Down with Student Debt

By: Vanessa Torres

     In the past year, universities across South Africa, such as the University of the Witwatersrand, have protested in the “Fees Must Fall” movement. This 20 year old movement, is a call for free higher education from the youth across the nation. For weeks, there have been outbursts of protests amongst the universities in the country. Previously, students would peacefully protest, marching through their campus, holding signs with slogans such as “#feesmustfall”, in an effort to get the attention from the university’s administration. However, some of these protests have turned violent and have spread into neighboring communities.

     Due to these protests in the University of Witwatersrand, the dean closed the campus down. Riot police stood guard, waiting for violent outburst from the students. They also blocked the entrance, causing the student body to become more frustrated and angry. During this time, angry students threw rocks at the police officers and the movement’s leader could not control them. Authorities believe that they have no other option but to respond with force in order to maintain control over the situation. Police have responded to these outbursts with teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Consequently, the main quads of the campus have become war zones. Students say the police have militarized their campus.

     Many students in Southern Africa are unable to attend college due to financial barriers. Every year, bright students with great potential are deprived of this opportunity. It isn’t solely the student deprived of a life changing break, it’s their whole family as well. When they are unable to attend college their career paths are limited. Therefore, they don’t get a chance to improve their socioeconomic standing along with their families. “We want more black students to be able to come to a university and to have a better chance of participating in the economy,” said student leader Busisiwe Seabe. Just as tens of thousands of others across the country, she suffers from the impacts of student debt. Protestors from the “Fees Must Fall” movement are the lucky few that have the privilege to attend college. Nonetheless, how “lucky” can they be when many of them are starving and/or are homeless due to the massive debt they are facing? One student said, “What kind of a student can learn while they’re hungry? While they’re living in the library?”

     Busisiwe Seabe says students don’t trust the government or their university and they feel like they have abandoned the students. Previously, the government promised to improve their financial aid programs for college students. However, government subsidies for students have only been declining due to a is lesser focus and urgency for education in South Africa. University administrators say they’ve tried to work together with student leaders and they’re “committed to the principle of working toward free education.” Despite their stance on the issue, they also say they have no authority in the implementation of free higher education. Therefore, the students have taken it upon themselves to fight for it and are “more than willing to do it.”