And that is why the system is overburdened.”… here is the thing, we all have a right to all forms of education – even higher education. No education is to be limited to anyone, hence it is a human right and not a privilege. The issue here is not even the right to education but unfair exclusionary financial practices to debar disadvantaged students who have ALREADY made it to university (thus qualified to be there by academic standards – last time I checked that is how you got into university) and then subsequently the future oncoming students as well. As for responsibility and other red herrings you attempt to use as reasoning – immaterial to the article and the protest. No one is asking the university to not remove failing students or deal with them appropriately- this is about exorbitant university fees. You might have missed that in your haste for undue vituperation of the protest via student lifestyles.

    “That the lobby that you represent gives itself the right to be disruptive. So mock those who complain about the disruption in traffic. Those people own cars with money they earned, with wealth they created not by having little pity parties like you, but by facing challenges and overcoming those. Mock those students who want to get on with studying and learning, and who are intolerant of the hooligans. They are black and white by the way.”… pray tell my good person, without an education how will the masses own cars? Or create wealth? Or face challenges or overcome said challenges? Pray tell who will build future cars without an education, who will create this wealth and manage it? Your thinking is terribly one dimensional. No one is mocking students nor decided on a whim to disrupt traffic, the unfortunate thing is it has come to the path of mass protests to move unsympathetic and deaf structures to the wants of the people they serve – and such protests will always disrupt those who see nothing wrong with the prevailing status quo, no matter how inhumane or wrong that status quo is. This happens world over – Baltimore in the USA, the Arab spring and in SA – well I don’t have to spell out SA and mass protest now. Only fools would think the inconvenience of a few is worthy of mention against an injustice of the many. Part of the power of mass protest is the disruption of your traffic, of your studies, of your lives and thereby achieve what peaceful talking failed to do – get change for the good to be done. And if armchair critics could show how to effect change without mass protests that ultimately will disrupt and inconvenience those that are ok with the status not changing then they would do so, instead they waste words berating in their replies. Ho hum…

    Think on that

  6. This is sad… and its not about race..its about affordable fees.. colour should have nothing to do with this – though i do wish more white people could join in solidarity to decrease fees, maybe then we could all March to Government and show them how angry we are about the misuse of our taxes. The youth of 2015 need to stand together rather than speak of race like our parents did..let’s do things differently.

  7. Simangaliso Gaven Shabangu

    Salute to the Students of 2015
    The time has come for the government to heed its own call of”There shall be free education for all” and today we say”Education shall be expensive and accessible only to those that can afford”.Is this what we call “All doors of learning shall be opened to all”.
    There is plenty money in Government that is used for all other unnecssary investigations and commission of enquiries,payments for suspended officials and unfortunately nothing for poor students who rely on NSFAS that does not even cover all the needed educational aspects.
    NSFAS can only cover a certain portion and poor students must go to classes hungry,do not have place stay.This situation is breeding prostitutes,criminals,forcing our children into drugs because of frustrations.
    When is uor government going to learn to prepare and be ready so that when matriculants write exams already have the system ready to absorb without any problems:
    • We know how many students sit for the matric exam
    • We will also know how many have passed
    • Those who have passed must know where to even before receiving results
    • Those who have passed must automatically have NSFAS approved on the system
    • Those who have passed must automatically an d temporarily be admitted to all institutions of learning
    • On child leave home to go and stand in queues to try register where they will never be accepted, not knowing where to sleep, struggle with transport problems, no food and end up in the street when the purpose to look for education
    • All information for matric students must be on one single database system of higher learning and no repetition of registering must keep on taking place
    • Any registering should be done on line and whatever changes or alterations and verifications be done online
    As parent we do have solutions they must just learn to listen and we can provde lasting solutions to their problems

  8. “These protests highlight that inequality is still very much a reality in the country. University participation for blacks in South Africa between the ages of 18 and 29 went up from 2.8% in 2002 by a meager 0.6% to 3.4% in 2014. In contrast, whites of the same age range had a university participation of 15.6% in 2002 to 23.3 % on 2014”

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