South Africa's higher education: For richer or poorer?


How hard can it be to pay for an education? You have a single mother, who works as a domestic worker, supporting you and two other children. She earns $218 or just over R3 000 a month.

For 20-year-old University of Johannesburg (UJ) student, Christopher Tsolo, this is a reality. The second year BA Psychology student from Vereeniging, in Gauteng, works part time at the university’s Centre for Psychology, earning $87 a month, to make ends meet. Outside school, Tsolo seeks whatever work he can. His school fees are $2120.74 this year and accommodation is $192.66 per month.

Like many South African students, Tsolo has a loan from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which he’ll have to pay off once he starts working. The loan only covers tuition and student accommodation. He survives off $50 for groceries every month, which he gets from his mother.


“My course is a five year course and NSFAS only pays for only five years. If I were to fail one semester, NSFAS wouldn’t be able to pay for that semester. That means I would have studied for nothing, seeing as I wouldn’t afford the fees. That makes me work even harder,” says Tsolo.

Tsolo is one of the students who were active in the #FeesMustFall protests and he sees lots of value in them. Although he wants free education, Tsolo accepts that it’s not going to happen overnight.

In his family, Tsolo is the only person who has gone to university.

“When I start working, not only will I have to take care of my mother and siblings, I will be responsible for my extended family as a whole. On top of that, I still have to pay back my own NSFAS loan. Education is key and something has to be done for easier access to it for the poor,” says Tsolo.