Port Elizabeth – What was meant to be platform for healthy debate between students and the Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, ended off on a sour note when angry students started shouting to be addressed on Thursday.
Addressing students at Nelson Mandela University Nzimande angrily stormed off to his seat as a group of students raged that they were not given an opportunity to put their questions forward.
“I can’t be answering questions from [the Economic Freedom Fighters] EFF when we are this close to elections,” he said.
A student from the disgruntled group was later given an opportunity to ask her question around NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), she complained that the system perpetuated poverty as poor students had to pay back loans they already could not afford.
The #FeesMustFall issue took centre stage at the debate organised by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU).
Nzimande said the department needed to identify the issue of additional resources to address the issue of free higher education to the poor.
He said that he did not agree with the concept of free high education for everyone adding that it was counter revolutionary and only feasible in a socialist country.
“The no fees increase last year, part of financing it meant taking R800 million from my department which was meant for training and unemployed youth, is that justifiable?” asked Nzimande.
“The college students are saying you released R6.5 billion for university students in one year, but not a cent going to the colleges.”
Nzimade said that the country faced a challenge of access to education and training for young people across all sectors, not just one.He added that with just 30 percent of matrics going off to university transformation was needed across board.
He further outlined other issues such as the need to transform institutional culture and curriculum.
He said students were free to protest but should also engage in dialogue.
“When we are deep in the #FeesMustFall struggles we forget the achievements that we have made as the ANC government over the last 22 years in the field of post education and training,” said Nzimande.
He urged students to give the commission a chance to come up with a long term solution on fees in higher education.
Responding to Nzimande, South African Students Congress (SASCO) secretary general Tembani Makata, used a metaphor to describe how students viewed the education crisis.
“The leadership of the ANC and in government took particular stems, stems like a farmer who takes seeds not knowing exactly what’s going to grow out of those seeds and threw them in a field and waited for what was going to grow out of them,” she told a cheering crowd.
Makata told Nzimande that she did not agree with his statement around the “working class” who he said should not be at the forefront of of the struggle for education transformation.
“Your statement is a statement of a farmer who throws seeds..as I stand here today I can tell you that there is no clear direction of what is going to happen come January.”
“Regardless of the problems we are facing, many other political organisations can stand and raise our issues as though they have solutions, they do not have solutions,” said Makata.
She asked for the department to give students a hearing and a response.
“It’s very difficult to address what you say is a peoples education in the current capitalist system, you can divert it and say we are in mixed economies, a few governmental interventions here and there, but at the core and at the centre we know who is running this particular system,” she said.
Makata said that they were aware of a report that was tabled by the council of the VC telling them that free education was not feasible.
“We are able to stand together and say we want to see transformation we want to see change..but the people who run our institution they sit together as if they are not deployed by the very same African National Congress, [they] sit there and adopt reformist policies,” she told a cheering crowd.