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How about a poor white solution for Blade?

Blade Nzimande must be one of the top advice seekers in South Africa today. As a communist, it must be very hard to convince students that higher education cannot be free, while passing the ball to universities has evidently not relieved the pressure. How the situation got to #feesmustfall, which seems to become an annual event, is a telling story in itself.


During the liberation struggle, the ANC turned each black school and university into a political battleground. “Liberation before Education” and “Pass one Pass all” were the battle cries which resulted in strikes, taking teachers hostage and burning of schools. This was legitimised by a narrative of planned inferiority of black education, in which constructive participation would have been treason to the cause.

After 1994 three systematic decisions considerably harmed the entire education system:

• It was the era of IMF and World Bank instructed “structural adjustment” which required client states to substantially decrease state expenditure. South Africa complied by, amongst others, laying off thousands of teachers, not awarding education bursaries anymore and cutting subsidies to universities.
• Colleges for education were merged with universities’ faculties of education. Highly efficient practice oriented teacher training was lost, without the expected gain in academic depth. These and other forced mergers kept the higher education sector off-balance for many years.
• An idealistically conceived, but incompetently implemented system of outcomes based education first had to fail before it was reformed out of existence.

These policies resulted in a growing shortage in teachers, expensive universities and students ill-prepared for higher education when they enter universities. Add to that reminiscence of the good old days when score with the government were settled by striking and burning and the present form of student protest is not difficult to explain.

The problem, if you are Nzimande, is that you stand at the other end of the protest now. Although he might not be inclined to take advice from the book of the Poor White problem of the twentieth century, it might not be a bad idea.

Poor Whites had a reverence for learnedness (“geleerdheid”), although learned individuals (“geleerdes”) might irritate them somewhat. Every opportunity was grabbed with both hands and the idea of vandalising the facilities for acquiring “geleerdheid” did not enter any head – it would be perverse. Conceded, that was a cultural thing, but who exactly is responsible for the present culture?

Furthermore, bursaries for studying education was easily awarded, provided that the candidate demonstrated willingness and ability. The bursary would cover a diploma at a college for education in full. With another year of study, the student could earn a degree. Some of these students became teachers for life, others would maybe just teach for the required three years. Some of these became world class scientists, academics or entrepreneurs.

The “means test” for this type of free education was that only a person with either a real desire to teach, or no other source of money, would apply for the bursary. Either way, the individual and the country won.

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