/ 14 April 2024

‘I will not resign,’ says Nzimande on NSFAS board dissolution

There's A Sharp Edge To Blade's Plans
The minister said detractors have celebrated the reputational damage to the student funding scheme, his department and the government

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said he will not resign and that his detractors are just ‘playing politics’ by calling for him to step down after he did not immediately intervene in the failure of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Nzimande was speaking at a media briefing on Sunday during which he addressed his reasons for dissolving the NSFAS board on Friday and placing the institution under administration.

After the resignation of NSFAS chair Ernest Khosa and the dissolution of the NSFAS board, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and ActionSA called for the immediate resignation of Nzimande.

But, those were not the only organisations calling for the minister’s head. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) also called for Nzimande to step down saying that, if the minister fails to do so, President Cyril Ramaphosa should fire him immediately.

“Who is saying I must resign? I will not resign, I am not appointed by them,” Nzimande said. 

The minister presented a laundry list of failures by the NSFAS board which led to its dissolution. The list included everything from the board’s inability to submit a corrected annual report to parliament to the institution’s consistent inability to respond to student queries in a timeous and efficient manner.

“I have consistently raised my concerns with the outgoing NSFAS board about the inability and failure of NSFAS to carry out and implement some of its most basic responsibilities,” Nzimande said. 

He faulted the board on its inability to fully implement the recommendations of a Werksmans report, including that NSFAS should terminate contracts with its direct payment service providers, which were allegedly appointed irregularly. “I raised this in December. I said steps must be taken to remove these service providers and that has not happened,” Nzimande said.

The allowance payment system’s collapse is at the centre of Outa’s calls for Nzimande’s resignation. The organisation revealed leaked recordings, exposing damning allegations of corruption involving Nzimande and Khosa. Nzimande has denied the allegations against him.

The minister also bemoaned NSFAS management’s consistent inability to ensure timeous student allowance payments, which he said has threatened the stability of some of the country’s universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges.

Nzimande said he had engaged the board on several occasions and presented various solutions, including a turnaround strategy which has not been achieved within agreed timelines. 

Financial aid scheme’s woes have not only negatively affected the wellbeing of students, he said, but have also brought reputational damage to NSFAS, department and government. “Our detractors have been celebrating these weaknesses,” the minister added.

Sithembiso Freeman Nomvalo has been appointed as the new NSFAS administrator effective from 12 April. 

According to Nzimande, NSFAS will continue to operate while it is under administration. “The dissolution of the board will not affect normal functioning of NSFAS including all payments that need to be made,” he said.

“We are not going to change our commitment. We are doing this because we want to improve the functionality of the organisation.”

Nomvalo will report to the minister. He will have to submit a written report every three months on the progress at NSFAS. “The decision to dissolve the board was not taken lightly. And, in taking this decision, I have considered all possible implications — including the impact it might have on NSFAS employees and students,” Nzimande said.