By Sibusiso Dlamini | 2020-11-22
To be frank, I had made up my mind on missing penning today’s column for a number of reasons, with the main one being the fact that so many things happened this past week which challenged me emotionally, and usually when I’m not in the right frame of mind, my objectivity is blurred.
Those closest to me know that I take the privilege of being able to pen and voice my opinions on this space very seriously, and because of my perfectionist personality, the standard I set for myself is very high, which is why I spend hours of my Friday nights not only glued to my keyboard and PC, but debating whether the piece is good enough to give to the readers come Sunday morning. Therefore on any normal day, after careful consideration, I would have given this week a miss.
But perhaps against my better judgement, today’s column was conceived inside a recording studio.
Instead of being at the Eswatini Observer offices where I usually spend my Friday nights, I am at the ‘808 Cave’ at 1:13am and I’m watching songstress Adrienne Foo, former Swazi Jive President LO, rappers Amarii cooking up a record. On my left, photographer and Disk Jockey Shaun De Souza is glued to a laptop working on Lance’s artwork and on my far right, rapper ESCO is glued to his phone writing lyrics.
It was at this very moment that I realised that missing this week would be tantamount to forgetting if not ignoring my responsibility as a young journalist. It is my responsibility to be a watchdog and ensure that young people have a voice in a culture and country where young people’s opinions and ideas are either ignored or exploited.
It was at that very moment where I realised it would be irresponsible of me not to say a word about the current stalemate between government and tertiary students in the country.
It is clear to all and sundry that there is something really wrong with government’s attitude and actions pertaining the issue of scholarships for tertiary education.
This is one thorny issue which has always been a scandal waiting to explode right in front of our very eyes, and this is mainly because government has made access to tertiary education the exclusive of only a few priviledged young people.
Funny enough, with less than a year to attain His Majesty’s vision of Eswatini attaining first world status by 2022, one would expect that education or rather the improvement of the quality of education would be a priority to government, but guess what, government seems unconcerned if not out of depth as to finding a viable solution.
How then do you justify the commitment to free primary education if we will make it difficult for all those students to get into tertiary education?
What government has to first understand is that the centre of this vision is not the private sector (sighs), rather it is the youth.
Young people are the future of this country, and therefore must access quality education to enable them to come up with innovative ideas that would cause a paradigm shift to our entire thinking and problem solving as a Nation. This can only be achieved through quality tertiary education.
The number of students enrolling at UNESWA has been enrolling each year has been dropping - significantly over the years and so are the numbers of those who are awarded scholarships, which leads not only to a broke university, but one with a questionable academic stature – a university that is a shadow of its former years.
With all due respect to the current academic staff, it is no secret that with this down-spiral, the university has failed to attract the brightest minds for its academic staff, and this is not entirely because the university lacks the budget for the befitting packages.
Gone are the good days where UNESWA was an institution were we proud of, a university respected throughout the continent? This is the very university that students would dream to be a part of everyday of their high school life. These days, young people choose UNESWA because their parents can’t afford a university outside the country, or would even prefer to take a gap year and consider other alternatives. Things have not been rosy at UNESWA for some time now, but this year takes the crown, and government is only adding salt to the wound.
Earlier this year, government through the ministry of labour and social security announced that the awarding of scholarships for students outside the country was no-more. Worth noting is that universities outside the country have become the preferred destination for both students and parents. What? Why? How? And who was consulted before such a decision was taken? were the taxpayers consulted?
Anyway, whatever the financial mess we might be faced with as a country, to me, such a decision is wrong, and works against our supposed objectives as a Nation.
What about the thousands of matric candidates and those Emaswati students who study the Independent Examination Board (IEB) syllabi? It is now impossible for them to study in South African universities, why? Is it because their parents’ pockets are supposed to be deep enough to ensure that their children achieve their academic dreams or is it because government really doesn’t care?
Soon after that announcement, UNESWA re-opened its window period for applications, and guess what, the number of applications probably doubled of course, as logic would dictate, but instead of doing something logical as well by awarding more local scholarships, government decides to play a magician and keeps students guessing through releasing lists with such suspense you would swear it was Jose Mourinho announcing the starting line-up of a derby match against Arsenal. Why would you ever take out different lists? Why? Not when there’s always been talk of the selection process actually depriving deserving students the chance to improve themselves because of corruption.
What could now convince me otherwise if I were to imagine that some students made it to the second list not because they deserve it, but because their parents are priviledged enough to to talk to certain people and probably send brown envelopes?
I mean, come-on, let ‘s keep it a bean - it’s an open secret that there is widespread corruption in the allocation of scholarship programmes and sponsorships, we have all heard the cringing stories that have been told about how the scholarship board plays god with people’s futures’ by being selective in its awarding.
The least said about the fraud that UNESWA is doing in terms of taking deposits from students that later find out that they have been awarded scholarships, the better.
Is it even humane to allow a student to get into class, and then telling them when they’ve started taking lessons that they aren’t awarded a scholarship? Where do you expect the parents to come up with the money for tuition when they have already spent a fortune on clothes, transport, a laptop and food?
No, akuhambi kahle bekunene, because if we want to have a vibrant economy, we need to think long and hard about developing a scholarship programme that ensures that everyone who has an opportunity to access higher education is funded. I know some will be quick to point out that this is a dream that’s unattainable since government is struggling to even pay for free primary education, but again, I say, it’s time to think outside the box, because that ‘we don’t have money’ excuse does not justify privileging education to me. Don’t even try me. Not when we just raised salaries for emabandla. I’m sure Minister Neal can play magician once again, and tweak the budget again – especially because this time, we have our future citizens’ well-being at stake! Unless of course you mean to tell me that government considers the well-being of emabandla much more important than the well-being of the young people of this country?
Speaking of thinking outside the box, this is when government needs to engage the private sector and institutions such as the Eswatini National Provident Fund (ENPF), and the Public Service Pensions Fund (PSPF). If they can afford building hotels as investments, it really shouldn’t be a problem or half as costly to offer student loans to Emaswati.
This also applies to many other companies, what are they doing for Emaswati? Well, besides the window-dressing corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects aimed at gaining media attention, how are they actually bettering our society?
It is high time that the corporate sector starts investing in the people of Eswatini, and by investing, I don’t mean those good-for-nothing hand-outs meant for media coverage and social media advertisements, I mean investments that will actually make an impact to people’s lives because at the end of the day, the poorer the populace gets, the less bulgy their purses will be.
The onus of today’s piece is that many parents are struggling to make ends meet, and students who are the future of this Nation are frustrated and feel betrayed.
This will unfortunately lead them straight to the hands of blood thirsty vitriolic critics of the system who will not only use their anger and hunger to brainwash them, but to pit them against the authorities for their own selfish reasons.
But then again, what do I know? I’m just a newspaper boy who likes complaining.
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