After the last year’s #FeesMustFall movement brought campuses all over the country to a standstill, President Jacob Zuma agreed to a zero percent increase at the Union Buildings. But in 2016 the students are back at it again saying #FeesMustFallReloaded. Outside Wits this week, students and family members waited in vain for registration to start. But by Tuesday, people were told it would be postponed again until the strike could be contained. Meanwhile, these are some of the people whose lives lie in limbo as they wait.
Sifiso Mashiloane (30) used to be a student at Wits. Ironically, He had to drop out when the financial pressures of tertiary education became too difficult for his single father. “I registered at Wits in 2011 for a degree in education and I got a first-year bursary,” he says. “But in 2012, I couldn’t get another bursary and had to drop out in June. If I had stayed until the end of the year I wouldn’t have gotten my results without paying the entire outstanding amount. Before I left I was staying on campus so I owed the university around R35 000. Since then, my debt has grown with interest and is currently at just over R50 000.”
Sifiso says he was back at Wits again to register for an education degree, but this time it’s on behalf of his little sister. He says he had to leave home at 5:30am to make sure he arrived in time to beat the queue. “It’s been hard to find work without a degree and at my age, just having a matric certificate doesn’t work. It’s like having nothing.” After dropping out, Sifiso was hawking sweets on trains to make money to help support his family. “But if I had the chance I would have stayed until I completed my degree. It pains me even now because it was something I really wanted to do.”
Sifiso says he was later able to get a diploma in advertising through help from his father. He has a job now. But with three siblings, including the little sister he was applying for at Wits, he says he knows they will not be able to put them all through varsity. “I think the protest is for a good cause. Communities struggle because their financial backgrounds hinder them. Free education will not only build the students personally but it will change entire communities.”
Mangi* (21) is a third-year student at Wits, but if finance weren’t an issue, he would be completing his final year now. Mangi, studying towards his degree in chemical engineering, started his first year in 2013. “My father was laid off in 2013 and couldn’t afford to pay my fees anymore. For 2014, I couldn’t register and stayed at home in Soweto for the whole year. I was able to help matrics with their maths and science but I just wanted to complete my studies and couldn’t.” Last year, Mangi got financial support from his extended family to return to Wits. He says he was glad that his family was able to help him because that means that he will be on campus this year with his little brother, who he was helping to get registered for first year this week.
Mangi says he does not fully agree with the protests, “I feel like all the striking is not good. In what situation is violence good? Violence only makes things worse. I was waiting here yesterday as well and people who travelled from far to register had to go back home,” he says.
*Name changed to protect identity
Images by Goabaona Mathibe