Like every other year that came before it and, with the way things are currently going, every other year that will come after, this year began with the same old verses, of the same old song, being sung by the same old people, to the same audience. ‘Sorry, but you can’t register with your outstanding fees from last year’, ‘If you can’t pay the deposit for the room, we will be forced to give it to someone else’, and, by far the worst of them all, ‘We regret to inform you that your application for funding was unsuccessful.’ And although we are teased with the idea of free tertiary education, it never seems to happen…
Even though these verses (which have been around for as long as being a university graduate was a ‘thing’) created a very tragic song to begin with, a countless number of new verses have been added to it over the years – new verses whose central message, without fail, doesn’t move far from that of the original ones themselves: if you can’t pay, you can’t get educated. And, with every verse added, more and more young people wishing to change not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones, lose the chance to do so because they can’t afford to.
As tragic as they may sound, over the past couple of years, money has become the deciding factor for who gets the chance to further their education and who doesn’t. And, with education being the supposed key to success that we are all told it is, it makes no sense why obtaining it would be this expensive. The truth is, for my family, having a university educated member in the family was something that, before me and my siblings, was never thought to be achievable. We are the first people in our family to get to – let alone pass – matric and get a chance to study in an institution of higher learning, and that itself comes with it its own pressures.
These pressures, and all the weight they put on us, are clear for every-and-anyone looking at us to see. Our eyes – while we stand quietly, with bags full of hope, in the long lines that have become a regular feature in these institutions this time of the year – make it clear to those looking that this, if anything at all, means more to us than just being part of an institution of higher learning. We are the people our family look to with the hope of us freeing them from the suffocating clutches of poverty, but we will never achieve this because we can’t afford to.
Unfortunately in South Africa, the words ‘money’ and ‘access’ have become words that are to some extent, interchangeable. Without money, access to things like education, quality healthcare, decent housing, and many other necessities has become virtually impossible. But, even with enough examples to convert even the toughest of non-believers, none come close to what is currently referred to as the ‘higher education crises in South Africa.’
For a few years now the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, together with all the other ‘Fallist’ movements that were birthed out of it, have, amongst many other things, brought to light the financial struggles that students go through in their pursuit of a higher education. These struggles, new and old, range from the inability to afford tuition; to not being able to pay for necessities like textbooks, and accommodation; to financial exclusion in institutions.
Money, for me and my siblings, has become a sort of thorn in our sides. Every year, because our family is unable to pay for all our studies on their own, we have to put ourselves through the humiliating process of proving to bursaries and other funders of how poor we are. Application after application, my siblings and I make public financial information about our family, only to get declination letter after declination letter.
Financial exclusion, financial blocking, or whatever it’s called in the institution we decided to go to, money is the final hurdle that we, like many other students, have to overcome in our academic journies. After months of studying, working hard to qualify to study towards becoming what we’ve always dreamed of becoming, our dreams continually get shattered after hearing the same old verses, from the same old song, sung by the same old people.
This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.