“NSFAS board failed,” says Nzimande 

Mismanagement, failures in meeting requirements and delays in paying student allowances are some of the reasons leading to the dissolution of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. 

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Professor Blade Nzimande has blamed the outgoing National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board for not fulfilling their administrative duties, and students failing as a result. 

In a media briefing held on Sunday, April 14, Nzimande addressed the recurring problem of non-payment and student allowances that have been plaguing NSFAS. The minister responded to this by dissolving the board on April 11, 2024. 

Nzimande said the outgoing NSFAS board were unable to uphold basic responsibilities, with some of these shortcomings being the “consistent inability to oversee payment of student allowances timeously,” and the scheme’s failure to respond to student queries timeously.  

The outgoing board was also unable to meet the Werksman Report requirements. One of the key requirements was to terminate the contracts of four of the service providers as these tenders were handed irregularly.  

Now the scheme has a new administrator, Sithembiso Freeman Nomvalo. He is the former CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and has 25 years of experience under his belt, 17 split between the private and public sector. Nomvalo has also been credited for possessing “extensive knowledge and (an) impeccable track record in public finance and government processes”. 

First on the agenda for Nomvalo is taking over the governance, management, and administration of NSFAS for a period of one year, which is subject to a renewal of a further 12 months depending on the progress that is made. 

The new administrator will also be required to “finalize all the necessary financial decisions and outstanding payments especially those relating to student accommodation”. 

Joseph Baloyi, a first-year BA Law student at Wits University and a NSFAS beneficiary does not believe that the change will have any positive effect.

He claims that he has been experiencing delays in receiving his allowances throughout the year and that private banks are the reason for the delays. He believes that the solution is for the Minister to “remove the private banks, then pay the school so that the school can pay us.” 

At the briefing, Chief Operation Officer at NSFAS, Errol Makhubela, confirmed that “NSFAS has granted an extension to all universities to continue to disperse allowances to students from April to July 2024”. 

The scheme advanced an upfront payment to distribute the student allowances which will commence on Monday, 15 April 2024. Makhubela said the advanced upfront payment, which covers book allowances, food allowances and travel allowances will be paid for by the institutions.  

SASCO denounces corruption amidst NSFAS woes 

SASCO president Vezinhlanhla Simelane passionately declared that “SASCO does not endorse, support nor facilitate any form of corruption or misappropriation of public funds.” 

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) failed to pay 20 000 allowances in 2023, leaving students hungry and unable to focus on their studies, which saw and some dropping out of university. 

The student bursary scheme said all outstanding payments would be made by January 15, 2024. But so far, only 9 128 issues have been resolved, leaving 10 872 students in limbo. An issue that the South African Students Congress (SASCO) said needs to be dealt with urgently in a press briefing held on Friday, January 19. 

Simelane said all payment balances must be made before the closure of the registration period in February 2024, and failure to do so will result in the implementation of mass action or mobilizing students for a protest. 

Simelane also spoke to recent corruption allegations against the minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande. NSFAS board chairperson, Ernest Khoza and Nzimande were accused of defrauding the student bursary scheme according to a leaked audio recording and an investigation report by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA). 

He said if true, this kind of self-enrichment by politicians is ‘disgusting’. “We call for the harshest form of consequence management to be meted against any NSFAS or Department of Higher Education representative found embezzling funds destined for destitute and poor students,” said Simelane. 

Second-year Bachelor of Arts student, Lindelwa Khanyile is a NSFAS recipient who went over the R45 000 accommodation cap imposed by NSFAS in 2023. This led to historical debt of R101 00, owed to Wits University. The institution has since demanded that she pay a minimum of R30 000 to register for her third year. “My question is, where will I get R30 000 as a NSFAS recipient – it doesn’t make sense,” she said.  

“This is such a depressing experience for me, student organisations such as EFF and SASCO need to meet with Wits management and plead with them to allow students to complete their studies,” said Khanyile, whose hopes of graduating and pursuing a postgraduate degree in journalism remain suspended.  

Similarly, postgraduate student Lesego Makinita owes Wits R50 000. Not being able to raise funds forced Makinita to return to their hometown, Rustenburg in the North West province. “I have made peace with the fact that I can’t go to school even if I want to. I’ve always wanted to go to Business School to study business administration, I’m very good at marketing and I know I would do a great job,” they said.  

