To say that South African higher education is in crisis would hardly be an exaggeration. At the end of the 2016 academic year, several of the country’s 26 universities completely shut down and others were writing exams either late or under particularly stressful conditions. The sector was rocked for the second year running by student protests broadly aligned under the call for free decolonised education. Both these terms are hotly contested- what does “decolonised” actually mean in practice, and what are the implications of “free”? Who pays in a country when only 22% of the population pays personal income tax? Should higher education be free for all or should it be free for those who can’t pay, while those who can pay should contribute? This question is especially burning in a country determined the most unequal in the world in 2016 by the World Economic Forum. Affordability in unequal societies is a critical matter elsewhere too –the UK, for example, has recently allowed fees to be uncapped with unknown consequences, especially for equity in a place the most unequal in Europe and the 4th most unequal of OECD countries.