Students await Zuma’s verdict on tertiary fees
President Jacob Zuma’s delay in releasing the Heher commission report on the feasibility of free higher education has left tertiary students worried that institutions could increase fees next year.
Student activist groups told City Press this week that they were running out of time as the 2017 academic year was nearing completion.
The ANC-aligned SA Student Congress (Sasco) has written to Zuma to request a meeting next week.
Sasco secretary-general Tembani Makata said the presidency had not contacted them since receiving the report.
“Almost everyone is waiting. But we do not expect a deviation from the pronouncement made by the ANC at its lekgotla,” he said, referring to the party’s toplevel lekgotla, held at the end of July, in which it was decided that, from next year, fully subsidised grants should be provided to academically qualifying poor students.
These were defined as students from families who earned a gross annual income of R150 000 or less. It was also decided that students who came from households earning between R150 000 and R600 000 a year should be subsidised through a combination of grants and loans.
“We are not in a position to allow the exclusion of students on the basis of funding,” said Makata, reiterating Sasco’s concern that no discussions had been held regarding fee increases for next year.
Tomorrow marks the third week since the report, headed by Judge Jonathan Heher, was handed to the president. Zuma had promised to study its recommendations and make the report available to the public in due course.
The so-called fees commission, set up in January last year, was given a time frame to complete the report within eight months. However, the deadline was extended to July this year.
Rendani Nematswerani, deputy secretary-general of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) student command, said they were also in the dark, but did not expect Zuma to announce that there would be free higher education.
“He should have done that by now,” he said, adding that he suspected an announcement would probably be made by presidential hopeful Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whose candidacy Zuma supported and who was recently appointed as an MP.
Nematswerani echoed speculation on social-media networks that Dlamini-Zuma was likely to replace Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who is also general secretary of the SA Communist Party, which has repeatedly spoken out against state capture under Zuma’s leadership.
The EFF leader said his party had planned a programme of action with student groups that shared their views if an announcement about free higher education in 2018 was made.
“We will continue to wait for Zuma. We do not want to be seen as hooligans and as disruptive,” he said.
Piwe Mpahlwa, president of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania, said they expected the commission’s report to reflect issues raised by students.
Madikwe Mabotha, spokesperson for the department of higher education and training, said he did not know if Zuma and Nzimande had discussed the matter, but added that Cabinet would decide, possibly by next month, if there would be increases next year.
Mabotha refused to comment on whether Nzimande would be reshuffled or not.
Avela Mjajubana, president of the SA Union of Students, said they were also waiting for Zuma.
Attempts by City Press to get comment from the presidency and #FeesMustFall proved fruitless.
Yusuf Cassim, leader of the DA Student Organisation, said the commission was a delay tactic by Zuma.
“This ... report must be released to the public.
If its recommendations are good for students, they must be implemented by the ANC government,” he said.