“Two promises I would like to make: 1. Wits won’t increase fees next year (2017) and 2. We will achieve free education in 2017.”
These were the words posted on Facebook by the controversial Wits student leader Mcebo Dlamini shortly after the announcement by Wits Vice Chancellor to increase fees by 8%.
With university registrations already on the go, students that do not have funds to register are anxiously awaiting what leaders have in store for them in the coming weeks.
Even though the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has given students a second chance to apply for funding, from the 9th until the 20th of January, the sad reality is that some students will be without funding when the academic year officially starts.
This whole situation is very emotional for those who are directly and negatively impacted by the ridiculous fees we see in some of our universities. But do students that have private or bursary funding feel as strongly about the movement?
How are students that have other forms of funding affected by this? We hardly hear their opinions and almost always assume that they don’t participate in the movement.
Pheladi Makgeru, second year law student at the University of Johannesburg, and Makungu Mabunda, final year BSc student at Rhodes University, gave us their opinions:
“Fees Must Fall has affected my mentality and attitude towards life on a large scale. A lot of people see it as a distraction or a hindrance to our education when the demonstrations are taking place. If anything, it has given me insight to the inequality and the power that capitalism still has over the mainly black society. I am now aware of how a student’s economic future and career goals can be hindered by the lack of funds . The poor are locked out and have no direct access to higher institutions, and if they do it’s usually through a bursary, a student loan or through NSFAS. Bursaries are mostly reserved for the academically gifted and those who aren’t have to resort to loans, which only sets them back financially after they complete their qualifications,” said Pheladi.
Makungu further touched on the financial setback that higher education puts on financially needy students, even after obtaining their degree.
“NSFAS is a loan given to the poor. A loan is a burden on its own. A poor person has black tax that they need to pay once they start working. A poor person must fix the situation of the place they are from once they start working. If you are poor and on NSFAS it means that you are probably going to start your life nicely ten years after university. The poor should get free education not a loan, that’s if we are trying to balance the unjust of the past,” he said.
The importance of the movement is seen by everyone, without a doubt; those who have funding and those without. With consistent effort from the students, the fight will be won.
It is pretty clear that the financial aid from the government is only helpful while the recipients are still in university, after that it becomes a burden. That is why the fees must fall movement is fighting for free education instead.
Nothing great happens overnight. Although the movement hasn’t achieved free education yet, it definitely has achieved a few things.
“Before Fees Must Fall, Rhodes University registration was 50% of your fees, this means one was required to pay +-R45,000.00 in January. That’s a lot! It was an institution excluding the poor. And by the end of the second term/block you were required to pay all your fees. Now it’s 10% for registration which is reasonable,” Makungu mentioned.
Other universities have also put in place measures to include those who lack funding. Wits introduced a first fee waiver where students that do not have the first fee payment of R9340 can still register, but fees are still expected to be settled by the end of March.
The Fees Must Fall movement shows us that you cannot wait for the world to hand things to you, sometimes you have to fight to get what you want, especially in this country where the voice of the poor and needy is hardly heard.
We haven’t heard anything from the movement as yet, but with such a strong closing to the year last year, 2017 certainly has a lot in store for us. With the influx of more students into higher education this year, it is only safe to assume that student leaders are just quietly preparing for the fight right now.
Even if free education isn’t achieved this academic year, at this rate, it will definitely be achieved in future.
For now, let’s wait hopefully to see if Mcebo’s promises will be kept.
Ramadimetja Makgeru writes as an Activator, journalist and student.