Children from Soweto stand at the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. Photo credit/

The South African government is considering establishing free higher education to ease the educational burden on children from poor families.

“We know that many more students are still struggling to afford tertiary education because they come from poor families. We appointed a judicial commission to look into the feasibility of free higher education for the country. I look forward to receiving the commission’s report and recommendations,” South African President Jacob Zuma said during the 40th commemoration of Youth Day Remembrance.

Zuma also urged the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) beneficiaries to pay back monies owed to the scheme, to enable those who need funding to study.

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Meanwhile, President Zuma has urged students to desist from destroying education infrastructure during protests.

Students who participated in the 1976 protests in Soweto.
Students who participated in the 1976 protests in Soweto.

“Not a single school was burnt during 1976. The conduct we see today is unacceptable. Why destroy schools? Where are children supposed to go after that? There is something wrong with us. We cannot say there’s something sober about such actions,” said Zuma.

He said destroying clinics, trains and factories during protests for service delivery was not helpful.

“We need to discuss this as a country, sit down, talk about this and discourage it. Resources that are meant to bring development are diverted to rebuild all that has been destroyed. These acts indicate that we are going astray,” he said.

He said, however, that the struggle for opportunities and better lives for all continued, and that the sacrifices of the class of 1976 were not in vain because the apartheid regime was defeated.

“Race no longer determines where one lives or where one goes to school or church, or what work one can do. Black people no longer have to carry passes or seek permits to live and work in urban areas.”

Yesterday marked 40 years after the June 16 uprising by students against Afrikaans as a medium of instructions at black schools.

The uprising began in Soweto and then spread countrywide in 1976. Students in Soweto had planned to meet at Orlando Stadium on the day and embark on a peaceful march to education authorities, when they were confronted by police who ordered them to disperse.

They refused to disperse and threw stones at the police who then opened fire, killing and injuring some of the youngsters.

Many young activists were forced into exile to escape the wrath of the then apartheid government. Pieterson, after whom the Soweto memorial was named, was the youngest victim killed during the uprising. The iconic photograph of the 12-year-old Pieterson, carried by Makhubo with Pieterson’s sister running alongside him, became a worldwide symbol of the students uprising and their struggle against the apartheid regime and education system.


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