Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Blade Nzimande and the crisis of Higher Education in South Africa! #ListenToTheKids

On Blade Nzimande and the crisis of Higher Education in South Africa! #FeesMustFall! #BladeMustGo and #ANCMustFall

Floyd Shivambu

With no intention to polarise the otherwise gallant struggles of all students mobilised under the #FeesMustFall movement, we should perhaps take a pause to reflect on the real objective and subjective politics behind the higher education funding crisis in South Africa. Those at the forefront of the students’ protests correctly proclaim that the #FeesMustFall movement is not a party political programme, but consolidated students’ action cutting across racial, political and class lines.

Students with affiliations of different political parties are indeed at the forefront of the protests in many institutions of higher learning, and the demands are still centred on securing no fee increases for the academic year 2016, and variety of genuine workers’ demands.

Directing the protests to Parliament and demanding that Minister of Higher Education be held accountable is a commendable step because students are beginning to appreciate that the political ruling elite are the ones who are responsible for the higher education funding crisis in South Africa. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Higher Education under its inaugural and current Minister of Higher Education, the erstwhile Communist Blade Nzimande has dismally failed to provide clear direction on the question of higher education and students’ funding in particular. This is despite the so many calls and demands by successive students’ generations that the question of funding should be attended to. Thousands of campus based and nation-wide protests have been held to demand free education and against fees increase since 1994. Valuable infrastructure has been burnt into ashes, cars damaged, and libraries destroyed by students demanding free education and no to fees increase since 1994.

Let us take a pause to reflect. Of course I will share personal experiences because in my life I have been a branch Secretary, Chairperson of a student organisation (SASCO) and President of the Students’ Representative Council (Wits University), member of a Regional and National Executive Committees of a students’ organisation (SASCO). I also had the privilege to lead all SRCs students in the process that led to the formation of the South African Union of Students (SAUS), writing its inaugural Constitution and co-organising its founding conference. I was in the board of the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme between 2008 and 2012, and also served in the Joint Task Team of the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition from 2006 to 2009 representing students and youth. Throughout my student and youth activism, I consistently fought for free quality education, and partook in many protests demanding free education.

Higher Education ministry’s leadership, or lack of it, on the higher education funding mechanism and system is the major cause of the #FeesMustFall protests, which will escalate into violence and instability if not managed correctly. Whilst institutional managers and Vice Chancellors play a role, the lack of guidance and decisive leadership by the ministry of higher education deepens the crisis. There are various objective and subjective challenges that causes this crisis and here we will candidly reflect on them, and sometimes revealing the privy information we have access to. For this purpose, we will attend to the following: a) National Students Financial Aid Scheme, b) Higher Education Funding in general, and c) institutional mechanisms to foster real higher education transformation.

a)      National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme

Instead of resolving the higher education and vocational training funding crisis, the Ministry of higher education and current government continuously mention South Africa’s biggest loan scheme, the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which is inconsistently and badly managed across institutions of higher learning. There is absolutely nothing that stopped Blade Nzimande from addressing the higher education funding crisis in relation to NSFAS because his predecessors in higher education established the NSFAS Review process, which was largely ignored when the Ministry of Higher Education was established in 2009.

Instead of following a professional review process, part of Blade Nzimande did as the inaugural Minister of Higher Education was to cause instability in the leadership of NSFAS, which despite historical challenges was beginning to find stability. I am aware of this because in 2008, before Blade Nzimande was in government, I was appointed into the board of NSFAS by then Education Minister Naledi Pandor, after being nominated by the students and youth movement. When he became Minister, Blade Nzimande instructed all Board Members, who were in the middle of the NSFAS Review process and implementation of a Turnaround strategy to resign from the NSFAS Board. This was spearheaded by South African Communist Party Central (SACP) Committee Member Gwebs Qonde, who was mysteriously and undeservedly appointed Director General of the department of Higher Education.

I was personally instructed in December 2010 to resign by the DG Gwebs Qonde through telling me lies that they, as the Communist Party, intend to introduce free education through NSFAS, and that they are going to appoint ‘experts’ into the board. I obviously refused to resign because I am driven by an individual philosophy of not quitting: No surrender! No retreat! I told Gwebs Qonde in the NSFAS Board meeting that he is hypocrite, and should not engage in factional and potentially corrupt activities on issues relating to NSFAS, because NSFAS could be used as a vehicle to liberate many poor students. In all the board meetings I attended, I recurrently raised the issue of converting the loan scheme into a bursary and highlighted the fact that the threshold of students eligible for NSFAS has not been changed in more than 10 years. I served until the end of my term in 2012, and obviously could not be reappointed because I did not fit into the category preferred by the Communist Party, a category of clueless board members whose aim was about themselves and not students.

