The high cost of a dream: ‘R9340 is a lot of money’

By Thabiso Modiba

My name is Thabiso Modiba and I grew up with my two sisters, mother and father in rural Limpopo, Mabopane district. And I’m the only guy, the first-born. It was tough, with no electricity and running water, life is tough. The only truck that brings water is the one from the municipality that comes once a week. You have to take a bucket and go queue for water.

Since I was young, I have always wanted to be a doctor. When I was young, my mother got sick. We were living in a rural village and whenever we’d go to the clinic they’d say, “The doctors not here”, sometimes for days. I would get angry because my mom would be very sick and there was no doctor to help her. But when you come here, to the city, there are many. But that side where I’m living they are scarce.

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIGH HOPES: If he can find the money to pay for his tuition Thabiso Modiba hopes to become a medical doctor one day. Photo: Michelle Gumede


My father earns about R5900 and sometimes is working at a construction company that deals with tenders. They build schools and those sort of things.

I don’t wanna lie, I never slept that day before matric results came out. I was watching TV on the fifth and they were announcing the results officially. There’s no electricity in the area but we take chances and connect cables, just so we can get an update on what’s happening with the matric results.

Through the post office, I applied in 2015 to five universities UP, UL, UJ, SMU and Wits. I got the application form to come to Wits from my father. He knows one of the security guards from Wits. I posted applications and the money required for each too. Costs differ from tertiary to tertiary, at Wits it was about the R100 and other universities it was R200 or R300. It’s like betting for the lotto, you don’t know when or where you’re going to win.

I was stressed on January 6 because Wits had said they’d send me an sms as soon as the matric results came out. I was anxious about how my results were gonna be. I was praying the whole day and night.

In the morning I got my results from my school, but still no sms from Wits. I preferred Wits because the communication was good. They communicated with me throughout the year through email. The other universities just sent me sms’s saying they acknowledge my application and will await my matric results. They also said that I have to submit my results face to face, whereas Wits just got them through the system.

So I was panicking. It was only on January 7 when I received an email from Wits with an offer to study chemical engineering and medicine. I accepted medicine so they said I must come and pay the registration fees of about R9340 before the day of enrolment.

Immediately, I called some of my relatives, for money. They were happy because my matric results were good, so they managed to put the money together for registration plus R400 for a bus.

I arrived in Johannesburg for the very first time in my life on Thursday January 8. My father who was in Soweto at the time had no idea where Wits was, so I had to ask people for directions at Park Station. They told me to walk to Bree then I would find the campus after crossing Nelson Mandela Bridge. I walked this by foot with my R9340 registration fee in my bag. That’s when I found myself in Wits. The big buildings were intimidating, I was afraid. I’m a rural boy and it’s the first time that I saw so many different people in such a busy place.

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HALF WAY THERE: Modiba has registered at Wits but is yet to come up with the money for tuition. Photo: Michelle Gumede


When I got here I was directed to the enrolment center where I was shown to the financial office. I paid registration and made my four-hour trip home. When I left Wits I was a little bit happy because it was promising that I’m in. I got home and my parents were panicking that I’d just paid and only been told to come back to Wits on Monday. You know when parents pay money they want to see proof that something is happening. R9340 is a lot of money, they’ve never had that kind of money in their hands before.

On Monday I had to wake up early in the morning to catch the 4am bus so I could be here by seven. When I got to Hall 29, students had blocked the way saying #FeesMustFall. We were told to go back home or do it online. Eish, I felt like the world was turning against me because I came from so far. I didn’t understand what was going on and neither did my parents when I called them to tell them. I went back home again coz there was no place to stay so I had to spend more money.

At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money.

MONEY WOES: At home my parents didn’t trust what I said about the strike, they thought I was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede

MONEY WOES: His parents didn’t trust what he said about the #FMF2016 strike, they thought he was deliberately wasting money. Photo: Michelle Gumede


On Tuesday, January 12, I got an email saying I could come and fetch my student card anytime and I heard from the news that registration was happening on Wednesday. I was there preparing money to travel again. It was only because I did so well at school that even my high school teachers and neighbors helped to put together money. They just want to see me at Wits doing medicine.

I arrived in Joburg at 8am on January 14, collected my student card and registration bag. I’m happy but worried at the same time.

Although I applied for funding from NSFAS they said I don’t qualify. I also applied for funds at the Limpopo Department of Health last year and the Motsepe Foundation this year but I still don’t have funds for my tuition and accommodation. I’m gonna be contacting the department telling them that I got accepted at Wits, maybe they can help me and speed up my application. I have until February 8. If fees had fallen maybe it would be better.

