By Mighti Jamie
/// Posted October 2, 2015



I owe Wits R12 000 today. I am an international student so I have to pay not R9900 upfront but 75% of my fees upfront, including a levy of R5 000 just because I am foreign. The price of education has become a nightmare even to middle class black families. When I was growing up I was told you could be anything you wanted to be. Living in the real world, I am realizing that I was misled, the promise which kept me reading late at night has been altered by some demonic tooth fairy who instead of honouring the faith of a young man dreaming earnestly changed the terms and conditions. Now I can only be ANYTHING I CAN AFFORD TO BE! Which for an orphan from Zimbabwe is not much. Let me share with you my story of how being a poor Wits student played out for me.

This fees issue has been a nightmare for me since day one.

In 2007 I registered then my uncle went broke, subsequently I owed Wits R33 000 in fees at the end of the year. In that year, while I owed fees, I had to lie to get myself onto campus (back then they used to block your student card in March for outstanding fees). I could never use the libraries or the Internet labs (my student card wouldn't let me in- a little encouragement from Wits to make you pay). So that first year I had to find a way to pass in spite of the actions of the University. I got distinctions and was a good student but I could not continue my studies or access my results the following year.

In 2008 and 2009 I lived a drastic life trying to repay my outstanding fees and to get back to University. My friend’s mother subsequently took out a personal loan that almost ruined her to get me back in school.

In 2010 I was second year in medical school, but I had no money for food or accommodation. I was forced at some point to live with my girlfriend who had just got out of a divorce and had two kids (that was a bad idea for a 21 year old, we both weren't ready for that). I didn't manage to finish that year of study, there was just so much missing in my life that I just quit. I thought if my fees were paid I would be able to handle anything, after all I was a man of faith. I realized that year that I needed more than sheer determination, I needed help with textbooks, food and a place to sleep and bath. The Calvary just didn't show up that year.

I once again found myself at the end of the road. Med school automatically kicked me out, it didn't matter to them whether I was homeless and destitute, and all they knew was that I had failed. They didn't think to ask about my strong performance in first year and how this was not consistent with that, how maybe instead of kicking me out they should help me out.

Last year I watched my classmates graduate and turn into full doctors, one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. I was happy for them but sad because this was a dream I was forced to abandon, ever since Nokuthula Ndhlovu told me what a cardiac surgery was in grade six, that's all I wanted to be, a doctor. My dream, the need for doctors, the loss of potential, these things meant nothing to the medical school. Michael Jordan was not good enough the first time around, he needed a second chance. It seems to me studying the great women and men of history that one’s likelihood to succeed can't be measured purely on one performance, and yet at Wits it is.

I spent the years 2011/2012 homeless and selling earphones on the Wits Library steps, I wanted to stay close to the dream, to stay motivated to continue. I sold those earphones with desperation in my soul, this was my only way back to Wits. There is very little funding for foreign students here, even if they are orphans and have nowhere to go. I had to watch others continue to chase their dreams while I was their smiling salesman, to sleep under steps while I counted the money to see if I was close to getting back to Wits. Those days were not my best. I knew something though that kept me stuck on those steps, that if I left I would never make it back. I had heard so many stories of people who left for a variety of reasons vowing to be back in a year or two, people who seemed resolute when saying those words yet never made it back. The story was so cliché, they would find a job which was decent for a drop out, something like a call centre job, start making some money, maybe R6000 then start thinking hey maybe that's not so bad, I don't need a degree.......I HAD TO STAY CLOSE TO THE DREAM OR LOSE IT.

I had to! I would scream this to anyone who told me to go back home, to get a real job, to be realistic. The toughest person to say this to was my pastor, he hadn't taken the time to understand me or the fire in my belly. I had to tell myself his advice had not come from God, more than once. I was not leaving the dream.

