LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Vuvuzela Misleads

To the editor of the Wits Vuvuzela,

I am writing as a concerned student in response to the Wits Vuvuzela’s article “One Million, One Month falls short” which appeared on the front page of the August 7 edition.

Let me start by making a point. Initiatives like the One Million, One Month campaign, the Wits Humanitarian Fund and other similar programs rely on trust and confidence. People only donate to programmes and organisations if they trust that they can achieve their aims. In consequence, humanitarian programs are vulnerable. If they are misrepresented or if their legitimacy is challenged it has repercussions, not only for the programs themselves, but for the people who rely on these programs. When people stop donating, those who need it most cannot be helped.

It’s an important point because in the article, the One Million, One Month campaign was misrepresented. The article was titled “One Million, One Month falls short” but the details raised in the article suggest precisely the opposite. The intention of the program was never to support all 2 788 students financially. To suggest so is to fundamentally underestimate the scale of the crisis in the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). I’d pose the question to your readers: How much do you think it would cost to fully fund 2 788 students at Wits? R1-million? R10-million? The answer in fact is R178-million, the shortfall in what NSFAS was supposed to pay out and what was available.

The R1-million target the SRC set for the campaign was a target they felt would be realistic to raise in one month, and I know from helping as a volunteer that raising the funds was extremely difficult. Although the SRC ended up far exceeding the target they set, the NSFAS crisis is of the magnitude that even that was, and remains, a drop in the ocean. The SRC repeatedly made the point, both to affected students and in press statements, that this campaign was not a solution to the NSFAS crisis but an emergency response by students to aid as many affected students as was possible. The One Million, One Month campaign did not fall short. Quite to the contrary, the campaign itself raised R1.8-million, almost double its goal of R1-million at the end of the month, and at last check the humanitarian fund had received R4.4-million in donations through the year, almost entirely due to the success of the One Million, One Month campaign and the exposure it created.

The media plays an important role in society and it is the responsibility of the media to hold institutions and programs accountable, but that is unfortunately not what has happened here. This was misrepresentation. It may not have been intentional, but it has a very real effect on those students at Wits who are currently beneficiaries of the work done by the One Million, One Month campaign and those who will benefit from the Wits humanitarian fund in the future. I implore the Wits Vuvuzela, both now and in the future, to take extra care in the research and portrayal of issues and initiatives like this. The fact is the media has power. How that power is used is up to every journalist and editor at this paper. Wield it wisely.

Dylan Barry, 2nd year BSc

One Million, One Month campaign subcommittee member