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Ministers’ pockets can fund a degree

In his usual chic garb, the deputy minister of higher education and training, Mduduzi Manana, is unlikely to be a hot favourite among his Cabinet colleagues or with MPs. He wants his ­fellow ministers and deputy ministers to donate part of their salaries to the bursary schemes of struggling ­universities.

“We’re about 63 in the national executive; you can imagine if all of us were to contribute R1 000 a month we could accumulate R63 000. That is money that can actually educate an African child at the University of Cape Town [UCT] or University of Johannesburg.

“We would have covered in one month’s contributions the full cost of study of one student, just as deputy ministers and ministers. If you multiply those contributions by 12 months, it is something above R700 000 per year just from the national executive,” he tells the Mail & Guardian during an interview at his Pretoria office.

Manana is fresh from depositing his second instalment to the Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) bursary fund for poor students.

A patron of the fund, he has pledged to transfer a monthly amount he said was between R1 000 and R2 000 for 12 months. “This is not departmental money, but my own,” he said.

But on a percentage basis this is a drop in Manana’s ocean. It is just 1.32% of his monthly net ­salary. The annual salaries of deputy ministers have increased by more than R400 000 before deductions since 2009 when Jacob Zuma became president. These now stand at more than ­R1.8-million, while ministers rake net salaries of just over R2.2-million a year (up by R487 000 since 2009).

The TUT’s management and the student representative council (SRC) launched the bursary fund late in 2014. The institution described it as a “long-term initiative to address the shortage of funding for students from disadvantaged communities”.

A perrenial problem
Inadequate funds have become a perennial problem for the TUT, the largest higher-learning contact institution in the country with more than 60 000 students.

Each year protests erupt at its campuses because allocation from the government’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) can barely cover all qualifying students.

Manana now promotes up the TUT bursary fund as exemplary for other historically disadvantaged universities, where most of the students are dependent on NSFAS.

“I had to be the first patron in this first initiative of TUT to encourage other institutions [to start similar funds], but also other people [such as] members of Parliament, ministers, mayors, councillors and everyone to contribute. There are no terms and no fixed amounts, anything feasible for you.

“We expect people to make certain contributions to a university, especially prominent people. Everybody must be involved in the education of an African child. Government can only do so much.”

Manana said his call is not limited to ANC members only. “If we have the 400 MPs from the DA, EFF, ANC, IFP [and all parties in Parliament] putting in R1 000, that’s R400 000 a month. Now multiply that by 12, that’s something about R5-million [a month].

“We’re talking about only Parliament and not legislatures where there are premiers, MECs and MPLs. I’m saying if we start energised in the way that I am envisioning it, we’d assist many poor students.”

Big earners
MPs, premiers and MPLs are also some of the highest earners in the country. Premiers’ annual net salary stands at just over R2-million, that of MPs is almost R990 000 and MPLs earn R968 000.

Manana said the call also aims to “infuse” alumni of the previously disadvantaged universities with a culture of donating to their alma maters. He reckons there is unexploited appetite among these alumni.

“Whenever there’s protest at University of Venda I’m phoned by judges who studied law there. The first thing they ask is ‘how can we assist’.

“Remember, people currently leading in politics and business in South Africa are people who were deprived of going to universities such as Wits University and UCT. The majority of them are products of University of Fort Hare, Turfloop [now University of Limpopo], University of Zululand, University of Transkei, now Walter Sisulu University.

“They have been calling me to ask ‘what is happening to our ­universities?’ I get a sense that no one would want to hold a qualification with a name of an institution that’s on the brink of collapse and without them making an intervention.”

Manana’s higher education and training department has ­repeatedly accused the private sector of not doing anything to bail out poor ­students. “The private sector is ­actually sitting with money, but how is it assisting government?” he asked. 

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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