Most people know the government introduced free higher education for working-class and lower middle-class families in February. But fewer people know that it slashed school infrastructure budgets to pay for it. So while some of SA’s youth will be able to go to university and emerge debt free, millions of others, particularly those stuck in rural schools in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, will face the risk of dying a horrific death by drowning in a pit toilet. It is a graphic example of a budgetary trade-off. To pay for free higher education — opportunistically announced by then president Jacob Zuma in a political set of circumstances that made it impossible to reverse — officials from the Treasury and the Presidency’s department of planning, monitoring and evaluation pored over the budget looking for R57bn in spending cuts. As the salaries or the number of teachers, nurses or doctors could not be done away with, and nor could essential spending on medicines or welfare grants, the obv...

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