I vividly remember when Board members handed in resignations and new members were appointed into the NSFAS Board, and a common thread of all the new members of the board is that they, in one way or another, had links to the South African Communist Party. The central faces in the new appointments were Collette Caine (Blade Nzimande’s personal financial advisor and SACP Fundraiser), and ZB Sogayise, an indifferent and less informed former school principal from the SACP in Cape Mero with close links to the Director General of Higher Education, Gwebs Qonde.

Now, due to ZB’s lack of understanding of high level financial management and control at Board level, Collet Caine took control of NSFAS, and literally relocated to Cape Town to be closer to the office so that she could micro-manage the internal affairs of NSFAS. The then Chief Executive Officer Ashley Seymour, who was appointed by the previous board, was unceremoniously fired, and replaced by Nathi Khena, who was also fired in less than six months by ZB Sogayise and Collette Caine. The Board was later coerced to agree to the firing of Nathi Khena, and I voted against such. Nathi Khena was replaced by Msulwa Daca, who had been the Chief Financial Officer.

Under Collette Caine’s control of NSFAS, new arrangements were introduced such as Board fees, which never existed before, and travelling on business class, victimisation of Union leaders in NSFAS Offices, and all forms of social gatherings which Collette Caine would have with NSFAS Staff members loyal to her. Without venturing into unfounded allegations, the reality is that if there can be a closer and forensic examination of the doings and transactions in NSFAS during the period of the SACP deployees, a lot of questionable linkages between NSFAS and SACP Benefactors will be revealed. Amidst these, NSFAS went into a crisis which Blade Nzimande admitted to when announcing the appointment of the new Chairperson.

Collette Caine and ZB Sogayise’s interference with NSFAS was reported in the Mail & Guardian in June 2011 when Ashley Seymour, the CEO they fired took NSFAS to Court for unfair dismissal. The M&G report said amongst other things that, “Sogayise and Caine became “operationally involved within the organisation” and there was “a dramatic change in the workplace” involving the “creation of a hostile and intolerable work environment”, Seymour says. “It became apparent that [there was] a witch hunt against me.” (M&G, June 2011). The circumstances around the firing of Seymour’s successor, Nathi Khena were also mysterious and orchestrated by the Communist Party deployees in the board. In one of the board meetings, Khena complained about Caine and Sogayise’s micro-management of NSFAS affairs.

NSFAS’ plans for establishment of a central applications office lost direction and the conversion of loans into bursary scheme did not happen in the manner initially envisaged. The most tragic development out of all these though was the Board’s refusal to minute and implement our proposal that NSFAS should take over the debts of all academically deserving students who have been financially excluded, whether inside or outside the allocation criteria. Such a takeover would give financially excluded students access to their qualifications or academic records to continue with their studies or find jobs. The reality is that there are qualified students in South Africa who do not have their certificates of qualifications because they owe Universities tuition fees. Additionally, NSFAS’ failure to centralise applications and administration of the fund in order to avoid inconsistent selection and loan allocations criteria by institutions of higher learning.     

Whilst they over celebrate the R9 billion availed as loans to students, the massive administrative and political challenges imposed on NSFAS by Minister Nzimande and the Communist faction are heavy and disables the institution from performing its functions properly. In August 2015, when announcing the appointment of the new NSFAS Board Chairperson Sizwe Nxasana, Minister Nzimande pointed to the challenges confronting NSFAS, and mentioned the following:
1.      Failure of leadership to put in place an effective strategy to collect all revenue due to NSFAS. (Loan recoveries from student debtors have decreased significantly to R261.2-million in the 2014-2015 financial year from R372.3-million in the 2013-2014 financial year.) 
2.      The inability of NSFAS to raise funds as per its mandate. 
3.      Limited human resource and requisite expertise, and the capacity of management and leadership to ensure that the entity meets its mandate in terms of the NSFAS Act. 
4.      The entity has not been able to ensure that adequate and skilled resources were employed and has put the operations of NSFAS at considerable risk. 
5.      Failure of leadership and management to effectively provide oversight and manage financial and performance reporting, compliance with relevant legislation, lack of internal controls and policies to govern its operations, which opens up the entity to fraud at the NSFAS and institutions. 
6.      The NSFAS has not developed supportive relationships with its stakeholders and donors, and measures to improve the administration of donor funding take significant time to bear fruit, to the detriment of eligible students.

