Free education is a long-term plan to reduce social grants for pensioners, and to also ensure that we have a generation of young people that is educated, says the writer. Picture: Nkululeko Nene/African News Agency/(ANA)
On November 15 I wrote a column headlined “A call for free education, an uneducated move
”. But this weekend while I was at home, dealing with various community issues, I had to cross-examine my previous stances on free education.

I sat down with a very bright young man from Mmametlhake, who has applied at the university of the Witwatersrand to study towards a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree this academic year.

Fortunately, he managed to register, after his family sacrificed every cent they had to ensure that he takes that 214km return trip that costs over R220.

As we sat outside his humble home, the young man started telling me all about his dream to make a better life for his parents and little brother. He strongly believes that obtaining his degree is going to be a critical tool to ensuring that he takes his family out of the abject poverty that looks them in the eyes every single day.

He refuses to allow poverty to determine his self-worth.

This got me thinking about my earlier assertions on free education. Indeed, educating the black child has a direct impact on our social-economic status as a country. According to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate among graduates is 7.3%. This shows that graduates make up the least of the people who constitute the 27.7% unemployed in our country.

If free education grants were granted, this young man’s academic year would commence as soon as possible, without him worrying about a dime.

But sadly, like many other matriculants who have done well, the lack of money is the only thing that stands before them and a university qualification.

I think if we could use taxpayer’s money for the education of our young people, we won’t have to talk about grants for the unemployed youth.

Free education is a long-term plan to reduce social grants for pensioners, and to also ensure that we have a generation of young people that is educated.

Orientation week starts next week Monday. NSFAS ( National Student Financial Aid Scheme) normally releases funds mid-February if not later.

Until then, people like this young man have no place to live, no food and nobody with a huge bag of money to aid them.

I know a lot of people who had previously applied, got accepted and couldn’t register because they didn’t have the funds.

As a mentor to this lad, I did not expect anything less than what he produced at school. I always knew that he was going to pass well.

So, when I saw his marks, Setswana (home language) and Life Orientation on level 7, English (which is an additional language), Accounting and Business Studies on level 6, and both Maths and Economics on level 5, I was not surprised at all.

To paraphrase Josh Shipp, every child is one caring person away from being a success story, and one bad decision away from being a statistic.

All this boy needs is a breakthrough. All he needs is to have a roof over his head in the heart of Joburg to ensure that he attends his orientation week and first classes of his academic year.

If I had disposable money, I would have paid for accommodation for him. I believe that there is someone out there who isn’t just caring, but who has the means to ensure that such a life is saved from being a statistic.

Again, to correct myself, the call for free education is very much an educated call.

An educated youth is far much better than a youth that only has a Grade 12 certificate as their highest qualification. Indeed, “Free higher education minimises a significant part of our population from depending on social grants because those people will be economically active citizens once they are employed.”

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement (YMM). E-mail, [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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