/ 8 January 2024

NSFAS dismisses graft claims as Outa calls for Nzimande’s head

Minister for Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande also defended the the construction of a new college in Nkandla
Higher education minister, Blade Nzimande. File photo

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has refuted claims of corruption after the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) released damning voice recordings allegedly implicating Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande and NSFAS board chairperson Ernest Khosa in graft.

Since the release of the recordings, Outa has called for Nzimande and Khosa to resign.

“If they don’t resign, we call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to fire them immediately,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s investigations manager.

Last week, Outa released voice recordings of two meetings between Khosa and a service provider representative, revealing how service providers allegedly paid millions of rands to Nzimande and Khosa in kickbacks for tenders. 

The recordings also suggest that almost R1 million was paid to the South African Communist Party (SACP), of which Nzimande is the chair.

According to Outa, the payments were made in return for tenders and “protection” for service providers.

But NSFAS has dismissed the claims, criticised Outa’s investigative techniques and threatened court action, as has Nzimande.  

The taxpayer-funded bursary and loan scheme for students said in a statement there was a “concerning trend” that “Outa’s successive ‘investigative’ reports are characterised by advocacy for [the] business interest of some individuals and companies who might have unsuccessfully attempted to solicit business from NSFAS”.

The recordings form part of a streak of mismanagement and corruption allegations at the financial scheme over the past few years.  

In October 2023, NSFAS axed its chief executive Andile Nongogo over allegations of corruption, fraud and illegal tender dealings after a forensic report by law firm Werksmans alleged he had a relationship with one of the companies appointed for a new direct payment system.

“There needs to be a thorough investigation into the vast web of corruption in the higher education sector, which Outa’s various reports and these recordings reveal,” said Heyneke. 

This comes after NSFAS revealed prior to the release of the recordings that at least 20 000 students countrywide are still waiting for their 2023 allowances to be paid as it prepares for the 2024 student intake.

“When disbursements are made, the data from institutions and that of NSFAS must be in sync [but] because there is misinformation submitted to NSFAS the system blocks that student immediately, that is the case with the 20 000 students,” said NSFAS spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi.

Outa said its investigative report and the voice recordings have been shared with authorities, including the Special Investigating Unit, which has been looking into corruption at NSFAS. Copies will also be sent to the public protector, the South African Revenue Service and the auditor general.