Doctor Blade Nzimande – the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation – has released a statement addressing student demands in the country, but has answered very little at the end of the day.
The demands come from the South African Union of Students which posted 15 demands for Nzimande and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
Nzimande has provided a response to students in this six page PDF which can be viewed here. While we recommend that students and other stakeholders in higher education read the response, it’s wholly lacking.
Many answers from the minister pass the buck to individual universities and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). This is particularly disappointing as the entire impetus for the demands was spurred on by the death of an unarmed bystander at a protest at Wits last week. The protest itself was spurred on by funding and debt problems experienced by students partly or wholly involving NSFAS.
For example let’s look at demand number six from the union: “We demand all student allowances to be provided in March because the academic year starts in March. Landlords are already harassing students for payment”.
“These processes are being managed by individual universities in line with their registration dates. However, NSFAS funding to students is only released once students are registered and confirmed for funding. It is also important to note that NSFAS will receive its first tranche from the fiscus on 1 April 2021 in line with National Treasury’s processes,” Nzimande writes in response.
As you can see the minister is quick to shift the focus to universities and NSFAS instead of answering on behalf of DHET. On top of this the issue of landlords and student harassment is not answered at all. We understand that this is probably outside of the purview of the DHET, and that universities / NSFAS are better equipped to answer certain questions, but Nzimande is the governmental leader of higher education in South Africa and he really should have better answers than this.
Looking at the rest of the answers to the demands and little is stated in terms of action from the DHET. It’s once again a case of many words and little action from the South African government.
The closest we think Nzimande gets to actually helping students is in demand 13 (see below). Once again the minister wants students to look to their schools for answers, but a promise is made for guidelines for students returning to campuses.
[Image – CC 2.0 from the South African government]