Populist excess meets nationalist ineptitude: Higher education heading for paralysis under Zuma’s directionless administration

Issued by Belinda Bozzoli – DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education & Training
04 Jan 2018 in News

The DA remains deeply concerned by the complete lack of leadership from Jacob Zuma’s administration on the higher education funding crisis.

Today’s press conference by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize, has proved only one thing: Jacob Zuma is a lame-duck president and his administration is paralysed by a lack of leadership and clear policy direction. Today, the Minister provided few answers to the many questions raised following Zuma’s reckless 16 December 2017 announcement on higher education and training funding.

South Africans have still not been told exactly how much money has been made available to give effect to the free fees proposal or where and when government will source this money in the fiscus. As a result we remain in the dark as to how many students will qualify for free fee subsidies.

Moreover, the Minister was silent on Zuma’s announcement of 16 December 2017 that the NSFAS loans of existing students would be converted into grants, meaning existing students in all years of study also remain in limbo regarding the funding of their studies. Vague and contradictory comments have been made by NSFAS, Treasury and other spokespeople on radio and elsewhere.

The DA is also deeply concerned by the presence of State Security Minister, Bongani Bongo, at the press conference. While it was claimed Bongo’s presence was warranted by his involvement in the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education Funding, Minister Mkhize appeared to be panicking – Bongo’s presence was nothing more than an act of intimidation which could only serve to further inflame the potentially violent crisis surrounding registration.

Instead of Minister Bongo it would have been more instructive and reassuring had the Minister of Finance been present – but he appears to be AWOL on this particular matter.

It is clear that there is no unity in message or policy direction on the higher education funding crisis in Zuma’s administration and the ANC. Zuma’s populist excess has met his administration’s nationalist ineptitude. Every government department involved, from the Department of Higher Education and Training to National Treasury, is unable to give effect to Zuma’s ill-conceived and hasty announcement.

The R55m Fees Commission Report, with its detailed recommendations, remains shelved, and students remain in the dark.