As told to Michelle Gumede



DFL encourage art and medicine collaboration

HEALTHY ART:  Victoria Hume explains to Drama for Life about how to integrate music and art into medicine. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

HEALTHY ART: Victoria Hume explains to Drama for Life about how to integrate music and art into medicine. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Art and medicine combined can be used as a tool to heal people, Victoria Hume told members of Drama for Life (DFL) recently.

DFL is trying to close the gaps between these two fields by incorporating art into medicine and bringing this into South Africa’s public health system. They are currently working on a project about using drama and its techniques to educate the public about diabetes.

Musician and artist Victoria Hume spoke to DFL on Monday about using music, singing and breathing techniques to help patients who are dealing with “complex conditions” such as diabetes and those who have been through “traumatic healthcare experiences”.

She also focused on how to “make hospitals a centre of community”.

“It’s about building relationships between South African institutes like Drama for Life and Baragwanath.”

DFL and Hume have collaborated on this project to educate the public about “drawing attention” to things that are “little known” about medical conditions like diabetes.
Hume also told Wits Vuvuzela that despite the economic problems in South Africa’s public health system, it is still possible to implement drama and music techniques into our hospitals without just “sticking pictures over cracked walls”.
“It’s about building relationships between South African institutes like Drama for Life and Baragwanath [Hospital] for example” she said.
DFL are currently training students in drama therapy and techniques and Hume said it is “important to train them in this type of context as well”.

Medicine admission criteria to change

The university is considering changing the admission criteria for medicine by doubling the percentage accepted on achievement alone, regardless of race.

Currently, 25% of top achievers are accepted regardless of race but recommendations would see that doubled. The remainder is presently allocated in favour of redressing racial disparities.

This is just one of a number of big changes presented at a public meeting to discuss the current and future admissions criteria to medicine on Tuesday night. The other two big changes are that 20% of places would be assigned to students who come from rural environments and applicants with undergraduate degrees would be considered equally regardless of what they previously graduated in.

“What am I doing here, then? I’ve wasted two years of my life,” one student complained. She is currently doing her undergraduate in health sciences. Many of the students there felt they had been encouraged to do these types of degrees in the hope that they would get preference to be accepted to medicine and were now being told this might change.

“A bachelor in health sciences is not a pre-med degree,” Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib said.

“If you take students from here [rural areas] they are more likely to return, unlike urban students who end up leaving the country,” according to Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Andrew Crouch. He heads up the task team with Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Zeblon Vilakazi.

According to the university, about 8 000 people apply for the degree each year but only 230 receive firm offers, the majority coming from urban environments and middle class families. This excludes many applicants from rural areas, previously disadvantaged backgrounds and poor schools.

Habib said they are trying to maximise the production of doctors but are limited by infrastructure and resources. He advised that students apply for alternative degrees as “some very good people will not get placed”.

The task team is deciding if they will be able to implement the recommended criteria next year or wait until 2016. They will release their findings in a report at the end of this month.

Cool Kid on campus Caryn Upton

Cool Kid Caryn Upton is a 6th year Medical student who has been running a successful business for 4 years

Cool Kid Caryn Upton is a 6th year Medical student who has been running a successful business for 4 years

Story and Caption by Jay Caboz

Cool Kid
Caryn Upton spent four years of her varsity career tutoring and trying to make a little cash. She would earn, on average, R100 per hour and at the time she thought she was lucky to be paid that. Then she says she had a brainwave and “Study Doctor” tutoring was born.

What makes you a cool kid?
Well I am a sixth year med student who has been running a successful business for four years. I work hard and I play hard.

Why study medicine?
Initially, I was studying another degree, but then I found it was too easy and I wanted a challenge. I found working with people rewarding and then I knew that medicine was the right place for me.

Why open your own tutoring company?
One day, I was talking with my friend Claire Keene (now her business partner) who had also been a tutor and we said: “Hey, how come we work so hard and yet the company’s take a R300 profit? We could do a better job of this and make sure students get paid properly.” We were both med students and wanted to help people. We knew what it was like to be a tutor and were tired of getting screwed over by tutoring companies. So we thought “why not?”.

What makes your business cool?
It was started by two students who created something from nothing. We wanted to pay people for what they were worth.

How many tutors are you involved with?
At the moment we have about 70 to 80 tutors in our company.

How do you study and run a business?
Initially we were a lot smaller and I managed to fit it all in. But now we have grown so large, we have been able to hire someone and are currently looking to expand even further.

What achievements has Study Doctor made?
In 2012 we were voted as 94.7 FM’s business of the week. This year we are looking to pay back even further to the community and are trying to organise a charity that will give free tutoring for matrics.