Members of the Fees Must Fall movement are familiar with the dejection and ire that South African students experience at tertiary institutions that fail them. Sboh Thusi is no exception.
Hailing from a disadvantaged background, Thusi studied office management and technology at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Like many, Thusi struggled to pay his fees and relied on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to do so.
After a some glitches in the application process, NSFAS only paid his fees for 2015 and not the previous two years. On the day of his graduation, Thusi received a statement of debt for about R65 000 instead of a qualification.
“When I realised that even though I was allowed to attend the graduation ceremony, I wasn’t going to get a certificate as proof that I’m a graduate like anyone else; that really killed me. I felt like the three years was a waste of time,” Thusi says. His parents could not afford to settle his debt, he couldn’t borrow the money and without a qualification his chances of finding work were slim.
Thusi realised being angry at the system was not going to help him move forward. “Sitting at home was not going to bring [about] any change. Taking a stand and showing the university management and NSFAS that they failed us was the only option to get our fees paid,” he says.
In 2016 Thusi rallied other students whose fees were unpaid and started a petition to force NSFAS and DUT to settle their fees and release their qualifications. The online petition, called Hand Over Our Certificates DUT was ultimately a success, and NSFAS paid the outstanding bursary money to DUT. Thusi was able to complete an internship with the KwaZulu-Natal department of transport, and other students have been able to apply for and obtain jobs.
Thusi says institutions should always be held accountable if they don’t fulfil their promises, because people depend on these promises.
Thusi describes himself as “a simple guy who loves people a lot”. He believes everyone should be treated fairly regardless of who they are and where they come from. Now that he has overcome the student debt hurdle, Thusi wants to secure a job for himself. Next, he wants to solve youth unemployment, and his dream is to own a business to create job opportunities for graduates and other South Africans.
“I desperately want to be at the forefront of creating jobs for the youth, as we all know that youth is the future of this beautiful nation of ours.” — Shaazia Ebrahim