“Free education” funding models keeps student’s hopes up

WITS University SRC hosted the “Free education” funding model discussion at the Great Hall, with the Lesedi Education Endowment Fund team and former Wits SRC President and Bath University PhD candidate, Mukovhe Masutha. Presenting their respective funding models, the discussion was the first of a series of talks in response to the lack of political will in solving the higher education funding crisis.

The issue of free higher education is critical, which has prompted an all-inclusive analysis to formulate a workable solution and keep the momentum going. Wits students created a funding model called the Lesedi Education Endowment Fund, which illustrates how students can pay less university fees through a multi-faceted solution with public and private sector involvement.

Tuition fees have heightened and institutions have allocated majority of the burden to students. Therefore the Lesedi model suggests that government to re-establish its 50% contribution to the cost of running a university over a 12 year period. The Endowment Fund says those who can bear the costs should contribute to the running of institutions and tuitions.

Lesedi Education Endowment Fund team member and a Wits Physics student, Dylan Barry said, “We have had significant protests at this point once a year for the last two years, but often during the rest of the year it’s just quiet and there isn’t discussion and momentum is lost. So we are trying to perform a role of ensuring that you keep developing arguments, you keep developing the movement and keep pushing ideas forward all the time.”

“When you are on the streets again you’ve got a better basis on which to negotiate on, on which to discuss and students have a better idea of what is possible and what’s not. The hope is that people who have not engaged with this stuff before will have had the chance to engage with it tonight [May 2],” said Barry.

Another endowment fund team member and a Wits postgraduate science student Alexandra Flusk said, “The huge income disparities in the country which is perhaps further entrenched by neoliberalism, which has impacted the poor negatively. What our model seeks to do, is to say that this is the societal construct in which we live and that societal construct is incredibly demeaning to poor people. You have to prove your poverty to get NSFAS. The government that is currently in power that creates the policies, that speaks through the freedom charter and then the constitution to solve all these issues and doesn’t, that is a matter of political will not what the current societal regime currently stands as.”

“We are saying that tomorrow you can implement free education if there was political will and these are the ways you can do it and the need to address the issues as quickly as they are coming up – a consequence of what happened in 1994. Our democracy and constitution is not what we thought it would be,” said Flusk.

Masutha’s model seeks to redefine the “poor and working class students” to R350 000 per annum and provide fully subsidized free university education for the “poor and working class students” in the form of grants and not loans.

“We don’t question the anatomy of university fees. Universities have become commodified. Radical economic transformation is not about putting more money in the pockets of the poor but making their expenses obsolete,” said Masutha.

During the Q&A session Masutha criticised the Ednowment Fund team about their model stating that no private or public organisation funds an institution and just observes from the side-lines.  He touched on how universities are funded and that the endowment team should read up on it. “If you question how you arrive here [university], it will help you come up with a sober solution,” said Masutha, critiquing his fellow presenters.

Sociology personal professor, David Dickinson said that this was a good initiative organized primarily by the SRC.

“There have been some victories by students but we haven’t gotten there yet and there is a lot of talking. What the SRC president [Mkhari] told us is that we need to as a community, as students and as staff and as management be talking about how we get to this goal of free education,” said Dickinson. “I thought the two presentations were interesting. There was a lot of overlap but I think they are helping to flesh out some of the complexities for the audience. This is not polony and cheese, this isn’t straightforward. Hope more students come in the future.”

Third-year BA student Warren Makoga said, “The presentation was about whether or not the two models represent solutions and to a certain extent they could. We always run a risk of the implementation process and whether or not it’s going to be viable. For me we need to do certain structural changes for all of these models to work and that means building state capacity, making sure the government budget is not lost through tenders and the middle man thing and I’m not sure if they were thinking that far when they were coming up with those solutions. Generally it was an okay presentation from the latter speaker [Masutha], the first speakers sometimes, the points they presented, were too vague.”

