As South Africa prepares for finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech on Wednesday with fears of possible increases in interest rates‚ student groups say they expect little.
“We don’t have any expectations‚” said Sthembiso Ndlovu‚ secretary-general of the South African Union of Students.
“The budget speech will have to be in line with what the president presented during the State of the Nation Address‚ and the president failed to give us a framework of how to implement free education.
“In all honestly‚ we are not expecting anything and our hopes won’t be high. We are planning now on how to respond to the speech.”
Ndlovu said students believed the government was not taking calls for free‚ quality‚ decolonised education seriously as they didn’t see any plans or frameworks to implement the demands.
Demands for changes to the higher education system have increased since #FeesMustFall protests began in 2015 and disruped a large part of the 2016 academic year.
Kuhlekonke Ntuli‚ SRC president of the Howard College campus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal‚ said the SRC remained clear about its position of allowing all students to register although many were unable to afford fees.
“We still believe free education is a call that must be made.”
Students wanted to know when and how that would be possible‚ she said.
Ntuli said she was hopeful that part of Gordhan’s speech would address concerns about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
“The clear position we have had is that we are still calling for free education. We do want more funding packages to be allocated to institutions of higher learning because the ones that do exist aren’t sufficient‚” Ntuli said.
David Manabile‚ Wits SRC secretary-general‚ said he expected an announcement from Gordhan that treasury would allocate more money to the NSFAS.
“A lot of students say they don’t have money. We are expecting some sort of bail-out. But of course the call for free education will continue. It is not a governmental issue alone‚” he said.
“Nothing progressive is going to come out of that budget speech. The only thing we can hope for is more money allocated to NSFAS.”
Manabile said: “As things stand‚ we have a huge crisis. Students are sleeping in libraries‚ they’re sleeping in bathrooms. These are just some of the things upsetting students. If these things aren’t addressed… I foresee a turmoil of some special type.”
Manabile said it was in the best interest of universities‚ government and business to come together in an attempt to resolve the issues.
Former Wits SRC president and Fees Must Fall activist Mcebo Dlamini‚ who last year after his bail application said he would not be able to control students’ reaction if their demands weren’t addressed‚ said the next step depended on the budget speech.
“We are ready to face the bullet again‚ and this time we are going to face them until the end. It is the beginning of the year and they will not be able to intimidate students back into classes‚” he said.
Dlamini said student leaders would meet immediately after the budget speech.
“Students are ready‚ students are frustrated‚” he said.
During President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address this month he said government had settled the debt owed by NSFAS students and had extended the coverage of the scheme to cover a larger number of students.
“They correctly pointed out that accumulated debt and fast-rising fees were making it harder and harder for those who come from less-privileged households to enter and stay within the education system until they complete their studies.
“It is for this reason that when university students expressed genuine concerns about being excluded from universities‚ our caring government responded appropriately by taking over the responsibility to pay the fee increase for the 2016 academic year‚” Zuma said.
The president said the government had listened to some concerns students on the NSFAS faced‚ including that the scheme didn’t always cover tuition fees in full‚ and that government-initiated process were already looking at addressing this problem.