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19/12/2016

“There is power in unity. Indeed, together we can do anything to tackle challenges presented to us and take South Africa forward.”

Feet4Fees team leader Reuben Oosthysen (standing, far right) with the rest of the 15-member team who walked more than 1000km, over 19 days, from Wits University to NMMU in a bid to raise bursary funds for poor students.

This was the general sentiment of the 15 students from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) who walked from the Wits campus to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in an awe-inspiring bid to raise bursary funds for struggling students.

Walking into NMMU’s North Campus on Monday afternoon, where they were given a hearty welcome by a group of University staff and students, the Feet4Fees team shared their excitement and pride at having been part of such a great initiative.

NMMU Trust chief executive Dr Denver Webb officially welcomed the team on behalf of Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr Sibongile Muthwa at a ceremony at the North Campus Conference Centre.

“I think what you’ve done is absolutely amazing. What you’re doing is what has become increasingly popular – ordinary people doing something to help address the funding crisis,” he said.

“We’re starting to see student agency, where students who may not be in need of funds are doing something to help those who are. It is encouraging to see this in a bid to take the country forward. It bodes well to see your generation grappling with these challenges and working on solutions to deal with them.”

The initiative – which is for students, by students – aimed to also raise awareness about the country’s higher education funding crisis and the plight of poor students.

Means to address the funding crisis – exacerbated by a significant increase in the number of students entering the system amid declining government grants – have been in the pipeline for years, but the urgency to deal with it was thrust to the fore more recently by the national Fees Must Fall movement.

Taking to the podium at the welcoming ceremony, Feet4Fees team leader Reuben Oosthysen, 22, thanked his team and all those who had made donations towards the initiative for believing in and supporting his vision.

“I would like to [also] give a personal thanks to God for 20 days of safekeeping and [for] just being able to get this idea so much bigger than we ever thought it could be,” he said.

“Not only did we finish, but I think it is important to realise that we succeeded. Our goals were explicitly to raise funds and create awareness. So here we are standing at R7-million raised, which is absolutely amazing.

“I think we have done an amazing thing for the country and discourse and dialogue in the future. I think nobody will be able to look at students and think in the same way again.

“That said, our success has only just begun. [Next year] is another year and there will still be potential students who do not get an opportunity to study. So I hope Feet4Fees becomes a household name and that every year the whole country is reflecting and thinking about how we are going to respond to the Feet4Fees statement on education this year.”

The Feet4Fees initiative is being implemented in conjunction with bursary organisation StudyTrust, which will administer the R7-million raised to beneficiaries who meet the qualifying criteria.

Wits economic sciences student Fungile Msibi, 22, who is a StudyTrust beneficiary, said she decided to be part of the 1000km walk as she identified with the plight of financially needy, but academically deserving students.

“Being on this walk for me has been an eye opener of how necessary it is to have funding for education,” she said.

“It made me realise that despite not being able to afford university fees, my dreams are invalid. So I’d like to thank Reuben [Oosthysen], and [StudyTrust national director] Dr Murray [Hofmeyr] for carrying me throughout school.

“When we took the first step, we knew, even though we complained about sore ankles, that this was for the greater good. Some of us have siblings back at home who are still in school and aspiring to be something and, because of organisations like StudyTrust that help realise potential, they can also see that their dreams are valid no matter where they come from.”

Dr Murray Hofmeyr said: “This year alone, we have spent R500 000 in financial aid to NMMU students, funding 21 students.”

Efforts to raise funds for struggling students have taken numerous forms, with NMMU also doing its bit to assist struggling students and widen access to higher education.

Earlier this year, NMMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz led a team of donors on the 43km Incha Trail up Peru’s Machu Picchu as part of the #Trailblazing initiative, raising more than R2-million for struggling students.

Last year, he climbed Japan’s Mount Fuji and raised more than R1-million for needy students.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@nmmu.ac.za