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OPINION | Overhaul education system, reassert human solidarity

30 May 2021 - 11:01 By Sthembiso Khanyile
Students at the Vaal University of Technology pinning their hopes on receiving NSFAS funding also battled to secure accommodation and allowances.
Students at the Vaal University of Technology pinning their hopes on receiving NSFAS funding also battled to secure accommodation and allowances.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The recent death of eThekwini TVET College student Yonwabo Manyanya after her eviction from her lodging once more places the plight of tertiary education students from poor backgrounds in the spotlight.

Manyanya died stranded three days after she was evicted after the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allegedly failed to pay her rent on time. According to Mthobisi Magudulela, a student leader at the college, there are more similarly affected students at the institution.

There are reasonable grounds to believe that the problem may be more national than it is localised at eThekwini. A crisis in one campus would surely have already been resolved; and quicker.

The Manyanya tragedy is one too many. We must draw the necessary lessons to avert a recurrence in the future. SA requires efficient TVET colleges that help to achieve national skills needs and, in so doing, strengthen efforts to build the economy, create employment and to defeat poverty, inequality and unemployment.

To this end, NFSAS must be shorn of costly ineptitude of the kind that robbed us of young Manyanya’s life. It needs an urgent systems overhaul that places the human dignity of students at the centre of everything it does. NFSAS is, after all, a creation of a civil service which professes commitment to Batho Pele — people first — as one of its cardinal principles.

An issue which increasingly courts ridicule the more dystopian our society becomes, is that as a country, we are in desperate need of conversations about the moral and ethical side of human existence. Modern life imposes a plethora of pressing socio-economic challenges on individuals. There are, oftentimes, no immediate solutions for the challenges.

The bonds of human solidarity retreat inasmuch as the old adage that “every child is my child” gives way to a cold and calculating transactional logic in human relations.

Consequently, the wretched of the earth like the young Yonwabo Manyanya die lonely deaths surrounded by a sea of multitudes, each consumed by their individual exigencies of survival; unable so much as to extend a helping hand to another while a NSFAS bureaucracy gets its act together.

In the context of the struggle for access to tertiary education, human solidarity also means that society should encourage NSFAS beneficiaries to repay loans as soon as they start working, so that as many needy and deserving students continue to receive the education and the skills our country needs.

The progressive in political outlook would hardly quarrel with this view. If the generations of yesteryear paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom, then repaying a public sector loan which gets reinvested in the nation’s human resource development cannot but be a timeless generational mission for the youth today and in the future.

The African proverb teaches that: “Bana ba motho ba kgaogana tlhogo ya Tsie” — siblings share the head of an insect. The rich lessons in human solidarity immanent in this epistemological outlook should help to illuminate a uniquely SA approach to our tertiary education and other national challenges.

Another related issue, but one which requires an altogether different discussion, is that to overcome the national skills shortage also requires a qualitative shift in the disciplines that students pursue in their tertiary education studies. The bulk of the public investment in tertiary education should increasingly be deployed into the creation of vital skills in science and technology as this is where much of the shortage lies. But to do this successfully requires a re-look into the entire education system value chain, starting with primary education.

Yonwabo Manyanya’s spirit cries out for such a comprehensive assessment and action and not just a piecemeal approach.


  • Sthembiso Khanyile is president of the Technical & Vocational Education Training Colleges Governors’ Council (TVETCGC) and writes here in his personal capacity