The kindness of strangers

Students queue for registration at a tertiary institution. Sadly, there are some students who cannot even afford a bus ticket to get to university, says Malaika wa Azania
Students queue for registration at a tertiary institution. Sadly, there are some students who cannot even afford a bus ticket to get to university, says Malaika wa Azania
Image: Supplied

Herald Editor and all great South Africans, ndiyabulela!

On Friday evening I received a message from a desperate student who needed money for bus fare to get to Rhodes University in Makhanda.

Here was a student who had worked hard in high school and obtained distinctions that enabled her to get into one of the most prestigious universities in the country, on the verge of giving up on her dreams of being an accountant because she did not have bus fare to travel from Limpopo to the Eastern Cape.

The situation upset me and I immediately bought her a bus ticket.

But I found myself wondering how many other students from poor working-class families are in the same situation – having secured places in universities but unable to get there.

And so I decided that I would take half my salary to buy bus tickets for these students.

I posted on Facebook that students needing bus fare to Rhodes University, my alma mater, and other institutions should contact me. And they did – hundreds of them.

Before I could process how I would respond to these students with the little resources I had, I received a message from the editor of this newspaper, Nwabisa Makunga.

It was only one line: “Malaika count me in on the bus tickets. Where do I assist?”

With that question, she sparked a movement that would change the lives of hundreds of students in our country.

Within 24 hours, hundreds of individuals had pledged bus tickets and taxi fare for students.

I received thousands of rands in donations from kind strangers who wanted to help students get to school.

When we had helped all the students who needed bus fare and still had some extra resources, we opened the campaign to students who needed groceries while awaiting funds from NSFAS.

We gave them food vouchers to buy food and toiletries.

The tragedy of inequality is that while in our country there are so many students who can barely make ends meet, and students who are on the verge of giving up on their education because they cannot afford a measly R350 bus ticket to get to university, there are people who are spending that kind of money on a single meal. And who do so weekly.

It must concern us deeply as a people that we live alongside such painful inequalities.

It cannot be normal or something we accept as a fact of life that the future of this country is unable to get to school because of bus fare and that students need to be thrust in such a zone of desperation before we can understand just how urgent it is for the government, private sector, and civil society to come up with a permanent solution to resolving the generational and structural poverty that our people are enduring.

It is a devastating reality to which no one should be condemned.

Many of these students wrote messages of appreciation to me, but it was not my efforts alone that counted.

It was people like Nwabisa who made the campaign a success and to them, I say thank you. May the sun continue to shine on your backyards!

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