SRC wants free education for worthy students

The SRC has called for a march to the Department of Higher Education to demand fully subsidised higher education for all financial needy and academically deserving students.

“We have once again realised there is an overwhelming amount of students who are academically deserving but due to their socio-economic background cannot access the doors of learning,” said SRC president Morris Masutha. “This has to stop and it has to stop today!”

In a widely circulated statement, the SRC said raising tuition fees was “a direct exclusion mechanism used by those who benefit from commercialisation of higher education across the country”.

It pointed out that in 2004 the registration fee at Wits was just over R2000. Today students pay R7300. Masutha said the demand for financial aid (NFSAS) at Wits this year is R230-million, but with government only allocating R160-million to the university, thousands of students are left unable to access learning.

Masutha said Minister Blade Nzimande needed to be reminded of the reason he was appointed. “We deployed Nzimande to go and implement our mandate as young people, and no student from 2012 onwards should be denied access to higher education due to their financial background,” he said.

Masutha is also chairperson of the South African Students Congress (Sasco) at Wits and has been a long-standing advocate in the fight for fully subsidised higher education.

“We need to stand up as students across political, religious and racial lines and fight against this commercialisation of higher education where students are treated like clients. We need to remind our government what its priority is.

“If we don’t stand up as an academic community, no one will. If we do not stand up for one another, no one will stand up for us.”

“We need to convince society that education is the only investment that can solve all the social ills facing of country.

LETTER TO THE ED: We are fighting for free higher education; the biggest salary increase our mothers will ever receive!

by Mukovhe Masutha

ACADEMIC ACHIEVER: Morris Masutha was honoured recently for scoring two distinctions. Photo: Courtesy Morris Masutha

Mukovhe Masutha is the 2011 Wits SRC President. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela. 

If you take my mother’s annual salary and multiply it by three years, she still wouldn’t afford to pay for a single year of study at the University of the Witwatersrand.

She is one of many cleaning mothers across my country who leave home at 4:30am and return from work around 6pm. Over the years, their salaries have been nothing but stagnant when compared to the ever increasing cost of food, transport, electricity and other basic necessities.

This has been my mother’s routine for the past 26 years and sadly, this routine has conditioned her to genuinely believe that what she receives as a cleaner is what is due to her, nothing more nothing less.

If this revolving door of poverty and marginalization is not militantly disrupted today, the majority of South African sons and daughters will follow in my mother’s footsteps of normalized pain and conscious submission to a humiliating system.

This is the lens through which one must look at the revolutionary anti-fee increment movement led by the Students Representative Council (SRC) at the University of the Witwatersrand and other campuses across the country.

It is for this reason that I argue that free higher education will be the biggest salary increment our mothers will ever receive in their lifetime.

Restoring the dignity of our communities and safeguarding our future and that of our country is an ideal that we must beg no one for.

The current wave of protest must mark a declaration of war to all those participating in the commodification of higher education as a product in the market.

The time for rhetoric has come to an end, we must take it from here.

Our movement as students must transcend the walls of individual campuses and move with the necessary speed towards the National Treasury and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Our employees at both departments must pass legislation that introduces a higher education tax on all monopoly capital industries, foreign direct investments and the wealthy as determined by their household income.

All funds collected from the higher education tax must fund the immediate widening of participation in higher education through the realization of free higher education by January 2016, massive investment in new higher education infrastructure, limiting universities’ institutional autonomy (particularly their ability to determine the cost of academic programmes) and the adoption of a “People’s University” approach to further decolonize the higher education landscape in South Africa.

Our call must be guided by the principle of redistributive justice and not another misguided rainbow nation approach. We must not fall into the trap of calling for free higher education for all.

Our call must be for free higher education for the poor and the working class as determined by household income. We cannot afford to subsidize the wealthy; they must continue to pay.

Every revolution will be confronted by reactionaries who seek to protect and maintain the status quo. In this regard we must ignore co-opted anti-blacks like Mondli Makhanya, editor of some newspaper, and his masters who find it reasonable to refer to our peaceful protests as hooliganism.

