By Pinky Khoabane
Pinky Khoabane argues that those who design policies for the poor have no idea of a life of poverty and in their attempt to assist those in need, they miss the mark completely….
About a year ago I met a young woman, Thabisile Myeni, through her mother, Phumzile, a domestic worker who works in my neighbourhood.
Thabisile is a bright young teenage girl who works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I asked her mother why she wasn’t at school and she explained that she had no money to take her to university despite her excellent results.
2016 being the year when the issue of university fees for tertiary level was at an all-time high, I asked Phumzile to bring her daughter’s academic records so that we could apply to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and universities.
Hurdle No 1
Application to most tertiary institutions is done online. With the cost of data and lack of access to the internet this means many children will be left out of the first stage of a tertiary education. Many if not all will be Black.
Traversing the Internet was not easy for Thabisile who like most people who don’t have computers at their disposal let alone the data to familiarise themselves with the internet, struggle and are intimidated by the computer.
My daughter who is the same age as Thabisile and was in her first year of university, came-in to assist and Thabsile was able to register at several institutions.
There’s a an application fee required at some universities and although some may think R100 is a pittance, it does mean the difference between a meal for many families.
Hurdle no 2 – Application for financial assistance
Again we had to deal with an online application for NSFAS. The information required simply left me with a headache but Phumzile, determined to see her daughter further her education, went back and forth to collect all the information required – her children’s birth certificates, affidavits of her menial salary, proof that she lived in the mkhukhu that she lived in and so forth. You see, the life of privilege – transport, printing and scanning costs, time at police stations, etc cetera – is completely disconnected to Phumzile’s.
When all the information was gathered, it was left to Thabisile to upload the documents on NSFAS’ website. We later discovered she had not pressed the submit key and the insititution had not received her information and her application.
Luckily, NSFAS extended the deadline for application and we were able to re-apply.
Acceptance at Universities
Thabisile was accepted at all the universities she had applied which brings us to Hurdle No 3 – Registration.
NSFAS had not replied and the deadlines for registration were looming and the question was whether they would do so before the cut-off dates.
Wits University required a minimum of R9000 and University of Johannesburg R3200. She didn’t have that money. We eventually put together money for her to pay the UJ registration but we still didn’t know if she would have financial support for the rest of the year. And the dilemma was whether to register with the hope that she got the financial assistance she needed.
NSFAS eventually responded with positive news – that they would fund her tertiary education at the UJ.
And with that news, another Hurdle is on the horison
Our jubilation was short-lived as we were confronted with the reality that faces Thabisile and her family. A single mother of two, Phumzile – a domestic worker – relied on Thabisile’s income to live. Transport, food and the other basic needs now hinge on one salary. Can they actually afford to be at university. Thabisile’s transport between home and university would take-up a third of her mother’s salary.
As Phumzile wept this morning, it was almost clear that Thabisile’s poverty may hinder her educational aspirations – despite the government’s attempts for free access to those who need it.
Ultimately, those who formulate these policies have very little understanding of what it means to be poor. They formulate solutions from a point of privilege – policies which ultimately keep those trapped in poverty nowhere else but in impoverishment.