What Minister Nzimande did not do is reveal that the administrative crisis and challenges in NSFAS were his and the DG’s own creation, of appointing cronies into the Board and failure to provide decisive direction on deliverables. Students have been compromised due to lack of adequate and proper political leadership. Here is a Minister of Higher Education who disregards skills and expertise and make nepotistic appointments, and raising suspicions due to what he always said before the ANC 52nd National Conference in Polokwane. Before Polokwane and his campaign for the SACP written Alliance pact with the ANC, Nzimande would always say that “it cannot be correct that we all go hunt for nogwaja (rabbit), and once we caught it, only ANC leaders are the ones who eat, whilst we only get bones”. Those who understand parables will know what this means, but it looks like NSFAS was being turned into nogwaja for Nzimande and the SACP.

b)     Higher Education Funding:

In December 2012, the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Derrick Swartz presented a report on the feasibility of free education and it still has not been released, despite the fact that the report said free higher education is feasible. This might seem improbable for a Minister who was mistaken for a revolutionary and champion of free education, but the reality is that a thorough study was conducted on provision of free education and Minister Blade Nzimande is hoarding the report. It is highly possible that Nzimande has not yet read the report because he rarely pays attention to details, does not attend to his ministerial responsibilities, except ones which bring him immediate private benefits. Why would a Minister deprive the higher education fraternity an opportunity to deliberate on introduction of free quality education, whilst the organisation that deployed him resolved to gradually introduce free education for the poor until undergraduate level in its 52nd National Conference?

In the 53rd National Conference of the ANC, a resolution was taken that “the policy for free higher education to all undergraduate level students will be finalised for adoption before the end of 2013”. This was after noting that “University education is costly and academically capable students from poor families should not be expected to pay up-front fees in order to access higher education”. All these resolutions have not been implemented, and there is a person whose role is to implement such resolutions. Again, it is possible that Minister Nzimande has not read these resolutions, because there is no immediate personal benefits for him or the Communist Party.

South Africa’s Constitution gives Ministers powers to table legislation in Parliament and the current budget allocation process demands that Ministers and their departments should present detailed plans on what their funding needs are in any given financial year. The final budget then becomes the product of what Parliament has approved from departments. Minister Blade Nzimande and his department have never asked for additional money to finance free higher education, except for the normal inflationary adjustments. There was never a time where additional funding to ease the burden on students were asked from Parliament. Asking for money from Parliament is a political function of Ministers and Nzimande has not done so.

Higher Education should be radically funded and existing institutions of higher learning expanded to absorb more students. When many students struggle to pass and attain their qualifications due to inadequate learning, teaching, and research support, there are many others who are waiting on the long queues trying to gain access to higher education, yet cannot because there are no sufficient spaces in institutions of higher learning. The highlight of what we previously presented to parliament reflects the following:
University of Stellenbosch
23 818
4 900
University of Cape Town
23 600
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
54 000
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
31 601
Durban University of Technology
79 000
Mangosuthu University of Technology
40 000
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
31 620
5 850
University of KwaZulu Natal
90 000
8 400
North West University
23 200
9 471
University of Zululand

This trend reflects in all institutions of higher learning, and Blade Nzimande’s leadership on this crisis is introduction of two new Universities in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape, which can only take up to 10 000 students in 10 years’ time, whilst only accepting less than 3000 students combined. When we criticise this, Nzimande resorts to his belittling retorts and even threatens violence as if he knows anything about violence. The question of where was he has still not been answered.

As a matter of fact, the cost to run all institutions of higher learning in a way which will provide free education is less than R50 billion, and through proper prioritisation, the current budget of the State can afford R50 billion for higher education. What this requires is political will and commitment to introduce free quality education for all, and it can be achieved. If government’s political will has directed it towards the Nuclear Build programme, which will possibly be completed when they are all no longer in government and at double or triple R1 trillion bill, the same will can be directed to provision of free quality education for all.

There should never be an assumption that provision of free quality education for all will happen at the expense of any other expenditure item, because education for any nation and country is a massive investment. Investing in education might lead to the development of innovative, productive and entrepreneurial population whose efforts and contribution will far outweigh the R50 billion initially invested. Also many other students will see the need to gain skills, expertise and education when such is fee free. Fees are a barrier to higher education and they must fall.