When the University of Cape Town says our protest action is disrupting the academic project, we must remind Max Price that the continued commodification of higher education has disrupted our academic project for decades. The University of Cape Town’s response to students’ protests is as irrational as the judge who granted them a court order to stop students from demanding their constitutional right to education.

We must not be easily discouraged. We must remember that our struggle today is a logical continuation of the struggle of the class of 1976. If they could confront the apartheid regime’s live ammunition head on, surely we should be able to keep Mondli Makhanya, Max Price, police, judges and their masters in their lane.

If South Africans agree that access to higher education and training is a strategic tool to break the cycle of poverty and to undo the socio-economic legacy of apartheid, then we must also agree that prohibiting some youth from accessing the same higher education and training is an act of reinforcing the cycle of poverty and safeguarding the socio-economic legacy of the apartheid regime.

If we claim to agree with President Nelson Mandela when he said education is the most powerful tool we can use to change an unjust world, then we must also agree that prohibiting some youth from accessing education is an act of keeping an unjust world the same. It is that simple.

If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them.

These words by President Truman in 1947 summarize how the higher education in South Africa continues to reproduce and reinforce social inequality while sabotaging the project of nation building.

Finally, I would like to commend student leaders at the University of the Witwatersrand for literally bringing university managers down to earth. I remember sitting on the 11th floor negotiating with Wits Management on why fees should not increase.

A mere 10 minutes into the negotiations, a very arrogant university manager would stand up and arrogantly say “we are clearly disagreeing, let’s vote”. She knew that the whole council, predominately made up of old conservative right wingers, would vote against the students’ lonely voice as represented by myself.

Thank you for turning the tables in your numbers and may the struggle continue!


*Mukovhe Masutha is the chairperson of Thusanani Foundation and former President of the Students Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand, currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education Management at the University of Bath (UK).


Food first, education after

The national lockdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic meant that the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended for the first time since its inception in 1994, leaving millions of learners in South Africa without the security of a daily nutritious meal. 

It’s a quiet Wednesday morning at SivelilePrimary School, a state primary school in MeadowlandsSoweto, Gauteng province, South Africa. The silence can be attributed to the classes that are still taking place just before lunch, at 11 am. 

As I enter the school gates, the security guard asks, singakusiza ngani sisi?” I explain to him my business at the school and he offers me a seat outside the small wooden shed located just inside the entrance to the school. He goes to confirm my meeting with the school principal. 

Once the principal has confirmed my visit, head of department (HOD) at Sivelile, Fezeka Tabata, takes me to one of the grade seven classrooms. 

What is a nutritious meal? 

It is 11am and learners are about to eat their nutritious meal of the day.The meal consists of soft porridge for breakfast. Lunch is usually a starch, protein, fruit or vegetable. There are various options for starch: maize meal, rice or samp. 

Proteins include milk, pilchards, soya and sugar beans. Vegetables are normally cabbage, pumpkin and a fruit, depending on what is in season. The lunch the learners receive depends on the day of the week. 

The needs of each province are kept in mind when the decisions on what the learners eat are made. They are then concluded by nutritionists who determine what is nutritious for the learners and what the national food budget is for schools. 

The women who cook at the school, and who are also parents to some of the learners, bring large containers of food from the kitchen into one of the grade seven classrooms as they prepare to dish up for the learners. 

School feeding schemes provide parents and caregivers the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Photo: Khuleko Siwele.

There is no hall at the school, so all the learners are either dished up for in their respective classrooms, in the corridor or in the kitchen. 

On this particular Wednesday, learners are being served rice, canned pilchards and butternut. The rice looks mushy and tastes slightly overcooked, the canned fish is stewed and has a tangy tomatolike taste, and the boiled butternut has a sweet, natural taste. 

