By Paul Mabote

Imagine getting the announcement that your local supermarket will now provide free groceries every day. FREE!! That would be heaven, wouldn’t it? But how would it work? Would it be realistic? How would it be implemented to the effect that everyone is happy? One thing for sure: scores of people would flock into the supermarket and there would be absolute chaos. It has been a similar situation in our country ever since President Jacob Zuma made the announcement that there would be fee-free education in South Africa, as of the beginning of 2018.

Pie in the sky?

The announcement by the president, although it was something to write home about, left a lot to be explained. A cloud of confusion and speculation has been hovering over the country as to the feasibility of fee-free higher education, given, among other things, our financial standing as a country.

Enter the A! Network

Activate ZA, boasting a strong network of over 2500 young people, grabbed the bull by the horns. On Thursday 18 January 2018, Activate ZA facilitated a Twitter Chat where they hosted Deputy Minister for Higher Education, Buti Manamela. The social media platform, under the hash tags “#HigherEducationSA” and “#AskDMManamela”, gave the ACTIVATE! Network and the general public the opportunity to ask and have their questions answered by the Deputy Minister; pertaining to the implementation of fee-free higher education.


Activator Tebogo Suping tweeted:

“I think more detail is required and more engagement on the ground.”

She was replying to the following tweet by Deputy Minister Manamela:

“All students who qualify academically and financially will be funded. There are scarce skills which we have identified which require maths and science but there is no discrimination against students in other fields.”

Activator Bongiwe Ndlovukazi shared Tebogo’s need for clarity, tweeting:

“Can we please specify the process and what is being said, so that we, the youth, can understand what it means, to avoid protests.”

Mzansi Fun Videos tweeted:

“What about those who need funding and still owe (NSFAS) but cannot pay?

To which the Deputy Minister replied:

“They should be allowed to register.”

NSFAS dropped a big bomb, tweeting:

“All students previously funded by NSFAS still have an obligation to repay their loans.”

The Deputy Minister further stated that the grant would not be exclusively for first time students, but that continuing students would also qualify to receive it.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Meanwhile, tertiary learning institution campuses across the country remain crowded with young people, queuing impatiently to register for their education. In some reported instances, the crowds grew so impatient with the registration process that they overpowered the campus security officers and pushed their way through the locked campus gates.

More Activator Views

On another platform, 2015 Activator Motlotlegi Sathekge from Pretoria shared an interesting view point:

“I think free ducation should be made applicable to pupils in Grades R – 12, with the parents taking the responsibility of investing that money that would have gone to paid education into the National Treasury System. Upon registration at tertiary institutions, education would be fee-free for those students who qualify academically and economically. If it happens that a student fails a certain number of their subjects thereafter, they would be required to pay a certain percentage of their fees for the following semester.”  

Motlotlegi thinks it is also best practise to have graduates pay graduate tax for the equal number of years they spent in University, to assist other undergraduate students. Three years if the student received funding for three years and so forth.

Budget Speech

In Minister for Finance Pravin Gordhan’s 2017/2018 budget speech, 5,5% of the total national budget was allocated to higher education and training. Does the announcement of fee-free higher education mean that the piece of the money-pie will be bigger this time around? If so, what will be sacrificed? Health? Agriculture and Rural Development? Social Protection? Or perhaps we will see drastic raises in fuel, sin, sugar or income taxes to make up for the cost?

All eyes and ears will be on the much anticipated 2018/2019 budget speech and the President’s State of The Nation Address, both of which will be delivered in February 2018.


The realisation of fee-free education will mean that more South Africans will have the opportunity to become qualified graduates. However, it does not cure the problem that we are already facing, of graduates not being able to be absorbed into the country’s work-force, due to insufficient work experience and simply limited employment opportunities.

So while the implementation of fee-free education is a step in the right direction, perhaps we ought to start thinking about what we are going to do with all the students, once they graduate. Come on South Africa, you can do it! One step at a time.

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