There is a picture doing the rounds on social media of a young woman holding a placard with the words: "Education is free in jail. Should I become a criminal in order to get educated?"
Since higher education minister Blade Nzimande announced that universities will decide on how much to increase tuition fees by, provided they remain within the 8% cap, teaching and learning have taken a hit.
Some universities have suspended operations as disruption to tuition continued in the past week.
Student organisations have declared war on fees for education, particularly higher education. According to some student protests leaders, what SA saw last year with the #FeesMustFall movement would be mild to what is likely to happen should their demands not be met.
Trade union federation Cosatu has also joined the battle, but has occupied the middle ground, supporting both the students and the higher education ministry.
In a joint meeting with the SA Communist Party, which Nzimande serves as general secretary, Cosatu urged students to redirect their "mobilisation" to the doors of the private sector.
So far, that mobilisation has resulted in broken windows and damage to property. The SACP’s second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, called for the private sector to play a more visible role in assisting to fund education. The party also called for an additional tax on the rich to speed up the realisation of free education.
"Big capital essentially is the prime beneficiary of public education which it is contributing less to, that is why we are calling for this progressive tax that will make sure as time goes on the state will be able to roll out complete free education for all," Mapaila said.
But last week, SA Chamber of Commerce & Industry CEO Alan Mukoki said business already paid significant amounts in taxes and contributed a skills levy to the Sector Education & Training Authorities (Setas), complaining that the latter were inefficiently run.
Earlier this year national treasury committed to provide a further R16bn to halt fee increases: R5bn covered the hike deficit (after President Jacob Zuma agreed not to increase university fees for 2016) while the remainder went towards settling outstanding student debt. Government spending on education will increase from R68.7bn to R80.5bn over the next three years.
Just under R14.3bn of what was allocated went towards the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the 2015/2016 period. This drops to R13.2bn and R13.7bn in the following two financial years.
Last month the ANC national executive committee said it would push for no fee increase for the 2017 academic year. Universities announced that for them to keep running, they would need a minimum increase of 8% (or a grant from government to the same value).
The average students pays R35,000/year for a degree. This excludes books, travel and accommodation.
Treasury says it allocated R68.7bn to post-school education and training. Of this, R24.6bn goes towards university subsidies. Overall government subsidies including national, provincial, social security funds and entities for the fiscal year amount to R407.2 bn. This is 27.8% of total expenditure for this year. Transfers and subsidies are expected to reach R468.4bn in 2018/2019, a nominal average growth rate of 7% over the 2016 medium-term expenditure framework.
About 1m students are enrolled in higher education in institutions across the country. This includes technikons and teacher training colleges.
Over the past 21 years, SA has lost more than R700bn to corruption.
Statistics show that without proper education and employment prospects, most people succumb to a life of poverty and many to a life of crime, which puts a strain on the economy. Many of these are the very same young people who cannot afford education or qualify for government funding.
It may not be enough to freeze increases, even if it is for the poor. Already many cannot afford education as it is.
Minimising government's wasteful expenditure, corruption and economic mismanagement could release money to fund free education.
Some economists, such as Azar Jammine of Econometrix, believe a viable solution can be found, provided the money is taken from other government departments. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan agreed with Jammine’s sentiments when he told guests at the Rumble in the Urban Jungle conference a few weeks ago: "We can very easily pay for some of the things we are pressed for at the moment, (like) fees for university students who come from poor backgrounds ... Just stop some of the corruption that’s going on."