The Minister of Higher Education and entire ANC government has never tabled a proposal in parliament on how we should finance free quality education for all, despite that their own Conferences instructed them to do so. The crisis is therefore a political crisis caused by politicians who do not want to take responsibility and stay true to their own resolutions. If people fail to respect their own resolutions, it is difficult to expect them to respect other people’s resolutions. The ANC’s narcissistic belief and entitlement to political power in South Africa is the reason why they treat everyone with disdain. The disdainful and arrogant way individual Ministers approach key developmental issues, their incapacity and mediocrity have been institutionalised and currently defines the whole public sector, including government and parastatals. 

Every time the EFF raises the question of free quality higher education, Blade Nzimande consistently responds by saying that the Freedom Charter does not call for free higher education, taking advantage of the Freedom Charter sentence that says, “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit”. There are various interpretations to this, but the commitment to provision of free quality higher education is an ideological and political commitment which has been resolved on many platforms.

If allocating money for free quality higher education from the current budget will lead into a fiscal crisis, the Minister of Education should mobilise the whole of society enactment of legislation which will allow for an education tax from all private corporations and individuals. Society is already mobilised behind the need to develop a funding model for education and with presentation of superior logic, society can be mobilised to support a special education tax, which will could be ring fenced specifically for the provision of free quality education for all. What this means is the corporates and individuals would take ownership of higher education funding. South Africa is however leaderless on the education front and such will not be considered.

c)      Institutional mechanisms to foster real higher education transformation

Because government is usually the biggest financial contributor to institutions of higher learning, it should put in place a mechanism on how institutions of higher learning should respond to the transformation objectives and goals. This of course should not undermine academic freedom, in the sense of what and how to teach. Academics and students should be allowed freedom of research and academic expression without dictates of wishes of the government of the day.

Nevertheless, there are specific issues that can be transformation goals and targets et between the department of higher education and institutions of higher learning on what is to be done. These could include concrete agreements on issues such as;
1)      Ending all forms of financial exclusions.
2)      Academic and research support programmes which will guarantee maximum success rates for students.
3)      Minimum standards on institutional infrastructure, food, and residences.
4)      Minimum standards on employment conditions and salaries of all workers employed by institutions of higher learning, which should ban outsourcing and labour brokering.
5)      Fair, balanced and responsive curriculum.
6)      Quantitative and qualitative expansion targets, goals and aspirations.
7)      Universities’ contribution to societal open education.

These and many others could play a significant role and could be established through deliberative means which involve all stake holders, inclusive of students, workers, parents, governments (local, provincial and national) and communities where the institutions of higher learning exist. This can be fostered through a properly structured dialogue, transformation charters and even legislation which binds institutions of higher learning to progressive developments.

This can only happen if South Africa is led by a responsible and responsive government. As a matter of fact, the country is politically on autopilot, and this is vividly evidenced by the ANC and Nzimande’s lacklustre attitude. It is a fat that Minister Blade Nzimande does not go to work, and is often in what qualifies to be social pleasure in hotels and other areas. Such conduct defines him and other members in cabinet who have no interests in the wellbeing of the people they committed to serve.


Well it’s somewhat polarising to say this now, but the reality is that the misguided belief that SASCO will turn things around because it is within the congress movement is illusionary. Generations after generations of students’ leadership and brilliant activists from SASCO have made exactly the same demands students are making today, and still there is very minimal changes in the higher education sector. The qualitative disparities between institutions of higher learning are still reflective of what the colonial-cum-apartheid past designed these institutions to be, fees are unregulated, exclusions happen every second day, and black students’ success is minimal.

The #FeesMustFall Movement should intensify the struggle to achieve 0% increase of fees in 2016 academic year, but all students should appreciate that even in the current rates, the fees are unaffordable even for working families. The message is simple: #ListenToTheKids! High fees also decimate the NSFAS Loans granted to students and often leave them with no residences, food, and books. Attaining a 0% increase will be a great achievement, but such should be escalated to demand for free quality education for all, illegalisation of financial exclusion, scrapping of all students’ debts and qualitative and quantitative expansion of institutions of higher learning.

As a matter of, Blade Nzimande and the current Higher Education Ministry as configured will not bring about the necessary revolutionary changes, and that is when all students will appreciate that #FeesMustFall should also be #BladeMustGo and the #ANCMustFall. Well, to his credit, Blade Nzimande is one of the 2 Cabinet Ministers with a Doctoral degree, yet he is an epitome of mediocrity, who specialises in shallow rhetoric. The #ANCMustFall because when they see students clad in SASCO and ANC T-shirts chanting slogans of #FeesMustFall, they think of all of those students as some wayward children who must be called to Luthuli House for some guidance. So #FeesMustFall, #BladeMustGo and #ANCMustFall. #ListenToTheKids!


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