The food looks bland at first sight, but it’s true that looks can be deceiving, because for me the food is more flavourful than it appears. I can also tell that these learners are used to the food they are receiving, because of their eagerness to dish up. 

“Why are you guys not excited? This is your favourite meal,” remarks Tabata.  The reason for the students’ lack of excitement seems to be because of the unfamiliar face in their classroom. 

As they are about to pray, one of the learners realises I am about to take a picture and shyly looks away. 

The lockdown meant that some of these kids went without the daily nutritious meal they depend on for survival, and this is what it still means for approximately two million learners in the country who are still not receiving the meal. No school means no food.

Court victory for the NSNP

In July, the High Court in Pretoria ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to reinstate the NSNP, after private organisation Equal Education took the department to court. 

a life-saving programme for the poorestof the poor child

When this order was made, acting deputy judge andpresident of the North Gauteng High CourtSuletPotterill, in her ruling in the case of Equal Education and others v. the department of basic education and others, highlighted that the NSNP was “a life-saving programme for the poorestof the poor child”. 

Learners are not allowed to play outside during break in order to ensure social distancing, but learners make the most out of the little time they get to be outside. Photo: Khuleko Siwele

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) is a national project run by the department of basic education (DBE). The programme pre-lockdown fed over 9 million learners daily nutritious meal at public schools across the country.Sivelile primary is one of over 20 000 public schools in the country who depend on the school feeding scheme.  

This programme is labelled by Equal Educations researcher Stacey Jacobs as one of the more successful programmes run by the (DBE). 

The schools that are targeted fall under quintile one to three public primary and secondary schools and identified special schools in quintiles four and five.These are the poorest schools in the country. 

The purpose of a free daily meal

Through the implementation of the NSNP, the DBE aims at a sustainable provisioning of quality food to learners who are threatened by poverty and hunger. This food is to enhance the learning capacity of children while at school by providing a daily nutritious meal, and to encourage school attendance. 

“School feeding can improve the consumption of nutritious food by children, if the menu is well designed (by nutrionists) and especially if both breakfast and lunch are delivered at school,” according to the Food Security SA Working Paper Series: #004.

When children are not receiving these meals, they become susceptible to not just illnesses but being exploited, as well as other social injustices faced by children in South Africa that are heightened when learners aren’t in school

From the mouth of a beneficiary 

“Wow, I didn’t know Wits was this big,” says Lawrence Manaka, a matric learner at JB Matabane Secondary School, as he gets out of his Uber at Wits Art Museum (WAM) from Ivory Park, where his school is situated. 

It’s around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon and Manaka is still in his school uniform, a yellow shirt with a blue tie that has the schools logo, and khaki pants. We walk into WAM and I offer him a seat on the black couches located in what used to be a busy cafeteria with students, lecturers and visitors stopping by during the day, but is now filled with silence. 

Manaka, a beneficiary of the programme, wasn’t one of the learners negatively affected by the programme being stopped in higher levels of the lockdown. In as much as he sometimes eats the food from school, it is not a need for him.  

The matric learner gives me a little background information about the area he’s from: I am from Ivory park and it’s a very underprivileged community and there are a lot of learners there who depend solely on the meals that they get from school. 

‘’When some of my schoolmates come to school, it’s not just them coming to learn – it’s also them coming to get the meal,’’ says ManakaSo, when [the country] went into hard lockdown some of the learners faced a huge problem, because now they couldn’t get access to food.”  

Manaka tells me about a friend of his who was hit hard by the school feeding scheme being suspended. “I have a friend who would come to my house, and because I know the situation back home, he would get food from my house or my mum would give him [money]. 

‘’You could tell he really needed the food to get through the day. His situation was extreme to the point where he considered dropping out of school and looking for work rather than being at home hungry. When we went back to school you could tell it became better, because now he can get at least two meals a day,” says Manaka. 

Department backtracks on NSNP

In March, after the country recorded its first cases of covid-19, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, announced that all schools in the country would be closed, which also meant the NSNP would be suspended. More than nine million learners stopped receiving a daily meal at school because of this.  

