Letters to the editor: January 6 to 12 2017

Joemat-Petterson’s report card error

Each year those of us in the private sector who deal with the intricacies of policy development and delivery look forward to reading the Mail & Guardian expert panel’s perspective in the year-end Cabinet report cards. They were particularly interesting at the end of 2016, when a rudderless South Africa lost every semblance of balance and direction.

Yet the M&G panel found that Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson had improved her score from an F in 2015 to a D in 2016 — although she was still found to be “sneaky”.

The monumental failures in the corporate governance of Eskom and PetroSA are sidestepped, because the Integrated Resource Plan was published in November and there was a clean audit of the department!

The panel has definitely blinked here, I’m afraid.

There are so many missteps going on in the energy department: papering over the PetroSA losses and the illicit sale of South Africa’s strategic fuel reserves prove that the portfolio committee, the national energy regulator and the minister are failing South Africa miserably.

South Africans are paying a heavy price in the energy space.

I would suggest the panel rethink their presumption of improvement by Joemat-Petterson and her department. — Concerned Citizen, Johannesburg

Ikusasa is a mashonisa

The Mail & Guardian article “Student aid may have a new future” (December 22) describes a tabled “gazette” for Cabinet to approve a “partnership” of the private sector and government to establish a new funding entity, the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme. This partnership is a result of a ministerial task team report on the creation of a new funding model for the “missing middle” and the poor. Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande appointed Sizwe Nxasana, the former FirstRand chief executive, to chair the task team.

The article says that, “given NSFAS’s [the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s] legacy issues, it will be very difficult to restore the confidence of the private sector to start funding NSFAS”. This is a demonstration of monopoly capitalist arrogance, and it is disgusting. It tells you, simply, that the private sector is not interested in the wellbeing of the government or the poor, except insofar as it can benefit from them in whatever way possible.

“Everything which exists, exists of necessity,” wrote Karl Marx. “But, equally, everything which exists is doomed to perish, to be transformed into something else. Thus what is ‘necessary’ in one time or place becomes ‘unnecessary’ in another. Everything begets its opposite, which is destined to overcome and negate it.”

Indeed, NSFAS could be called all sorts of things by those who are not happy with it, but to push it into a back seat in a partnership with the private sector, after what it has done for poor South Africans, will be a serious accident of history.

This public-private partnership agreement proposed for NSFAS and new, special management companies, called ManCo and FundCo, will be an ideological contradiction hobbling the realisation of free education and socialism in South Africa.

A few years ago, Nzimande commissioned a review of NSFAS by what some of us in the student movement used to call the Balintulo commission. At the Sasco 16th national congress in 2009 he said: “I instituted this evaluation … because it is generally recognised that the scheme has acute shortcomings in providing adequate support for needy students.

As a result of these shortcomings, poor students and their parents have to resort to undesirable options such as mashonisas [loan sharks] to finance their studies. This practice perpetuates a cycle of debt in thousands of poor households around the country and needs to come to an end … In the final analysis, the revamped NSFAS must give effect to government’s commitment to progressively introduce free education for the poor up to undergraduate level.”

We need to ask about the Balintulo report and how far NSFAS has moved to respond to it. Is the establishment of this new scheme a declaration that NSFAS has failed? If it has not failed, why reinvent the wheel?

Now that the report is in the public domain, the Congress movement, particularly the unions, should unite in rejecting this new mashonisa. Ideologically, the communist party should lead the call, because this mashonisa will abuse the poor. The endorsement of this scheme will ideologically contradict the ANC’s resolution to use NSFAS to progressively marshal free education for the poor. If we surrender education to the capitalists to manage, we lose our ability to fight for socialism.

In the article it says that “the private sector is risk-averse and wants to have some guarantees that its funds will be well used”. For crying out loud, NSFAS is celebrating 25 years of student funding in South Africa. It even funded senior private and public sector officials.

If it is true that Ikusasa “will make decisions centrally regarding who is accepted for funding, together with the terms, conditions, and the grant/loan/bursary make-up of the funding”, then NSFAS will just be an empty shell. This partnership is an indication of takeover. — Sive Madala Gumenge, former Sasco provincial executive member (Western Cape) and a Progressive Youth Alliance activist.

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