With lots of help from friends I finally got back to Wits in 2013. I had to abandon my dreams of medicine to become a law student. I love it and I am happy for the opportunity, but to put it in context: my dad who died just after I came to South Africa never would have thought I would wind up in law, he always knew me as a scientific kid who wanted to be another Ben Carson (not the loony politician he is now, but the world’s best neurosurgeon he was all my school days).

Why I am mentioning this as the preamble is because I want to have a blunt discussion about university and black students’ navigation of the space of tertiary education. I felt it was important to start off by sharing my turbulent life at Wits since 2007 to show that I am not an armchair critic of the problem, it affects me today and it has always affected me. I have been at Wits for nine years but only five of those as a student not because I was stupid or lazy, but because I was unfortunate enough to be poor.

Let's talk honestly about how stories like mine are allowed to happen. My story is not a special or unique story. The actors may vary across the nation but this is an old script. The play has been acted out so many times, the narrative witnessed so many times. You have seen more replays of this story than you have replays of Sarafina. Only an honest conversation can begin to lead us to a full understanding of the numerous interlinked issues involved in educating the black child. Only an honest conversation can point us to the right medicine for this calamity.

Our education system is sick and as a result our society is broken, twisted and degenerate. Schools and Universities are incubators of society, my firm conviction is that if we fix the schools and Universities we can fix Africa. So let's talk about how we find ourselves in this mess…


The first blow is struck on the black child in the primary and high schools.

The education system is destroying black potential and it's doing so at so many levels, it's an attack on our future as Africans. 

In the first instance the schooling system is not adequate to prepare students for Varsity, last year there were Annual National assessment and the Grade nines scored 3% pass rate for Maths. This is an outrage, it had me thinking who was teaching them for nine years, why aren't these people arrested for mis-educating the future of this nation? The scores were so bad that teachers, instead of teaching, decided that they didn't like the assessments and tried to derail them this year. The unions are too powerful and the students are the victims. Having come from a different country I could see that the students educated in public schools did not have the same tools coming into first year as the rest. I didn't even have the tools that some of the IEB kids had when they got to first year.

So at the gates of the University black kids are kept out in different ways, here are the numbers

- the poor education standards make it such that of the 1.2 million grade ones enrolled half will never write the final matric exam and of those who write only about 28 percent will be able to have varsity entry marks .

When you break that down to what it really means, it means that of the 1.2 million students who enter grade one only 168 000 can potentially make it into varsity. I use the word potentially because the points don't have the same value they used to. For example at Wits a degree can have a minimum requirement of 42 points but because of the demand they only take students with 45 points. The minimum is not the most reliable measure. Further than that the universities use the National bench marks as another way to exclude the blacks, so ultimately places like UCT and Wits end up taking way less blacks than they should have.

What allows this to happen though is the government, because they have been diluting the quality of the exams for so long, people began to doubt their credibility, hence the new exams. They have been using a standard of evaluation that lowers expectation for everyone and is just illogical. This whole a pass is 30% for some and 40 percent for another defies logic but further it is one of the biggest enforcers of inferiority in the black mind. Whites spend all their days learning that they are expected to Ace the exam. Through movies and culture they are told that Ace is the gold standard. Yet the black kid is told hey from you 30% is enough, it sends a message that screams, we are not really expecting you to ace this. That's a major part of the reason why efforts are low. Low expectation from those who lead you leads to even lower delivery.

Chris Brown once asked how you can hate from outside of the club, when you can't even get in, this is exactly what the government has created- a situation where most black kids can't even get into the club because of a lack of adequate preparation.

We as society must begin to hold the department of basic education to account in real ways to stop this, nothing will change about our future as only 3 percent of our nation knows math.

