Why #FeesMustFall isn’t enough

By 19:39

My mother was our household’s sole breadwinner earning a grand total of R300…on a good week. She had a standard 6 education with limited skills and therefore couldn’t get a better paying job. She slaved 7 days a week for us and her dream was to someday have the ability to stop bearing that financial burden of raising her family all on her own.

Credit: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/27121/1/south-african-student-protests-against-fees-go-global

I call my schooling disadvantaged. All South African bursars clearly didn’t agree with me. But how can a school, who churns out pupils for jobs in a supermarket, not be considered disadvantaged? The entire community knew that once you finish matric (with standard grade passes), you found a job and then you were sorted for life. We didn’t have much exposure to any other ambitions, like becoming an engineer, purely because we couldn’t afford it. It’s just something poor people didn’t do.

But I had my head buried in books throughout my childhood and through that exposure, I knew I deserved better and I was convinced that I would go to university. I kept my standards low and didn’t apply to UCT. I needed to be close to home so I could help financially and didn’t have to incur additional travel and accommodation costs. I qualified for an NSFAS loan at the University of Natal. My fees were covered so it was pretty much free while I studied. But getting my R3000 deposit in my first year was a mission that I eventually overcame with another loan…and then spent years avoiding paying it back.

So my fees were virtually free but it wasn’t enough. The transition from high school to university brought with it many more costs. I had a weekend job where I earned R120 on Saturday and Sunday to pay my R120 transport costs to get to university. Our tutorial tests finished too late for me to catch the last taxi home so I would leave my tests early because I didn’t have anyone with a car to fetch me. My weekends were spent working and I left tests early so my grades suffered. My semester breaks were spent working as a cashier in order to afford textbooks. I couldn’t live the lives my friends did cos I didn’t have the money to go out and have fun – I was socially excluded. The worst part of it all is that no one understood my struggles. My varsity friends had cars and spending money. My entire extended family had never even set foot in a university. My neighbours thought it would be easier on my family to just get a job.

And then there’s the cost of not working immediately after school. My mother was burdened with paying for food and electricity on her meagre salary. Everything else was considered a luxury – we defaulted on rent and lived life minimally. With my mother’s health ailing, it was 3 more years of daily slaving before I could theoretically get a job and help her out.

After I graduated, I shattered my mother’s dreams yet again. The only job I could secure was in Johannesburg – a city that no one I knew had even been to. Again, it was begging and borrowing to get money for a R2000 deposit on a commune where I lived.

It took 4 years for me to pay off my student loans and I still support my family in Durban. I literally started from scratch to be able to afford my current lifestyle and bring up the quality of living for my family. I still have no one who understands my struggles. My friends from university think I’m shallow for chasing money all these years but those friends have also had their parents help them out throughout their studies, and assist them with buying a car and house.

Sharing my story is my way of saying that I believe in the #FeesMustFall revolution but it doesn’t solve everything. Even with free education, the other costs that only the poor have are enough to prevent students from studying or pull them out of university.

Where do we stop with this revolution? We got the 0% increase but that still excludes so many. We need free education. But we also need good quality secondary education to prepare kids for university and open their eyes to the possibilities. We need the poor to be able to afford the basics of life like food, housing and transport. We need university deposits to be affordable too. How far will this revolution go? Achieving free education will be a milestone but even that will still exclude many in the pursuit of education. 

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