When I read the news that the skyrocketing fees of universities in South Africa fell to an incredible 0%, I was beside myself with joy!
The headline of BBC read ‘SA students: Zuma freezes tuition fees amid protests’
The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma announced a 0% increase in student fees for 2016, following a weeklong protest by university students across the country called #FeesMustFall.
But my doubt glands will not cease secreting leeriness.
It all started in University of Witswatersrand, then like wide fire spread through the campuses of Rhodes University, University of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria and later Stellenbosch University when a fee increase of 10-12% was effected.
Ordinary students inundated the office of the Chief Financial Officer at Wits with requests for information as to why the fees had increased by 10.5%, the university explained citing rand-dollar exchange rate which has fallen by 22% resulting in a substantial increase in the amount of money that pays for all library books, journals, electronic resources, research equipment all of which are procured in dollars and euros. Also, in order to ensure the university retained the best intellectual minds in the country, salary increases for academics set at 7% on a three-year cycle had to be paid. Again, the 6% percent inflation rate in S.A was sure to affect all other expenses the university covers not forgetting the hydra-headed monster utility bills which remains substantially higher than inflation in S.A.
The statement described the increases as ‘unfortunately unavoidable’.
But these explanations will not satisfy students. They were simply intransigent as the reality of ‘black debt’ stared them in the face while the hardship of a paradoxical economy lashed them hard on their fundament.
The whole world will soon hear of ‘an uprising of a protest’ against fees increase in the rainbow country through one of twenty first century’s most powerful weapons – social media. #FeesMustFall trended throughout the period. University managements proved not to have convincing answers to the most potent of all questions; why? The students will thereafter pursue the matter at the highest level. In an organized protest they headed straight to the Union Building office of the African president who is reported to have expanded his family homestead costing citizens almost R200 million, to demand a fall in fees.
Their protest was met with stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas from an ever professional security force. But that will not stop the students. They may have read of the seventy-two-year old woman who refused a ride from a twenty-four old young man in protest of the Bus Segregation in the U.S. She is famed to have said in ‘ungrammatical profundity’ ‘my feet is tired but my soul is rested’.
So with resilience and unrelenting courage, they marched on requesting to meet their president. It is reported that after “several hours and after intense debate and deliberation between all stakeholders”, President Zuma, delivered a televised address to the nation. Did it have to take more than a week for the president to intervene?
Well, it is unclear why the president choose to inconvenience the media when his audience were right in front of his office. Could it be that the president could not muster enough bravado to look the poor students in the eyes? Could it be he couldn’t be in character addressing students you were being robbed their surest way out of poverty. Did he doubt the students will doubt his comments? Thoughts run viral but they remain what they are thoughts!
Finally, the President delivered perhaps in a jubilant manner a freeze on fee increases – a zero present (0%) increase in fees for 2016! University Vice-Chancellors were to extend the time for the examinations period to compensate for time lost. On top of that, discussion were to be held on long-term issues to on free education, institutional autonomy, racism, and “black debt”. How relieving? As if that was not enough, government was going to attempt to ensure that all students arrested will not be charged.
To this heart-warming news the tech savvy generation couched the harsh tag #FeesHaveFallen.
May be the tag on higher education should not have been as harsh as these poor students had to endure.
There will be an attempt by government to ensure that all students arrested will not be charged.
The deception in this new day slang is that the heroic warriors of this 21 century holy war, may call a truce at a point they should have called more of their generals to hit the battle grounds.
On the surface though, the freeze is on the increase not the fees entirely. More deceptive is the fact that the freeze is for a year. But which warrior worth his sort will fight a war for his next of kins to inherit?
In the face of the challenges spelt out by the management of Wits for example the president evaded the real causes of the rise and how he will deal with the 22% exchange rates, utility bills, 6% inflation rate among others. He rather makes grand promises to the poor students. How will government fund the 10.5% on every student’s fee for the next year? Where will the Zuma-led government get that amount of money from?
I am afraid but this could be a promise broken before utterance. Thank God students of today are proving smarter than those of yesterday. ‘My conscious does not allow me to yet celebrate this 0% No Fee Increment. I want free education’ one of them twittered. In fact on the note of free education, the student of today perhaps proved more knowledgeable than the presidency of the rainbow country. ‘FREE EDUCATION report was handed over to the minister in 2011 but he ignored it. The model was not feasible they say’. Obviously the student would not buy tokenism. There is therefore little surprise when the minister of higher education Blade Nzimande is recorded to have said if students refuse government’s proposal then ‘#StudentsMustFall’.
It is reported nearly 95% of South African students cannot afford the approximately US$7,400.00
Many are those who live in perpetual debt because they sought to educate themselves.
We must not be satisfied until our leaders give us the best. No African talent must go waste.
We have enough to provide decent education for the youth of Africa.
The unprecedented growth in enrollment in universities in Africa amidst the relatively little expansion however, comes with it serious administrative stress made more depressing with the decrease in funding. How are we able to address these challenges while making education whether basic, secondary or tertiary education is accessible and affordable. Our leaders must give us answers and policy directives for the future.
Keep pressing on until deception falls. Press on till education is free. We shall overcome through non violence and persistence. Rest not until what is due you is given. But do not be guilty of degenerative conduct.