Trapped by debt, graduates question effect of #FeesMustFall struggle

Still trapped by the same things that the youth of SA have been fighting against, young graduates open up

16 June 2020 - 12:35 By Shonisani Tshikalange
Some youth said they were excited during the 2015 Fees Must Fall campaign as they thought change was coming their way.
Some youth said they were excited during the 2015 Fees Must Fall campaign as they thought change was coming their way.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

As the country celebrates Youth Day, some graduates feel their battle for free education is not won yet.

Smangaliso Mashego is uncertain whether much has been achieved in the struggle for free education post the 1976 uprising and the 2015-2016 Fees Must Fall campaign.

Mashego says he still finds himself entrapped by the same things that the youth of SA have been fighting against.

“It’s hard to say that I will enjoy this Youth Day because there are a lot of things that I don’t think we have achieved as the youth of this country. I am a graduate yet I still have a historic debt that I have accumulated from 2014 up until 2017,” he said.

The 26-year-old was among the thousands of students who marched to the Union Buildings in 2015 to demand free education.

“We wanted educational freedom, we wanted to be able to access education without any barriers of finance, but so far it seems as if these things that we wanted from the beginning haven’t been resolved, because even now I still have debts. My fees still haven’t been paid,” he said.

“I owe the institution a lot of money, it’s a very bad situation. If I don’t have the required documents, I can’t get a job, so I can’t pay them. So this is the situation that we as youth still face post-1976 and post the Fees Must Fall movement,” he said.

Mashego said he has been struggling to get a job since 2017.

Daily, Diana Masingue is confronted with the crushing reality of the outstanding financial debt she owes.

The 26-year-old, who was a NSFAS-funded student from her second year, said being a graduate with outstanding debt was affecting her future as she cannot secure a job.

“When you graduate you think everything is going to be better, but when you know that you are still owing the institution, it shatters your whole world.”

Looking back at the Fees Must Fall protest, Masingue said she was excited when she saw thousands of young people marching for their rights.

“I said that this is the change we need, I said to myself that it was going to yield good results, a lot of people were actually talking about it. But looking now, after the nationwide movement, I am not sure if fees have really fallen. When looking at myself and other students who are in a similar position as me, we are still in debt, we are still in the same situation. We are right where we started, where it was us trying to find ways to pay up for our debts even though we cannot because of our backgrounds,” she said.

In 2015, thousands of student from different institutions of higher learning across the country marched to the Union Building against the increase of fees.
In 2015, thousands of student from different institutions of higher learning across the country marched to the Union Building against the increase of fees.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Masingue said since graduating and never getting to receive her qualification because of the fees debt, she has been looking for employment for three years with no luck.

“It’s very hard looking for a job, knowing that you don’t have a qualification to show employers. We are competing with other graduates who have their qualification and some even have the experience,” she said.

“We are just trapped sitting at home because we fail to get funded from lack of funds and we study while in debt and a year later when they decide to fund you they don’t do anything about the debt and you are supposed to pay for the outstanding amount yourself, even when the system knows that you are not able to pay as you are in need.

“With myself personally it has been difficult, even when I tried to volunteer, because some places won’t even give you a stipend and you need to travel. It still affects your family badly as they need to find a way to support you,” she said.

“So I am just sitting at home trapped and saying 'where will I find a job?' Which good Samaritan is going to come our way and say, 'it’s fine, I can help you with this'. It’s very difficult and the competition is very tight,” she said.

Takalani Mkhudwane is from an informal settlement called Phumulong in Saulville.

Though the 26-year-old had to drop out of school due to a lack of funds, she said she was not going to give up on her life. She will be doing community work on Youth Day.

“We need to try to engage each other and encourage each other on how we go forward with our education. For June 16, we are going to do it in a different way, clean the community and encourage other young people. We don’t have enough resources but we are trying,” she said.

Mkhudwane said unemployment in families is one of the issues causing young people to drop out of school.

“They say there is free education but I personally cannot see it because they still require money from us even when they say it’s free. I passed my matric and was studying at a higher institution of learning but I had to drop out because of lack of funds. I used to do side jobs here and there as at home they cannot pay for me. I am still a dropout because I am not working, so due to lack of money for my fees I am still at home, but I will not give up because I want to have a bright future,” she said.


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