On the question of free education in South Africa’s current landscape, Kamtshe told Wits Vuvuzela that it is indeed attainable, but there is a lack of political will to implement it. He criticized the current system which is a mix of bursaries, scholarships, and student loans, “that is not free education, free education must be entirely free,” he said.  

In closing, Simelane urged activists to take decisive action to ensure that “the doors of learning are forcefully opened in 2024.”  

#WitsShutdown nears second week

While some are attending online classes, protesting students still have their proverbial boots on the ground as the #WitsShutdown drags on.  

Protesting students were joined by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union affiliated workers picketing in front of the heavily guarded Wits Great Hall on Monday, March 6.  

The Great Hall piazza has been stage to increased tensions over the last few days, which saw projectiles including bricks and stones, flung from either side of the picket line. Most recently students trying to gain entry to the admin block were shoved and pepper sprayed by security officers.

Increased security in recent days, has seen the police called in to quell tensions. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

SRC’s attempt to ‘fetch’ VC 

A group of students protested outside the Wits VC, Zeblon Vilakazi’s house in Parktown at around 22:00 on March 6, 2023, to pressure the university to meet outstanding demands. The protesters accused the vice chancellor of being “arrogant” and not taking their plight seriously after he refused to meet them, he was on campus at the time and agreed to meet with the SRC at a time yet to be confirmed. 

In a statement, the university said: “Following our engagement with the SRC, and further correspondence, the SRC has rejected the concessions presented today. Instead… about 200 students, led by the SRC, chose to march to the Vice-Chancellor’s home, and some threatened to burn it down.” The SRC denied the threat.  

“We will not put our arms down until our students are registered,” said Kabelo Phungwayo, the Wits SRC Treasurer General who said that he was left bruised after security guards assaulted him while protesting on Monday morning.  

Students kneel on the Great Hall piazza on March 6, 2023. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

Deadlock after concessions 

Wits has made some concessions including the waiving the R10 000 first fee payment for students applying for accommodation, and the provision of free data for all students from April 1, 2023. Speaking at a mass meeting on Sunday evening SRC president, Aphiwe Mnyamana said that they “will remain resolute” until all their demands are met.  

Remaining demands include the allocation of additional beds for homeless students, scrapping of the R45 000 National Student Financial Aid Scheme accommodation cap, allowing indebted students to graduate and the lifting of suspensions.  

The university says many of these demands are simply unaffordable, the NSFAS shortfall for instance requires some R86 million.  

In a statement issued over the weekend, the minister of higher education, science and technology, Blade Nzimande said urgent meetings over the cap would take place in the coming days. Along with this, “price collusion by landlords”, would be investigated.  

Karabo Matloga, the Wits SRC compliance officer, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “We had a meeting on Saturday looked promising however, the letter that we received was simply a spit in our faces because it was not addressing the core issues we have.”  

The university said it is committed to working with the SRC subject to availability of resources and the university’s long-term sustainability.

FEATURED IMAGE: Student holding up a placard which reads, “Wits is not for good…”. Photo: Mpho Hlakudi

RELATED STORIES:

Treasury says no money to fund zero percent fee increase

By Ayanda Mgede and Laura Pisanello

The National Treasury has said that they have not budgeted for a zero percent fee increase for 2017, causing speculation that another series of #FeesMustFall protests could be possible.

The statement was made on Friday at the Fees Commission and coincided with a report by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) stating that another 0% increase in 2017 would not be possible as university fee increases should at least be on par with inflation. They recommended an increase of 6.3% for both tuition and registration fees. The CHE also cautioned that without an increase in fees, universities would be in a worse financial position.

The CHE also included in the report its recommendation to increase the state subsidy to universities by R5.7 billion in 2017/18 therefore allowing universities to recover some of their shortfall caused by the 0% increase in 2016. The CHE did, however, caution that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would still have a shortfall of R300 million.

The CHE proposed a blanket increase for all universities that would essentially ensure that students see no fee increase between 2016 and 2017, possibly with the exemption of some residence fees.

But the National Treasury said on Friday that when the announcement for a 0% increase was made the budget had already been planned for the next few years, making it very difficult for the Treasury to reallocate funds to higher education. Michael Sachs, who presented on behalf of the National Treasury, said that they had budgeted on fee increases for the following years.

At a town hall meeting last week, Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said that that Wits would need an 8% increase for 2017, if the university did not receive an increased subsidy from the government.

