Echo #FeesMustFall movement, fight for affordable education

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Throughout the past two weeks, thousands of students in South Africa have marched day and night through townships and capitol buildings  for the sake of equal opportunities for everyone. The students, united in frustration, protested a proposed 10-12 percent tuition increase that was to be passed across all public South African universities on the orders of President Jacob Zuma.

Similar to protests in America during the height of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the #FeesMustFall movement has been confronted with dangerous police encounters. Students have been tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets and brutally arrested, consequently destroying their faith in the authorities who are meant to protect them. This is all because students want a fair shot at earning their education.

Many students in the United States are also challenged with the task of affording college because the FAFSA counts a house as income as if the home could easily be converted into cash to pay for your education. Many of us fall into an awkward gap where we do not have the resources to pay off college tuition but are also not considered needy enough for significant financial aid, so we must resort to loans. The difference between us and the students in South Africa is that we are told getting our degree is a must, even if it means being in debt for the rest of our lives.

Instead of fighting to make education more affordable, we have accepted that we have to make incredible sacrifices to obtain our diploma. While we have accepted this reality, South African students are fighting tooth and nail against it. We have a lot to learn from them.

South Africans have the same financial options as us, but even with loans, tuition is already too high for many to afford. A tuition increase would force other students, possibly straight-A students, to drop out.

Based on social media reports of the movement, students have been told by opponents to start their own businesses to supplement an income in order to afford college.

How do you run a stable business without a good background in finance, management and even communication? You don’t.

Without a college education, South African students will face a steep uphill battle to climb out of the poverty cycle. Over half of the country lives below the poverty line, according to a 2015 report by Statistics South Africa.

Luckily for us, the poverty rate in the U.S. isn’t as high, but we could soon be in the same situation if we don’t speak up. The University of California system recently approved a tuition increase of up to eight percent every year for the next five years. Over the past three decades, tuition across the U.S. has doubled even after accounting for inflation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Although the #FeesMustFall battle was temporarily won when President Zuma promised a zero percent tuition hike for the 2016 school year, the movement is still going strong to address the larger issue of accessible education not being a priority. It seems governments around the world are spending money on everything but advancing the country through proper education.

The South African students did not use their busy schedules or workloads as excuses not to participate in a call for change. If they had, the movement would not have existed at all. Everything these students have ever fought against – corrupt governments, racial injustices and unfair education systems – closely resembles problems that students in the U.S. must stand up against.

Our quiet utters of unfairness will never amount to anything if we don’t follow the lead of our South African peers and fight and protest alongside them. Opponents will tell us that protesting will lead nowhere, but South African students have already won a battle by taking a stand. If we don’t continue the momentum, an issue that seemingly has no effect on us will slowly creep into our lives and we’ll find ourselves wishing we hadn’t been so complacent. Congratulations to #FeesMustFall protesters for their step in the right direction toward fair access to education for all.

Nadijah Campbell is a junior majoring in journalism and public relations.

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user Wounds_and_Cracks

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