Minister Nzimande should stop window dressing and take the future of this country seriously

The following speech was delivered in Parliament today in response to the Minister of Higher Education’s executive statement on the state of readiness at higher education institution.

Sekela Somlomo

Malungu Abekekileyo

Fellow South Africans

 Ndiyanibulisa Ngale Njikalanga


Today I stand here having seen the true state of our Higher Education Institutions with no presentation nor Department of Higher Education staff to paint a facade of what is happening on the ground through power points, not even you, Minister, can fool my sight, because I’ve seen it for myself.

Like a broken record, I will continuously remind you without fear, and with vigour of all the issues that are setting up my brothers and sisters for failure on our university and TVET campuses. I will offer you solutions you can immediately implement until you act and resolve these issues Minister! I suggest Minister you start using your free flights, to go see for yourself.

Standing here I carry the harsh realities of my brothers and sisters whose dreams have been denied, whose hopes have been diminished, whose trust has been broken and whose talents have been crippled.

During my oversight visits I met an administrator at the admissions office at the Nelson Mandela University that expressed the uselessness of the poorly coordinated CACH system that was used to assist walk-in students and give them hope of access with only a 2% take up rate as confirmed by the department of Higher education and Training (DHET).

I met Walter Sisulu University (WSU) Mthatha-students whom are yet to academically register, nor have lectures commenced to date – a month post the date of the commencement of lecturers – because of poor administration processes and the poorly coordinated online registration process. This, while 1 000 Bachelor of Education and Nursing students are rejected because the Council of Higher Education failed to accredit some courses on time.

I met Sinawo who is one of the more than 3 000 undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Fort Hare who was requested to pay 30% upfront to settle her student debt before she could register. Yet, she is NSFAS qualifying student.  Similarly, Mlamuli from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) who is a “missing middle” student, is expected to pay R36 000 upfront at a university where R31 million worth of property has been burnt down.

They are part of the 192 000 students who cannot register due to historic debt and being subjected to upfront payments they cannot afford. Yet the Minister has announced clearance interventions, but these have not materialised.

What is shocking is that NSFAS has still not paid out the R30 million allocated to historic debt for students from 2018 as reported to us just this morning, yet students continue to be financially excluded.

Yesterday, Port Elizabeth TVET students in their hundreds shutdown the Russel Road Campus because NSFAS has not paid their allowances for transport so as to get to class, for accommodation to avoid sleeping in labs and for food.

This is just one example of many, where TVET colleges in collaboration with NSFAS are failing to disburse student allowances timeously and efficiently where some students wait up to 7 months to receive allowances as is the case at the Northern Cape Rural TVET, South Cape TVET and Tshwane North TVET.

Similarly, students living with disability whom wait for over a year for their assistive devices from NSFAS.

Central University of Technology students have not received money for food, books and accommodation. Those who received funds for accommodation say it was not the full amount. Some students incurred historical debt while they are NSFAS beneficiaries, NSFAS had never paid the fees of these students since 1st year and now students are struggling to continue with their studies as they are not able to register.

ANC members stood on this very podium last week trying to praise a better mess at NSFAS which in current reality has again failed poor students who can’t commute to class, those who can are hungry, some without study material and some homeless.

I met Mr Marlin and their daughter whom had been sleeping at the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) SRC offices because the institution had failed to accredit the Southpoint residence she was living in the previous year and now has to travel an hour to campus because she is allocated in a residence in Eersterivier.

What was more concerning is the conditions in which our students live under, as backroom dwellers in unsafe off campus accommodation.  While there is heavy political interference, as seen with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Vaal University of Technology (VUT), to build student accommodation, they cannot properly maintain existing buildings.

Students in HDIs, TVETs and Community Colleges are subjected to dilapidating buildings, residence ceilings falling on their heads and with no on campus with access to WIFI.

Our brothers and sisters are subjected to a culture of violence on and off our campuses. On one end students are stabbed to death and on the other hand buildings are being torched. A Tshwane North female student was advised to date an older man just to get by because they are poor and needy.

R35 million in NSFAS funds is being invested in the wrong skills with an outdated curriculum, with over saturated courses just are not relevant for industry, the job market, entrepreneurship and innovation. We need to conclude the 2018 review of the curriculum.

NSFAS irregular expenditure is sitting at R7.6 billion increasing from R280 million from the previous year. Not R4 million Minister.

Generally the sector has some core issues that were common across the board when I visited our institutions to ensure that these environments are ready for 2020, conducive for living and learning. We need to deal with the legacy problems of the curriculum, SETA cash cows that every TVET complained about, infrastructure maintenance, student accommodation, historic debt, allowances for TVET students and safety amongst other things.

This is the true state of our institutions Minister!

Therefore, there is no time for making excuses or tying to score political points around the genuine issues of our brothers who can’t access and if they do won’t succeed. Here are some of the immediate action steps you can take Minister:

  1. Honour the invite of UFH to visit their campus to see for yourself and other campuses and not only rely on officials presenting to you in boardrooms.
  2. Announce a plan with specific timelines to deal with historic debt, so that students are not financially excluded and can register.
  3. NSFAS should immediately institute a disbursement process that will pay students directly without having to go through the TVET college, further investigate corruption and maladministration at TVETs that have not disbursed student allowance and institute consequence management.
  4. NSFAS should expedite payments for student debts to ensure that the R30 million unused deal with the current financial exclusions requiring upfront payments from students without crippling our institutions or disrupting academic activity.
  5. Plan to standardise student allowances for both TVET and universities particularly for food, transport and accommodation.
  6. Engage the departments of Public Works and human settlements for unused buildings in the localities of our institutions so as to use that for student accommodation and lecture halls, as an immediate solution. Further involve local municipalities for problem buildings and land to build as part of cooperative governance.
  7. Engage National Treasury about DHET managing infrastructure development and maintenance projects to avoid political interference and underspending.
  8. Every campus to report on their safety/Security plan and equipment available to support a plan that will ensure our brothers and sisters are safe on and off campus.
  9. Conclude curriculum review relevant to industry, job market, entrepreneurship and innovation.
  10. CHE accreditation process needs to be fast tracked.

The DA’s mission is to rescue the future of this country, to create a better future for all South Africans, not only those whom are connected. Hence, we ask you to stop the window dressing Minister and go implement in order to try and change the circumstances of one’s birth determining their prospects of success, because their dreams lay beneath our feet therefore we should tread softly because we tread on their dreams.

I suggest you leave political commentry and focus on resolving the issues!

I thank you.