07 May, 2008

Financial Exclusions in a Failing Economy

Nqobile Buthelezi (UKZN)

We live in tried times in South Africa. With the rising fuel prices, everything else has gone up. Relative prices for food, transport and oil have hit and cracked the price ceiling. Goodness, even "some pumps can't handle it"- eTV said last night! Yet consumers haven't seen the end of this outrageous phenomenon as they are already experiencing a rise in rates costs and electricity bills as well, with every resident and company caught in this spiral web of an inflatory environment. As if the problems aren't enough, it should be expected that unions will demand an increase in wages to compensate for the erosion of pay by inflation. Thus, inevitably, educators like other workers and their education institutions will demand more pay in school fees from students. Bad as it sounds, nothing can be done. Our economy truly is detoriorating and one can only wonder how the devastating blow will be like in the much awaited 2010! Now let me hold that 2010 thought before it gets too depressing to the soccer lovers!

Basically, it feels like all odds are conspiring against South Africa's much dreamed of economic success. It is a sad fact and a burden to know our economic reality and to think that students will also bear this load. Some of them were struggling with their tuition fees even before this downhill trend began. This makes me think three weeks back when approximately five hundrend students from the University of KwaZulu Natal faced financial exclusions. This resulted from these students registration appeals deemed 'pending' based on their inability to pay tuition fees. The students were thus put on a sort of probationary phase until such outstanding fees were settled, however, still allowed to attend classes. "Those weeks were truly a confusing time as we did not know whether we are real students and it became a hustle to submitt our assignments as we would not reflect in the sytem anyway," says Xola, a third year media student who at the time sat outside the appeals office with a dozen other fellow students, "feeling as if the college was out to get [them]".

Talking to Dean of Students, Dr Ngcobo who assisted students on the issue from the beginning of the semester, I was better enlightened on what this Appeals process is. As chairperson of the Appeals Committee, Ngcobo and collegues "look at the student's needs versus those of the university" he explained. It does make sense that such institutions of higher learning should be paid for the world class services they offer students. "However, the truth is that South Africa has not reached the standard of economic freedom where R18 000 comes easy to ones pocket" I said, obviously in sympanty with the wailing students in the foyer. Dr. Ngcobo emphasised that "they are very progressive in terms of understanding students needs and deal with each case thoroughly". "We go through files and agree where we need to find out more information" Ngcobo laid down the procedure as he said he understood very well where the panic and confusion set in. The problem was apparently with the use of the word 'pending'.

"Pending does not mean that the student is now banned from entering the premises or attending lectures. It simply means there is some information still missing from the student's file, like how they are going to finance their debt, over how long a period and who will be responsible" said Ngcobo . "The university wants to know, with the money you owe, how and when are you going to pay it and also requires evidence. If you say two years, the answer is obviously no, because now you'll be setting a trend for a two year payment plan" Ngcobo said, making me understand the university''s protocol.

So, I got the sense that students basically misinterpreted the 'pending' for a dismissal of their plea, or a shatter to their education dream, when in actual fact it was there to assist them. At the end of it all, I also learnt that students were given ample time to sort out their documents, but being a student myself, I often have fallen victim to the procastination syndrome very well. Infact, the Appeals Committee was linient enough to grant the students extra time as the decision process was prolonged yet two weeks after the initial closing date. How kind can 0ne get. At the end of it all, it goes to show how youngsters generally do not take the initiative to ask what is going on with matters partaining their own future. This entails finding out information in time in order to promptly gather the required data and documents so that a timely processing of whatever the situation can be done.

As Dean of Students, Dr Ngcobo also alerted me of his concern towards student political parties who use such situations as a tool for their mass mobilization just prior the elections. That explains a lot why in the Shepston foyer was a display of one such party whose main agenda was coincidently the abolishment of financial exclusions.
True, we live in an opportunistic world! Get them when they're down and under and you'll be sure to get that vote. Hey, George W. Bush used the same tactic. When the Americans were vulnerable and shocked from the apparent terrorists attack, he mobilised them for a war- it is a tried and tested method! My worry though is that no matter how deeply capitalist minded we are, we have no control of the outcome of any situation. If your currency is strong in the morning, chances are that by sunset you'll sleep a very poor man.We live in a confusing world and time. I can only wonder if by nightfall the fuel price will be stable. We can only wait and prepare to hit rock bottom.

No comments: