They call it a “black tax.”
For black South Africans, it means that if you have a job, some of your earnings should go to your struggling family.
It’s not a government-instituted fee, but more of a deeply entrenched cultural responsibility set upon young black citizens.
This idea of paying it forward is certainly well-meaning, but it can trap young people in a discouraging cycle of poverty. Many are happy to support their families but often have to set aside their personal ambitions to do so.
Black students in South Africa see one opportunity to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty: education.
So when universities announced that tuition fees would continue to rise … this happened.
This is a protest outside the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, locally referred to as “Wits.”
Things turned violent, and after the alleged harassment of university staff members, the police were deployed to the scene, where they used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades against the protesters.
Cars were flipped, rocks thrown, fists swung, and at least two students were arrested.
What you’re seeing isn’t just a riot it’s the result of an economic pressure cooker and decades of systematic oppression.
Less than 30 years ago, South Africa lived under apartheid a set of laws and systems that kept black South Africans physically separated from whites.
Apartheid ended in the 1990s under Nelson Mandela, but racial tensions and inequities didn’t just disappear. In fact, racial economic disparity has grown since the end of apartheid, and black income has nearly flat-lined.
Add to that the notion that education may soon become financially inaccessible to many, and the result is a palpable anger.
Americans know some of this pressure, too, because many young people are buried in student loans, and tens of millions graduate with debt.
In the U.S., students have to lean heavily on government loans to attend college. Then they graduate with, on average, $35,000 in debt and little to no job opportunities. Student debt is the single largest debt in America, and it’s still growing.
There’s no excuse for violence, but the anger is understandable.
There have been several proposed solutions to student debt, and it’s been one of the many key issues discussed in the 2016 presidential election.
Plans range from forgiving loans to lowering interest rates to even making tuition-free colleges. All of those proposals have pros and cons, but one thing is clear: A college education is now practically necessary for success in our society, and something needs to be done to make it affordable.
After that, economic growth needs to continue so the millions of people who graduate college every year have somewhere to take their skills and a feasible economic ladder to climb.
You can only put so much financial burden on young people while simultaneously cutting opportunity before something boils over.