The Missing Middle – Key to South African’s Future



Last week it was announced that the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme will receive an R200m donation from our nation’s most successful businesses. The programme, known as Isfap, is the brainchild of former FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasanais, and is a much-needed, long-overdue step in the right direction towards levelling the playing field for young, black South Africans.

Having opened for applications at the tail end of last year, Isfap’s first funding round for the 2017 academic year launched on Thursday 2nd February. The funding will cover tuition and living expenses for 1,500 disadvantaged students at one Technical Vocational Education and Training College and 7 universities for the 2017 academic year. If 2017’s funding round proves a success, the plan is to go on to collect 1.5% of our business’ payroll bills in 2018, for the benefit of poor, typically black students who might otherwise be deterred from receiving their tertiary educations.

Apartheid might have ended over two decades ago, but we are still a long way away from racial equality in the education sector, thanks to the influence of monopoly capital. Currently graduation ceremonies are a sea of white faces, indicative of just how many black South Africans are living below the poverty line, whilst their white counterparts hoard the wealth. Over 55% of black university students fail to complete their university education. It is no wonder that youth unemployment is at a shameful 54%.

How can the next generation of black leaders be expected to build their foundations and go forth to pursue excellence in business, if businesses themselves do not enable them to achieve the very basic requirements of our competitive job market? It’s not like they have role models to follow in the footsteps of; only 3% of companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchanged are owned by black people. In 2017, black graduates entering the workplace are outnumbered by their white peers 6-to-1. If we allow trends like this to continue, the continuation of monopoly capital’s reign will only impede South Africa’s future potential for growth.

Legally, large companies must be spending 6% of their payroll bill each year on skills development, under broad-based black economic empowerment legislation. Up until now, these companies have only spent this money within their own organisations and often have found that this budget was too large to be spent effectively. Isfap provides the logical mechanism for this spare cash to be siphoned into.

And it couldn’t come more quickly for black students. Following the much publicisedcelebrated #FeesMustFall campaign, Isfap is responding by offering a lifeline where too few thought one was available. The programme is already making an impact, with black students up and down the country taking to social media to express their relief that corporations are now taking the need for student equality seriously.

It is expected that the programme will have the biggest impact on our country’s “missing middle” – those black families who earn less than R600,000 per year and are interested in but financially unable to pursue training for occupations and skills in high demand. Alongside financial support, students will receive mentorship and internship opportunities, and will not be required to repay their loans until the individual is in graduate employment and can afford the cost. What’s more, the programme will be implemented in addition to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, meaning that more black students will receive the benefit of these schemes.

It is about time that our nation’s corporates took black education seriously, and invested in e future leaders of our nation. Such a move is not an investment in an individual, but an investment that works towards building our business’ (and by extension our economy’s) success. It should not have taken so long for monopoly capital to wise up to this fact.