The best talent is not attracted to teaching. If I was an ambitious young man with a brilliant mind, I would much rather be a lawyer, Doctor , accountant before I even think about teaching , that's because there is no money in teaching, which is wrong. Young people want to turn up, drive nice cars and pop bottles, they want to be cool too. Why would I go into a profession that will never let me be successful in the eyes of my peers? If we are serious about attracting talent to teaching we have to put our money where our mouth is and pay teachers what they truly deserve. Teachers need to make more than any other profession, more than any other civil servant and in conjunction they need to be held to a higher standard, the same standard we hold pilots and doctors to. One bad pilot can kill a few hundred, one bad doctor can kill a few individuals, but a bad teacher is worse, they are radioactive they kill neighbourhoods in the thousands and kill generations of potential.

The same is true of bad administrators and politicians in education.

Let's say you do defy the odds and Chris Brown and make it inside the club, Club Varsity, what's waiting for you as the black child?

If you make it through to the University this is what you encounter, Dreamocide - the mass killing of dreams.

There is a silent death that happens at our Universities. A death that the Universities don’t want to let the World know about. There is a great crime being perpetrated against the black community in the places where they rushed to searching for refuge. There is a grave betrayal of the country every year, the shepherds who were supposed to walk with us in the valleys of death have become the wolves which pounce upon us in the meadows of promise. There is mass murder taking place in the corridors of learning and the next victim could be me.


In the very place you thought was safe. Our Universities are killing the dreams of Africa, the seeds of the continents prosperity are being choked by the thorns of bad policy, and the vultures of hunger and finance are eating our fruits before they are ready to harvest. Our Universities have become dream killers. They talk transformation, yet they act with the cruelty of the apartheid regime. The machinery of apartheid to keep black children away from certain careers has been relocated to a lecture hall near you!

Last year there were 21 551 students enrolled for Undergraduate studies at Wits University. 6912 of these students were sent home by the University, either during the year or at the end of the year. MOST OF THEM WILL NEVER HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY AGAIN.

6912 students in one year! 
Most of these students will be black and from disadvantaged communities. All of them are brilliant minds who fought through a hell guarded by legions to reach the promised land of the University. They were told they could be anyone who they wanted to be, they have discovered at University that the dream has been edited.

You can’t be anyone you want to be at University 
You can only be anyone you can afford to be.

The numbers are clear, kids are going back to their homes with hands full of shattered dreams. The question remains who is to blame, whose responsibility is it that these children have lost their life long dreams and their opportunity to contribute to South Africa and the world? The good old who done it.

The answer is simply the University.
1. The assessment model is dated and ineffective, too much emphasis is placed on the final exams and not on continuous assessment which has been proven to lead to better results.
2. There is lack of adequate training for lecturers and tutors whose job it is to impart the information, a plethora of lecturers have high knowledge reserves, but they have very low teaching skills and as such are confusing, incoherent and ineffective. A lot of Tutors have only read the material the night before and have shaky conceptual mastery, they too are often untrained in the basics of teaching and as such are ineffective
3. There is lack of full online learning 
- There should be video recordings of every lecture
- There should be audio available to listen back to the lecture
- There should be a transcript of the content of the lecture 
This is the norm at top world class Universities because there is a realization of the limitations of the isolated lecture. Students are more likely to understand the content when they have gone over it several times. 
4. There is lack of study guide materials to help students with the transition from High School rote learning to the University deep learning. 
5. There is lack of robust support for students who go hungry, the irony is we feed the poor student in high school because we know one cannot learn on a hungry stomach and yet when that kid gets to varsity he has to be a full-time student and still find ways to get a meal.

Let me repeat 
Wits had 21 551 undergraduate students enrolled last year, of that number 4453 were sent home during the year, 2459 students were excluded at the end of the year. The big fokof from Wits, if you are doing poorly academically, Wits will send you home. A total of 3148 had to repeat the year of study.

Close to 7000 students are sent home for good by the University each year, most of those students are black , over ten years this means that 70 000 blacks from poor and destitute communities won't have a chance to ever change their lives.

This is where the University should be held to account the most, because they take the students’ money and kick them out without looking back if they fail. Exclusion should never be automatic. Failure is not a freak of nature, it's the normal course of human existence, subsequently when students fail the automatic response should never morally be to kick them out, it has to be to develop them and nurture their talents correctly. This is the biggest offense the University commits to the black nation.