Mzwanele Ntshwanti, the projects, media and campaigns officer for the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and member of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) told Wits Vuvuzela that they opposed any fee increase.

“We still don’t want any increment, SAUS (South African Union of Students) doesn’t want any increment, SRC doesn’t want any increment, no one wants a fee increment and we are still trying to negotiate and see what can come out,” Ntshwanti said.

He also told Wits Vuvuzela that a statement regarding a possible national shutdown would be released shortly.

Calls to expel Israeli ambassador from South Africa

The ANC (African National Congress), its alliance members, Cosatu and the SACP (South African Communist Party), and pro-Palestinian organisations held a press conference at Cosatu House earlier today, denouncing the Israeli government for denying Minister Blade Nzimande and his delegation visas to enter Palestine.  

IMG_20150427_141710

PRO-PALESTINE ALLIANCE: Members of COSATU, SACP, BDSSA, YCL, and SAUS, amongst others at Cosatu House announcing their plans to boycott Israel earlier today. Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama

Various African National Congress-aligned and pro-Palestinian organisations vowed today that they would force the South African government to expel the Israeli ambassador, amongst other demands.

The demands, in response to Israel’s refusal to grant a visa to Minister Blade Nzimande and his delegation to travel to Palestine, were announced at a press conference held this afternoon at Cosatu House.

Organisations present at the press conference included the South African Communist Party (SACP), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), Young Communist League (YCL), South African Students Congress (SASCO), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), and members of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDSSA), amongst others.

The organisations said they believed that Nzimande, the minister of Higher Education and Training, was denied access to Palestine because of Israel’s “apartheid” laws.

“The embassy of Israel must go.”

The acting National Spokesperson of Cosatu, Norman Mampane, said Blade Nzimande’s stance against Isreal should not be viewed as his individual views, but rather as ANC policy, adopted by the ANC National Executive Committee.

Government given an ultimatum

Mampane highlighted an action plan that included requesting the ANC government to impose bans on Israeli nationals travelling to South Africa, holding a national meeting with Student Representative Councils (SRCs), from universities around the country to discuss an academic boycott of Israel, and calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, Arthur Lenk, from South Africa within 10 days.

“It’s clear that they [Israel] don’t want to talk … so in ten days if the embassy is not closed, we will go and close it ourselves,” said Matome Chiloane, Chairman of the Gauteng ANCYL.

Bheki Ntshalintshali, Cosatu Deputy General Secretary said that they are not surprised by the Israeli government’s decision to deny Minister Nzimande a visa, because the “Israeli government has been consistent in denying Palestinian people their freedom”.

“The embassy of Israel must go,” Ntshalintshali said.

Nzimande was invited to Palestine to discuss and participate in the launch of the Centre for African Studies at a Palestinian university. Nzimande did not attend the press conference.

Wits students protest NSFAS application complications

IMG_3659

PAINED: A PYA member calls for students to unite in solidarity with those unable to pay the upfront registration fee. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Around 60 Witsies gathered at Senate House on Wednesday to protest the upfront fee expected from NSFAS students.

Students who are awaiting National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) approval have been asked to pay a registration fee of R4 670.

The protesters sang “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy” and chanted “NSFAS voetsek! NSFAS voetsek!” while dancing.

Members of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC), Progressive Youth Alliance, the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Project W attended the protest.

SRC president Mcebo Dlamini told protesters that Wits management was denying “poor students an education”. He called on Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib and management to waive the upfront fee.

“This has never happened at Wits. Why now? Only rich students can study here. We the students demand that you do away with these fee,” Dlamini said.

IMG_3754

SNAP THAT: A PYA member takes photos as students protest outside the Great Hall. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Secretary of the Wits EFF Mbe Mbhele accused NSFAS of having a policy to exclude black students at Wits and around academic institutions.

“It is only black students who are affected. This exclusion is a reflection of what is happening around South Africa. If it is not resolved we will take radical action,” Mbhele said.

Deputy Vice-chancellor of Academics Prof Andrew Crouch told Wits Vuvuzela that the upfront fee for NSFAS beneficiaries would only affect about 400 students. However, it was not possible to waive their upfront fees.

“If we waiver the fee for 400 students, which is 12 percent of students, than we would have to waiver the complete registration fee [of R9 340] for all Wits Students. We have to be fair here. Bear in mind 88% of students pay full fees,” Crouch said.

