UKZN: Poor Black Students Still Face Harsh Discrimination

Wits University students protest registration fro students with historical debt and accommodation issues, 05022019

We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” – Frantz Fanon

Fanon tells us that we revolt simply because we can no longer breathe. That is the unfortunate reality of being a poor black child in UKZN. Many of black poor students are continuously suffocated by the status of higher education in our country. Many of them live on a daily basis hoping that, beyond having passed their matric and demonstrating the capacity to be in higher education, they will be given access to higher education, writes SIPHELELE NGUSE.

Access to higher education in South Africa is not only on the basis of meritocracy but also on the ability to afford the exorbitant fees. And the majority of poor black students are excluded on that front. Many poor black students pass matric under dire and harsh circumstances. Some walk a long distance to and from school on daily basis, some having to cross rivers, while others learn under dilapidated infrastructure. They do so with the hope that they will be able to have a better life for themselves, their families and community at large.

For most black South Africans, your education and subsequent employment, if you are lucky enough to acquire one, does not belong to you alone but also to those close to you and society as a whole. We are a communal people. For this reason, when a poor black child is financially excluded and barred to have access to higher education it is not only them who suffer but many other people who have hope that this child shall be a beacon of hope and change the family situation upon acquiring education and employment.

South Africa Is Anti Poor Youth

Importantly, due to colonialism and apartheid history of the country, many poor black children are the first to pass matric in their homes and the first to go to University in their homes and communities. When studying for matric exams and preparing for University, many poor black children have this task embedded in their consciousness. They know that they owe it to their people to succeed and to change the situation in their homes.

Having passed matric, families and relatives make ends meet to afford at least transport costs and a bit of food to send their children to university. Being a student activist; a member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) a former SRC President (UKZN PMB campus) and former Secretary-General (UKZN Central SRC) I have encountered a magnitude of poor black children who come to University with nothing but hope in their eyes.

The majority of them come with all their belongings without having even registered or given offers by the university. They do so because they do not have money for the many trips that one travels before being eventually admitted by the university.

Moreover, many families have to either make loans or sell their live stocks (the few who still have them) in order to send their children to university. Unfortunately, many of them meet the sad reality that access to higher education in our country is not as easy as they may have imagined. They face the reality that their good grades, which should easily give them access to university, are not enough. They still have to bear the unfortunate reality of having to sleep in the computer labs; libraries and any other space they are lucky to find unoccupied by another student. Most of them do not have the luxury of staying with friends or relatives as they do not have any. Even those who do have people to share space with in the University residences are faced with the brutality of being harshly woken up by campus securities and residence staff members in the wee hours of the morning during residence raids. This inhumane act of the University forces many students to look for a place to sleep around 01:00 or 02:00 in the morning, which is the time that these raids are conducted. They get exposed to all sorts of dangers; abuse and exploitations by thugs and opportunistic men.

University exclusion: more than just a question of marks

In the case of returning students, who are likely to have outstanding fees. They are required to pay 75% or 50% of their outstanding fees; registration fees and residency deposits if they stay in residences. The university knows very well that these students cannot afford to pay this money, but it chooses to turn a blind eye. They say that it is not their duty, students must talk to ‘their’ government.

While one acknowledges that the issue of funding lies with the government, it is equally unacceptable that universities go unscathed by this. They turn Higher Education to a commodity that has to be bought. Money first and the student behind. Universities, especially the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), do little to nothing to assist students financially. For them, it is not their problem but that of government. Which is a fallacy and symbolises their inability to care and support students.

UKZN is able to afford hundreds of millions on an unscrupulous investigation that has yielded no results but is unable to assist deserving students. The University has enormous amounts of money to hire private security during protests but fails to assist students. When it comes to student issues, student leaders are subjected to the famous Management and Council song “the University is functioning at a deficit.” Only God knows what the UKZN does with money and its revenues. Poor black students have to spend days on end begging to be given access to higher education. They fill the University fees offices in hundreds on a daily basis, filling and submitting one form or the other, hoping that they will be given an opportunity to study in the current year. Most of them end up not being assisted and fall victims of financial exclusion. They are left to be victims of crime, teenage pregnancy, drugs and a number of social scourges that engulf our society and the youth in particular. Their dreams and hopes are thrown to the dustbin of history and their names and student numbers are soon forgotten and life goes on as normal.

“It should be unlawful to stop brilliant students from completing their degrees because of lack of funds”

What the University, government and society fail to realise is that when a poor black child is financially excluded it is not only them who suffer but also their families; communities and generations to come. As stated above, the majority of poor black children are the first to have matric in their families and communities, let alone a University qualification.

It is for the above reasons that many poor black students are left with no option but to protest. As opposed to what some quarters of society believe, students do not protest because they do not want to study, but we protest because we are DENIED our right to study!

Siphelele Nguse is a Masters candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg campus. He is currently reading for a Master of Social Sciences in Clinical Psychology. He is a former President of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (PMB Campus) 2015/16 and Secretary-General of UKZN Central SRC 201718.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.

Featured image by Shaazia Ebrahim