When I first started working at the Advancement Office of a Johannesburg university, the possibility of the meaning of “advancement" excited me. The process of moving forward in a determined way sets the cadence of university life, as it breeds new ideas and nurtures talent.
The hope of young South Africans who come through the university gates and eventually graduate with a key to open new doors of opportunity is tangible and electrifying.
And it's an experience that was lost to me.
As a first-generation professional (the first in my immediate family to go into white-collar work), there was no money for me to take up the course that I'd been accepted for at university. Nothing was spoken about or discussed – after I got my matric, I knew I simply needed to start working.
I'd heard about bursaries but neither of my parents had finished matric and there was no one to guide me through the process of enquiry or application. If my boss's husband (in my first job as a journalist at age 17) hadn't told me about correspondence study, it might have taken me a long time to figure out what to do in terms of study.
Due to my turbulent home environment, I'd grown up to be a fear-filled, self-doubting adult.
Although the missed opportunity to get a full-time tertiary education still makes me sad, part of me also knows that I probably wouldn't have made it all the way through to the end given my lack of support structures.
Doing the work that I do now – enabling incredible young people to go the distance and run the race that I never could – feels like poetic justice. Every time that I see one of the bursary students or student interns whom I've worked with excel, it makes me feel like a proud big sister. These individuals hold a special place in my heart.
Behind the media curtain of #FeesMustFall, on the backstage of campuses around the country, are young people who just want to make something good of their lives. At the root of anger is fear, the fear of coming all that way, fighting through daunting personal challenges, only to have the possibility of crossing the threshold into new opportunity fall through your hands because of a lack of funding, is almost too much to bear.
The announcement of fee-free education provides a huge relief – but the battle is not over. The gaps in funding mean the danger of potentially running out of food due to the limits of food allowances. How do you go to class, stomach empty, mind trying to feed your dreams while your spirit feels crushed?
These are not students who are “too proud to ask for help". These are students who just want to be like everyone else – to have a normal day-to-day experience of where you eat, of going to class, of studying hard, of building relationships with your peers and of doing it all again the next day. Once that momentum is broken, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on track, let alone keep up with the pack.
University spaces are nurturing grounds for the future workforce and their experience while studying unconsciously spaces their perception of the world. If the inner belief that “I am all alone, no one cares enough to help me" is seeded while in survival mode when studying, they will unconsciously carry that mindset into the workplace, hampering their transition into their professional lives.
So how do we create a new future?
The tomorrow that we are waiting for is not in some nebulous reality – it's within us to shape. The stature and academic rigour of Stellenbosch University (SU) draw some of the brightest young minds in the country, eager to develop their potential and be released to transform our world.
As we contemplate the Nelson Mandela Centennial celebrations and those of SU's own, we have a moral imperative to harness the spirit of youth, not hamper it. Why should students be ashamed of their hunger when they encounter a caring university that wants to provide a real solution to the problems that they're facing?
I've never gone hungry in my life – but I don't need that to be part of my story to get alongside someone who is. I know what isolation and shame feel like and that's enough for me.
What is going to move you to help us #Move4Food?
Manager: Donor Relations