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Despite the transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. Its extremes of wealth and poverty undermine intensifying struggles for a better life for all. The wide-ranging essays in this sixth volume of the New South African Review demonstrate how the consequences of inequality extend throughout society and the political economy, crippling the quest for social justice, polarising the politics, skewing economic outcomes and bringing devastating environmental consequences in their wake. Contributors survey the extent and consequences of inequality across fields as diverse as education, disability, agrarian reform, nuclear geography and small towns, and tackle some of the most difficult social, political and economic issues. How has the quest for greater equality affected progressive political discourse? How has inequality reproduced itself, despite best intentions in social policy, to the detriment of the poor and the historically disadvantaged? How have shifts in mining and the financialisation of the economy reshaped the contours of inequality? How does inequality reach into the daily social life of South Africans, and shape the way in which they interact? How does the extent and shape of inequality in South Africa compare with that of other major countries of the global South which themselves are notorious for their extremes of wealth and poverty? South African extremes of inequality reflect increasing inequality globally, and The Crisis of Inequality will speak to all those – general readers, policy makers, researchers and students – who are demanding a more equal world.
Enver Motala, researcher at the Nelson Mandela Institute for Rural Education and Development at the University of Fort Hare, Alice,
Salim Vally, associate professor in Education at the University of Johannesburg and director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation.,
Rasigan Maharajh, professor extraordinary at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology at Stellenbosch University, and chief director of the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria.
The state of tumult in our universities continued at the end of 2016, despite the announcement by the minister of higher education that the 8 per cent increase in fees demanded by universities would be subsidised by the state. The amendments to the national budget at the end of October did not deal with the fundamental challenges, but referred only to the implications for funding of the no-fee increase and the additional funding allocated to augment the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to provide for the ‘missing middle’ (RSA 2016). The national budget did not address the key demand for publicly funded education for all – not even fee-free education for the poor. A significant amount of the increase will be provided to the NSFAS. Hart (2016: 1) – distinguished professor at Wits University – reminds us that:
The failure of state funding to keep pace with growing student numbers has generated the cruel arithmetic of steadily increasing fees. Far from providing a solution, NSFAS is a part of a vicious circle through which inadequate government funding drives up fees, necessitating more support for low-income students. Furthermore, this support is by definition inadequate to the extent that increasing the NSFAS comes at the expense of direct funding to universities, and thus pushes up fees even further. It is little wonder, then, that many black university students feel as though they have been handed a poisoned chalice.
For the year 2015–2016, South Africa's state budget for universities, including funding for NSFAS, continued its decline to 0.72 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) (RSA 2016: 7), considerably below the international average and even less than the continental average despite the growth of student numbers.1 This chronic underfunding of tertiary education and the ongoing protests and police/private security reaction raised the ire of hundreds of academics who staged a national day of action on 7 October 2016. They demanded an increase of at least 1.5 per cent of the GDP towards directly funding tertiary education, pointing out that the government has created a funding crisis at universities. Underfunding, they argued, has also led to a reduction in student and academic support programmes, high lecturer-student ratios and large class sizes – and has negatively affected the quality of education.