A group of students attempting to occupy the minister for higher education and training’s office in Pretoria to hand over a memorandum of demands returned again on Tuesday. Again they found the entrance locked and picketed outside.
About 50 police officers, from both the South African Police Service and the Tshwane Metro Police Department, soon arrived in 20 cars to monitor the situation.
The marching students, of which the number declined from the 100 or so seen on Monday, say they want to tell Nzimande to his face that the government’s struggling National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has “reached its sell-by date”. The only solution for poor students was a cost-free university education.
The ministry was the wrong target and students should instead march on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.
The action against Nzimande was “misplaced”, said Nkwanyana.
“We’re saying the real march they must have must go to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and demand for the private sector to fund education. All those trillions that are there in these corporations must fund education.
“That’s where the real march should be directed, not in Pretoria to the department of higher education. They are chasing a wrong target.
“It’s the responsibility of business to skill this country because they benefit out of these graduates. They employ them to run their companies. So it’s in their interest to also fund higher education.
“Students should be demanding money from the private sector, to add to what we’re putting to NSFAS. They are misplaced.”
‘They are not going to get him’
Nzimande would not be receiving the students’ memorandum, said Nkwanyana, despite the group maintaining they wouldn’t hand it to anyone but himself.
“They are not going to get him. His view is that if they want him to receive those issues we’re there to receive on his behalf. He’s not even here in Pretoria. He’s in Cape Town.
“In the first place they did not notify us that they’d have this action. They bombarded us with this march.
“If they were serious about raising issues through a memorandum they’d have given it to us yesterday. I’m sure the minister would have seen what they are raising because we would have sent it immediately where he is to look at it.”
The higher education and training department has repeatedly admitted NSFAS is unable to fund all students who qualify for it. The scheme funded only half the number of students who needed it last year, and again this year it’s left out thousands.
The shortfall triggered the march. Institutions including the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Vaal University of Technology, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Peninsula University of Technology saw a wave of protests last month due to the funding debacle.
NSFAS ‘no longer relevant’
Addressing students, Sthembiso ka Shandu of the new Occupy Movement said the days of protesting on campuses over NSFAS should come to an end. The fight should instead be taken to Nzimande. “The solution is with the minister, not management of universities.”
Vusi Mahlangu, of the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania, added: “They don’t realise that NSFAS is outdated. It’s reached its sell-by date, and is no longer relevant.
“If there can be R250-million to build a house for one man, why can’t there be money for free education?”
Genius Tshabangu, a student leader from the Economic Freedom Fighters, warned campuses could be disrupted if Nzimande refused to meet students. “We’re not happy at all,” he said of Nzimande’s unavailability. “We’re going to fight.
“Blade is leaving us no option but to close all institutions in Gauteng.”
Nkwanyana said Nzimande was not opposed to calls for free higher education, but maintained it wasn’t currently affordable.
“We’ve responded to say we’re sympathetic to their demand for free education, but unfortunately currently it’s not feasible because [of the] government’s general budgetary constraints. That’s why we’re still on NSFAS.”
The students promised to continue their campaign until Nzimande availed himself.