Academic policy is in their full control, and they use it to kick out blacks.

There is still one more important question, if I do get past the bouncers of incompetence and bad teachers, if I do get inside club varsity, how am I going to pay for the drink?

The most expensive cognacs is nothing compared to the cost of a sip of learning. Puff Daddy should actually drop Ciroc and sell degrees, he will be a billionaire next week if he did. How do you pay? Who foots the bill? It’s sometimes the most poignant question in education, the source of many fights, and the seed of most marches.

Lets be frank Varsity is expensive. Tuition is high to pay top lecturers, Textbooks are expensive, accommodation is expensive, food is expensive, toiletries are expensive, incidental costs are high, printing etc.

The costs of being a top 200 University are high- to maintain the buildings and the services at world class quality costs a lot of money. The question around education is how to maintain costs at a manageable level and how to make sure the poor can access University even though it's expensive. We want quality universities but not universities that are exorbitant.


This is something that we have missed in making Habib our primary target on this specific march. There is only so much that he can do, even if he lowered the fee increase to inflation rates. Which is what he should have done.

The people who have not adequately funded education are the ANC, the ruling party has wasted outrageous amounts of money, and billions have gone missing. How many fancy cars have been bought by the never ending lists of ministers and deputy ministers, how much money are we spending on the political class, directly and through corruption? The government has failed to stop illicit flows and tax the rich and privileged adequately. This is not a poor country but this is not reflected in the government approach to higher education, it's almost as if they want to keep the country dumb.

The funding for higher education is a national problem, one we have every year, in fact at Wits this is our second time this year taking drastic action for fees. 2000 students qualified for Wits early in the year but they could not take up their places because there was not enough NSFAS for them. This will still be the problem next year, an additional 2000 students won't have funding because there is no money in NSFAS.

There is money in South Africa: money in Nkandla, money in the pockets of the political elite who drive Maserati's like Tony Yengeni, BMW's like Blade Nzimande, money in the pockets of CEO’s that earn millions, yet there is no money for education.

I know the ruling party aligned PYA runs most of the Universities, but if they are honest about dealing with this problem once and forever, if fees must fall at all Universities in this country, then surely the most responsible must fall.

I have already shown you how it is the ANC that destroys the future of this child in high school, it is the ANC that is responsible for funding the education of the black child in Varsity. Therefore the organization that must account most directly is the ANC.

I am not saying the March on Wits is wrong, it is right. The University must lower the increase, the university must also lower the many things that they over charge for, for example it costs R10 to replace a student card for the University but they charge students R130 for that. They charge similar fees for key replacements and exorbitant fees for drop off cards.

More importantly the University charges in ways that are fraudulent. When I was in medical school I was charged R14500 for Anatomy and R14500 for Molecular Medicine. Seems legit until you think about it, the one is a full practical course with three different types of labs and extensive equipment that was specialized like refrigerators for cadavers and microscopes, and human tissue that had to be preserved, lots of lab employees and tutors for the different elements. That's anatomy. Molecular Medicine was just a theoretical course, no labs, no equipment, and even less lectures during the year. Why on earth would you charge someone 14500 for that course when they are not getting anywhere near the same value for money?

These are things the University must account for directly to make sure what we are paying is fair.

Education is a mess in South Africa, we need to make sure that we are holding the right people to account for the right things, otherwise it will be deja vu soon.

On the failures of the system at high school level, we need to demand more from the ANC.

On the curriculum and academic policy we need to demand more from the specific University.

On the funding model, we need to make sure Universities are not over charging and are charging fair rates for service rendered, but most importantly we need to hold the government of the ANC to account for their corrupt ways and failure to allocate adequate resources to education.

If this is the necessary first step, then I hope our second step as varsity students to Nzimande, Motsheka and Zuma is an even bigger and more radical one.



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