Crouch also said that the university are doing their best to deal with the situation.

He said that NSFAS give Wits four types of allocations for funding. The university is trying to move money from three of the four allocations into the NSFAS general allocation to allow for at least 400 students whose applications are pending to receive funding.

“The process will be completed by February,” he said.

Following the protest a joint press conference was held between the SRC and university management.

Habib told reporters that the issue was out of Wits’ hands and that NSFAS had given strict instructions to Wits not to go over its NSFAS bursary allocation as the university had done in 2013 and 2014.

“If we had the money to hand out we would but we just can’t at the moment.”

Habib said the reason behind the high upfront registration fee is because the government subsidy only comes into play from April each year.

“We have to make up the deficits of the first three months of the year and part of the money used to pay staff salaries and fund the university through this period is through the registration fee.”

Dlamini accused Habib of being “politically correct”.

“Our VC is playing politics,” he said. “It’s a sad moment, the university wants to eat its own like a pig.”

IMG_3842 edited

CALL TO ORDER: A member of the EFF calls for management to explain themselves to students. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Dlamini also blamed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande for not taking the NSFAS issue and the Wits SRC seriously.

“When we met with the minister he kept joking and talking about Nkandla,” Dlamini said. “We just hope he listened to us. He must start taking education seriously and allocate more money for higher education before students end up on the streets.”

Some students on Twitter had also threatened violence if students were excluded over a lack of NSFAS funding. Habib warned that violence on campus would be taken “seriously by the law”. Students found to be involved “in such actions will be expelled” with no chance to reapply to the university in the future.

 

 

Students prevented from registering over NSFAS protest

Four of the 27 University of Johannesburg students arrested for protesting over financial aid have been prevented from registering for classes this year.

Last month, the students, dubbed the “UJ27” were arrested for protesting against a shortage of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS).

[pullquote align=”right”] “The university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.”[/pullquote]

The students were arrested and released with a warning after they appeared in the Newlands Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg. Twenty of the students were then suspended by UJ. Among the 20 students were the chairperson and secretary of the UJ SA Students Congress (Sasco).

Prevented from registering 

Last Friday, the suspended students won a court order forcing the university to allow them to register. However, four were still prevented from registering on Monday.

Shira’h Jeenah, chairperson of UJ Sasco and one of the four students prevented from registering told Wits Vuvuzela the university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.

However, on Monday when the students came to register the security escort had not been provided by UJ Campus Protection and so the students could not register.

“The university has said that we are not allowed on campus if we do not have classes,” said Jeenah.   He added that the students have had to submit their timetables into campus protection so they may be escorted to their classes and off campus.

“We’re only allowed to be on campus 15 minutes before class and 15 minutes after,” said Jeenah.

However, according to Jeenah, the university has also accused UJ Sasco of violating the court order because the students were picketing when the court order was presented to the university administration.

The verdict awaits 

On Monday afternoon the unregistered students were outside the Kingsway campus in Auckland Park waiting to hear if their attorney was able to reach an agreement with the university to allow them to register.

[pullquote] “They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”[/pullquote]

Wits Vuvuzela contacted the university for comment but has not yet received a response.

Tebogo Thotela, deputy-secretary of Sasco Gauteng, criticised the suspension of the students and the charges they are facing.

“They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”, said Thotela.

Students left financially desperate

The suspension of the UJ students was part of a spate of nationwide protests against the lack of funds from NSFAS that had left many students financially desperate and unable to continue with their studies.

In addition to UJ, the government fund had come under fire from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the Durban University of Technology (DUT),  and UJ for being unable to meet the financial requirements of the universities.

Thotela said that NSFAS was in arrears of R200-million with UJ and a national shortage of R 2-billion. While Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande subsequently committed R1-billion to the fund, this may not be enough to cover the financial shortages between the universities and NSFAS.

[pullquote align=”right”]”The fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.”[/pullquote]

Wits NFSAS continues to fund students

Amidst all the protests at other universities, Wits’ NSFAS office has continued to provide students with their financial grants. Thotela said that unlike TUT and UJ, only 15% of registered Wits students rely on the government fund.

Although NSFAS received an extra R 100-million to their fund which increased it from the previous year’s total of R 8. 2-billion, the fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.

Thotela said that the issue lies in the inevitable increase in the intake of students each year. “We’re seeing kids from a working class background coming to university and the fees are increasing as well.”

RELATED ARTICLES: