Earlier today Wits University and the Ministry of Basic of Education (DBE) introduced six of the ten matriculants who were awarded the university’s freshly minted Equality Scholarship ahead of the academic year which commences next week.
The learners were chosen from quintiles 1 and 2 schools, classified as “no-fee schools and situated in the most disadvantaged communities in the country”.
Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Adam Habib and Minister Angie Motshekga sat side by side in front of the media and the student themselves in the plush Council Chambers in Senate House. They both spoke enthusiastically of the bright futures that these students represented.
“This is the basis of addressing inequality,” Habib enjoined, as he explained the reasoning behind the formation of the scholarship, which aims to bankroll, in its entirety, the tertiary education of talented learners from poor and marginalised communities.[pullquote align=”right”]”An anonymous R10 million donation was central in getting the scholarship off the ground”[/pullquote]
Habib, however, was quick to emphasise that it was “academic excellence” that formed the basis on which these students were chosen. “We recognise circumstances but you have to recognise merit,” Habib said.
The scholarship will be renewed annually provided the students continue to maintain impressive results.
Minister Motshekga described the scholarships as a way to catalyse “social migration from marginalised communities into high levels of the economy”.
Each student was awarded close to R100 000 per annum, dependent on their academic performance.
Habib revealed that an anonymous R10 million donation was central in getting the scholarship off the ground.
Conceding that even R100 000 was only just enough to cover each students tuition, accommodation and a small number of “incidentals”, and not other costs such as supporting extended families back in the students underprivileged communities, the VC bemoaned the difficulty caused by the fact that the “our inflation of higher education runs ahead of normal inflation”.
He described this as a “big challenge” which in part would have to be addressed through social support structures such as grants.
“We can’t have their education compromised,” Habib stressed, pointing out that some students qualified for other bursaries which could be used to cover additional costs.
Even R100 000 is not enough
The story of one of the scholarship recipients, Thembinkosi Qwabe from Osizweni in Newcastle, KwaZulu Natal, partly illustrates how even a sum as generous R100 000 may not be enough.
Qwabe is one of five children, the first to go to university in his family after scoring 97 per cent in Physical Science and 96 per cent in Maths. He was raised by a single parent, his mother.
He explained that she was on the verge of retiring from a job as a receptionist at an auto-repair store. His two elder brothers had finished matric but are unemployed. Qwabe’s two younger sisters are still in school.
He said he did not remember the exact moment he received the news of the scholarship, but he did recall that his family was very happy. His father, whom he had last seen in 2006, knew of his achievements but had not yet contacted Qwabe to congratulate him.[pullquote align=”right”]“My only wish now is to pass and do well for my family.”[/pullquote]
Dressed immaculately in all red and still reeling, by his own confession, from the gravity of the moment and of being in this large city, Qwabe hinted that it was now up to him to be that “bridge” into a better life for his family.
“My only wish now is to pass and do well for my family,” he said.