Financial exclusion is my reality: Wits student

2015-10-28 21:41
(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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Johannesburg - Although the number of students taking part in the #FeesMustFall protests at the University of Witswatersrand have shrunk significantly, those who know the harsh reality of financial exclusion refuse to return to class until the promise of a fee-free system becomes a reality.

A B.Com accounting student who is part of the group of students who have chosen to continue to the fight against Wits and its Vice Chancellor Adam Habib, says she is prepared to miss her exams if the final goal of free education is attained.

She began her undergraduate degree at Wits in 2004, funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, but had to drop out when it announced that it could only provide 50% of the funding she required.

"It took me 8 years to come back," she says.

"I'm a part-time student, do you know how long it takes to finish your degree? It takes 6 years to complete a 3 year degree."

She now works as a telemarketer and funds her own studies, after her application for a loan was rejected.

From the little that she earns, she must pay her fees, pay back part of her initial NSFAS loan, and rent. At times she struggles to afford groceries, she says.

This is the reason why she has vowed to continue fighting until the students' demand of free education is realised.

"We really want the vice chancellor to hear our grievances because we also want to write our exams, but if it means that we should actually not write exams and be sorted for the three coming years, so be it.

"It's one sacrifice for everybody and for myself until I finish [studying]."

Disconnect between students

She says there is a sense of disconnect between students who come from different socio-economic backgrounds. But no grudges were held against those who had chosen to resume their academic activities, she says.

"Let middle class go to class, let them go to their lectures... I have to suffer because I don't have a dad that can pay for my studies, my mom was a housewife, I can't even talk to my mom about my fees.

"My brother is doing his Masters here [at Wits], he was lucky enough to get a bursary from Eskom which funded him throughout, but not everyone has that luck, even if you have the intellectual capacity to be at Wits."

After a full day of work, she attends lessons from 17:00 until 21:00. By the time the weekend arrives, she is exhausted, she says.

"It's not easy, but because I want this so bad, then I have to make sure that I get it.

"But if I get an opportunity like this [protest] to voice out my story, my issues, to say 'The reason why we are standing here is to say...we are frustrated [and] we are willing to sacrifice our exams if the university does not meet us halfway.

"I've got the capacity to be a student here, can I not be excluded if I don't have money?"

'We do study'

Although the group has opted to boycot their lectures, they still continue with their studies, she says.

"When we get home each and every one of us, we do study because if the vice chancellor can say tomorrow, 'Okay guys I'm giving you what you guys need, I'm signing off', I need to be ready to go write my exams. So those three or four hours that we get, we do study."

Missing out on lectures is not her main concern because it means nothing if she cannot afford to return next year, she says.

"My year mark is fine, I'm sitting on 80%. I'm not even worried about that.

"I don't measure myself in terms of my intellectual capabilities, my financial capabilities are limiting me to be where I want to be. They are limiting me and everybody else who is here. It's really sad."

The majority of the students who had opted to continue with the protests were from either from a rural or township backgrounds, she says.

"They know what it is to be poor."

Earlier today, a group of students and workers demonstrated against outsourcing.

While the disruptions were taking place, the majority of students at the university's Braamfontein campus went about their day almost as normal, although the #FeesMustFall campaign was still being discussed by many students.

The protests began at Wits University two weeks ago when the university announced a proposed 10.5% fee hike for 2016.

They quickly spread to campuses around South Africa, eventually culminating in President Jacob Zuma announcing a freeze in university fee hikes for 2016. But some students have said this is not enough and called for free education.

Read more on:    wits  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  university fees  |  protests

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