On May 19, day 54 of the national lockdown,Motshekga, in a media statement,publicly announced that pupils in grades seven and 12 would return to school in June, and that the NSNP would resume for all qualifying pupils at the same time. 

The minister did not live up to her word when schools finally resumed on June 8, with grade seven and grade 12 being the only grades to receive the meal, saying the department needed more time.  

This prompted Equal Education (EE), together with two Limpopo high schools supported by Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, to take the DBE and provincial education departments to court on June 12.  

The reason for this was the EE believes that the backtracking of the DBE in providing learners with this meal, after promising otherwise, violates learners’ constitutional rights. 

The failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners, or even to produce a plan or programme for doing so, is a regressive measure that violates learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality, said Equal Education. 

Even if every child has access to education, they cannot learn well if they are hungry. Photo: Khuleko Siwele

Equal Education wanted the judge to declare that all qualifying learners, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal. 

“South Africans are at high risk of micronutrient deficiency, specifically Vitamin A and iron. Lack of Vitamin A impairs the immune system, while lack of iron leads to anaemia, fatigue and dizziness. Hunger and micronutrient deficits are known to impact negatively on school attendance, cognitive capacity and immunity to disease,” says Food Security SA. The NSNP aims to avoid these illnessesand during a time of covid-19 this is more important than ever. 

Lehlonolo Magqokidirector of the NSNP for the Gauteng department of education (GDE), in his departmental office at 55 Fox Street, explains that it is not the education department’s responsibility to feed children when they are out of school, and the lockdown facilitated such a time. 

we never offered meals during lockdown level five because the grant that comes from national did not allow us

“We, as the GDE nutrition directorate, offer meals to learners that are at school from Monday to Friday. So, we never offered meals during lockdown level five because the grant that comes from national did not allow us to offer meals to learners. We do not offer learners food while they are at home,” says Magqoki. 

Child support grant not sufficient

The child support grant (CSG) was ‘topped up’ in May, from R440 to R740, during the lockdown. This has proved to be insufficient becausefor millions of households across the country food security was gravely compromised due to the covid-19-necessitated lockdown,” said Equal Education in a statement. 

According to evidence from the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS)- Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) Wave 1, the StatSA food poverty line per person is approximately R578 a month, and the CSG would not have covered this amount before the topup. 

The survey, focusing mainly on that one-third of households fully dependent on grants and calculating the grant income they would qualify for, found that 87% of children would have been in poverty before the top ups were introduced. 

“The top-ups were indeed much larger than the loss of school meals, but the lockdown took away the certainty of a nutritious meal a day on school days,” NIDS-CRAM wave 1. 

Not all learners at JB Matabane secondary school qualify for the CSG. Lawrence Makana who is also a learner member Equal Education says “not all learners are South African citizens some of these learners are at school using permits, meaning they are foreigners. This means they don’t qualify for the social grant.  

The NIDS-CRAM in its recommendation for school meals, recommends that school feeding be extended to provide meals for the weekend during the pandemic. This provision would allow learners to eat during weekends or public holidays when the feeding scheme does not operate. 

This is not something the department has not considered. “The only challenge [the DBE] has, and it’s been spoken about for [approximately] five years, is that now we are feeding the learners Monday to Friday, and some of these learners are from childheaded families that do not have food on weekends. The department is looking at means of augmenting meals on weekends with the DSD on how we can help, but currently meals end on weekdays,” says Lehlonolo Magqoki, as he eats his breakfast cereal. 

According to a courtordered departmental report, the covid-19 pandemic has prompted the provincial department of Gauteng to change its standard operating procedures in respect of NSNP to prevent and manage the spread of the virus in schools, while providing learners with meals 

FEATURED IMAGE: The suspension of the school nutrition programme in March, left over nine million South African learners deprived of having an opportunity to access food. Photo: Khuleko Siwele