The last while in South Africa has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Our country is on the verge of junk status. Investor confidence is lower than it has ever been in South African history and our people are fed up. Marches against government choices, service delivery, education etc almost always turn violent in some form and there is always some form of the race card pulled. It is a very sad time in our beautiful country and it saddens me.
The most recent spout of violence erupted around the campaign of #FeesMustFall. A movement where students first protested against higher education price increases and eventually to a fight for free higher education.
While the idea of higher education certainly is attractive, the way to get there is clouded and many people have their own views on whether this fight is even worthwhile. I myself was in a Twitter Conversation earlier where some rather drastically different viewpoints were had by each person.
The most basic breakdown of the viewpoints however are pretty much polarized.
On one side of the fence:
- University is a privilege
- Any money gathered back from wasteful expenditure and corruption should be placed into healthcare, housing and sanitation
On the other:
- The government should push wasteful expenditure and corruption costs recovered into free education.
- Free Higher education should be a basic human right.
Now both sides of the argument make sense. I mean after all, how can we have people going to university for free but they live in disgusting living situations? On the other hand, wouldn’t a higher education allow people to move themselves out of these situations?
Now sadly it’s not as cut and dry as this. Jobs in South Africa are sorely lacking too. We can demand the government do a better job of Job Creation, but let’s be honest, the jobs created there are not really going to need a University degree. Government job creation generally revolve around paper pushers and data capturing type services or physical labor (Such as the ones being paid for RDP housing and sanitation). The job creations in SA are more aimed at the poor who only need a basic highschool education or are good with their hands. Now yes, I know there are many other higher level jobs that they create when they have built power stations etc that require educated people to run it, but the vast majority of job creation revolves around people who have basic education and not higher education. Job creation for the poor is also not bad. Please don’t misunderstand me. It is fantastic that there is Job creation focused around those that cannot have a better education.
I can understand both sides of the argument here. How can a person have a University degree if there are no jobs to use it in. It also doesn’t really help people when it comes down to housing and sanitation and the basic human rights needed to live in dignity. DIGNITY. This is the most important part here. Our people in this country need to have some dignity.
So how does one fix this? I do not really know. I am not the one to answer this.
What I do believe though is this: Higher Education should eventually become a right. Not overnight, but the fight for it is important.
So here is my views. These are my own and you do not need to agree. That’s part of human nature. Everyone has their own views. But this is my view that I feel strongly about.
The fight for higher education is important and shouldn’t stop. But there are better ways of going about it than is currently happening. The students that are flinging feces or burning down buildings are doing more harm than good. Where is the good in shutting down the study facilities?
Free Higher Education is going to cost a lot of money. It’s going to take a small fortune to do this if it’s going to be possible. So whey then are there people burning down buildings and destroying University property? It actually boggles the mind. It helps no one when the amounts needed to cover the damages will have to be offset by any funding the government already provides to higher education. Don’t be fooled in to thinking that insurance will simply cover this. Imagine the excess on something like this? Imagine the fee increases on monthly payments? Not to mention that many insurances do not cover any form of damage caused by civil unrest. These protests fall right in to that category.
Personally I believe those who damage property, threaten to kill or hurt anyone should face the law. By acting like this they degrade the integrity of the entire fight. People who want to be educated will protest without willful destruction of the very facilities they will need once the protests are finished. I mean come on. You burn down a lecture hall. You get your free education (Or some other agreement) but you then have to wait months for stuff to be rebuilt? By which point you have to wait for the next year. So you have offset yourself 2 years of education for what? Proving a point that you would burn down property if the government doesn’t listen? That is not ok.
The focus of these protests need to change too. Yes free higher education is important, especially for those who cannot afford it, but damaging the university and those who want to study while they work hard to pay off the loans for the education makes no sense. Why force a shut down the university? All this does is cause people to have to come back next year. This means the Varsity in question is already at max capacity for the new year, which means no further income which then delays the chance of free education even more.
No, the fight should not be against the Varsity. Neither should it be focused on Free Education only. It should be focused on corruption and wasteful expenditure.
You see, in South Africa, Wasteful expenditure in the 2014 -2015 year amounted to 25billion. This is just the questionable expenditure. Who knows how much corruption costs us that no one is even aware of. Getting this sorted is the very first step in fixing the issue of education. 25billion is not going to cut it. But it will go a long way. Not only will it be able to fund Varsities to maybe lower their fees, but it can be pushed in to living conditions to make it easier for people to learn. Electricity, sanitation and all those things the poor need for their dignity.
Lastly, free education cannot become a basic human right overnight. Instead it should be, at the very least, something for the poor first. Now this is where the biggest rift in people come in. Some want it for the poor first, others want it for everyone, some simply state if you can’t afford then you should be happy with your tertiary education. The thing is, free education is not possible right now. It’s a very long term goal and one that could potentially take decades to get to. But as a shorter term goal? I am sure it’s possible to determine whether someone can afford higher education or not. If it is determined you cannot afford it (Due to actually being poor and not just terrible with your money) then it should qualify you for free education. Or at least a payment based on what can be afforded to start with. However, this again requires wasteful expenditure and corruption to be stopped to cover the “loss” so to speak of accepting no payment or a drastically reduced payment by an applicant. In effect: If you can afford it you should pay, if you can’t a plan can be made. Yes a system like this is in place in forms of bursaries but there are far too few handed out to make a difference, in my opinion anyway.
Yes, there are more critical things in life like health and living conditions. But an educated person is also able to make a plan to lift themselves out of this. Not always, but the possibility is then there. There is sadly no immediate fix. One can try prioritise, but at the end of the day a person who has all the basic living conditions met still cannot get themselves out of poverty without an education in the same way it is difficult to get an education when you are living is squalor.
The whole point here is that one cannot fight for free higher education alone. On it’s own this is a demand that simply cannot be met right now or in the near future. What should be done is that people need to stand up for a corrupt free government that doesn’t spend billions on things that aren’t required. To hold the people they voted into power accountable for the country’s shortcomings.
#FeesMustFall should really become #CorruptionMustFall. Once that is fixed the rest will follow naturally. Not just education, but service delivery across the board.
That’s where it all starts. Stop the money from disappearing and maybe, just maybe South Africa can start truly moving forward to a goal of providing free, or at the very least affordable, education.
But that’s just my viewpoint. I may be wrong. Who knows.