University fee increase will strengthen cycle of poverty
Jason Olivier is the son of a farm worker who managed to make it to university by the skin of his teeth. In this piece, he outlines his battle to get an education and says that a fee increase could shatter the dreams of a good education for many young people.
Growing up in the rural Eastern Cape on a farm near Bedford, about an hour outside Grahamstown, I experienced poverty. I still continue to do so even though I occupy a space like the University Currently Known As Rhodes (UCKAR) – a university that is associated with the elite. My history is a part of me that I cannot seem to shake off.
My father, a farm worker, who was unable to finish his schooling, is the sole breadwinner of my family. To this day, he still earns only R2 000 per month. His salary feeds and clothes a household of seven people. Basic needs are compromised – I sometimes had to go weeks without something as simple as a bar of soap. Because poverty already makes you feel ashamed and less worthy, you can’t let go of your last bit of dignity by asking for help from others. So you push through. Hoping for the best.
In the rural Eastern Cape I witness people’s attempts to try and escape a life of poverty. Some of my friends and cousins dropped out of school early to become the next generation of poorly-paid farm workers. I told myself that I could not let this oppressive cycle continue into the next generation of my family and so I decided to apply for university. I am one of the lucky ones.
I was accepted to UCKAR in 2014, and was given funding by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The bureaucratic structures that have very often not delivered in the past and even 22 years into our democracy, they are able to control who is able to receive an education and who not. I sent in my father’s salary slip and received funding to cover my tuition and residence.
Some days like these I still think back to when I worked as a gardener at a local game reserve for about six months. My sister worked there as a char and cook, and I got the position through her. That’s when I decided to pursue my education – in the hopes that one day, just one day, maybe I will be rid of the stranglehold of poverty and make a difference in the lives of my family and the rest of my community through preaching the importance of education.
Had I decided to stay at the game reserve as a worker, my life could have been very different.
But in a world where so much energy and time is spent on the ugliness of poverty, one has to try and seek out to find the little bit of beauty and hope it has to offer- it really makes carrying the load a little bit easier. One also has to remember that what we may not have in terms of money or power, we have in spirit, determination and fight.
Poverty is so deeply entrenched in our history. A lot has been said about it, and very little done about it. Students who come from homes like mine know the tales all too well and are ready to once again take to the streets and make sure that we can break the stranglehold of poverty in our homes.
Education is one of the strongest ways in which one can fight poverty. This is the same education that we as students fought for during #FeesMustFall last year. We risked our education, and we are willing to risk it again.
As someone who relies on government support for my education – it is infuriating to know that I could lose my chance at a degree if the fees increase next year. It is also very scary knowing that the one thing that can help to break the cycle of poverty can be taken away in a flash. Protesting is emotionally and physically draining but we cannot give up on fighting for free education and dismantling the bureaucratic and exclusionary education system we currently have.
I am worried about the future of people who are just like me – who want to escape their poverty though education- will they be able to do so? The system is exclusionary and the chances of getting the funds together to pay university fees, diminishes every single year. The cycle of poverty therefore continues; so far, I am just one of the lucky ones who may have a chance of escaping its grip.