Why Zuma wants free higher education amid lack of protest
Where have all the students gone? Into libraries and residences studying for exams. Speaking as a parent, exactly where they should be.
Student protest on university campuses has all but fizzled out.
They managed a fleeting shutdown at the University of Cape Town two weeks ago that garnered the support of about 100 students. At Wits, where they were given the opportunity by the new EFF-dominated Student Representative Council, students voted not to shut down the university but to rather write exams.
It is only at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the University of the Free State (UFS) that any significant mobilisation has been mounted. CPUT is now surrounded by a ring of razor wire and armed security personnel. It is quiet. At the UFS, students have been arrested and student activists say there is still some tension.
The hordes of students who stormed Parliament in 2015 and who swarmed on to the lawns of the Union Buildings have gone quiet.
On that day, President Jacob Zuma observed the drama from the safety of the West Wing. His adviser-inchief, then state security minister David Mahlobo, decided that it was unsafe for the president to approach the lawns. So Zuma stayed away and the students went home empty-handed.
Now that the pressure from students has dissipated, Zuma is preparing to announce his radical economic transformation plan of free higher education for students with an annual family income lower than R350,000. To give effect to this, he must cut budgets for roads, commuter train services, school building, the defence force and municipal infrastructure. The effects will be far-reaching.
Why do it? As the ANC’s December conference approaches, Zuma needs a grand and radical achievement to exhibit to conference delegates.
By delivering free higher education, he will do what no ANC leader before him has done. He will deliver radical change where Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki hung back. He will be the one to deliver radical economic transformation.
His announcement has nothing to do with students. It is unbridled populism.
Who in government or the ANC will stand up to him? So far no one. Whoever does will be standing up to oppose free higher education. It’s not a battle most politicians want to take on.
The ANC, which in July resolved that the threshold for free university education should be R150,000 (up from R122,000) is powerless to take Zuma on. It long ago lost control of its rogue president, who since 2014 has accelerated the looting of state-owned enterprises as if they are his family business.
Right now the ANC is deeply immersed in the mother of all battles around who will be its next president.
The Cabinet has been timid so far. After Zuma informed Treasury directorgeneral Dondo Mogajane and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba two weeks ago that he intended to announce free higher education, the Cabinet at its very next meeting deliberated over the matter. It was decided that the quest to cut the budget, led by the Treasury and the Department of Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, should continue apace. Apparently absent was any check on reality: what this would cost the country and where the trade-offs would be made.
THE ANC LONG AGO LOST CONTROL OF ITS ROGUE PRESIDENT WHO HAS ACCELERATED THE LOOTING OF STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISES
The president’s fiscal committee, which has replaced the ministers’ council on the budget, now deliberates over the tradeoffs. This committee, which includes Gigaba, Jeff Radebe, Naledi Pandor, Ebrahim Patel, and Mmamoloko Kubayi, is pitifully short of Treasury experience. Disorganised and lacking in alternatives, it is at the mercy of Zuma, who is single-mindedly driving a calculated agenda.
So lacking in insight and experience is this poor committee that in September, when it was faced with the choice of selling the government’s Telkom stake or breaching the expenditure ceiling in the medium-term budget policy statement, it instead got duped into a false third option: to auction off the available broadband spectrum to the highest bidder.
As only a small portion of this is available and the effect of an auction on data prices is unknown, the miracle third option has sunk even before the committee had a chance to float it.
Where is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in all of this? If he has played a leadership role in the Cabinet around the damage being done to both the fiscal framework and the Treasury through this debacle, no one I know is aware of it yet.