Home South African Govt warned of chaos if it cuts NSFAS funding

Govt warned of chaos if it cuts NSFAS funding

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With more than 87,712 tertiary students estimated to be left out in the cold as the government intends to cut funding by 10% in the 2024 academic period, Fees Must Fall activists have warned of possible chaotic mayhem as student formations may push back.

In 2015, students staged nationwide protests in support of the #FeesMustFall campaign. File picture: Henk Kruger

WITH more than 87,712 tertiary students estimated to be left out in the cold as the government intends to cut funding by 10% in the 2024 academic period, Fees Must Fall activists warned of chaotic mayhem as student formations may push back.

University students could lose their National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding next year due to budget cuts. This was revealed by the acting CEO of NSFAS, Masile Ramorwesi, during a briefing to the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education on its plans ahead of the 2024 academic year.

This did not sit well with some former student activists, who have warned that the move to cut funding will open old wounds and trigger a mass protest like the one seen during the 2015 Fees Must Fall campaign.

A former secretary-general of the EFF’s sudent command, Rendani Nematswerani, said the budget cut was nothing but a “middle finger to the #FeesMustFall legacy”.

He argued that the new base of student activists would see the need to defend the legacy by waging a second wave of #FeesMustFall protests to oppose the fee adjustments. Nematswerani added that financial exclusion was intolerable.

“Recent historic events included the student struggles of the 2015 #FeesMustFall campaign, which opposed the then-proposed fee increment and robustly demanded that the government should halt fee increases and urged free education as the only alternative to the persistent crisis of financial exclusions in the higher education space. To them, this new budget cut is nothing but a middle finger to their legacy.”

“With this latter myopic move to undercut higher education funding, after the legitimate struggles in the post-apartheid South Africa across all universities, the legacy of a generation which sacrificed their academic lives and careers by being subjects of imprisonment and public persecution of being projected as hooligans, is being vulgarised,” said Nematswerani.

Ntando Sindane, a senior lecturer of law at the University of Free State and a prominent former student activist who was at the forefront of the Fees Must Fall movement, said there must be some sort of discussion between stakeholders.

“It is certainly very provocative from the state. And it seems to me that the government is making the same mistakes that it did before 2015, in terms of not adequately engaging students and other university stakeholders.”

Political analyst and senior lecturer at the University of Limpopo, Dr Metji Makgoba, warned that the cutting of funding by NSFAS would be a disaster for the black community which depended on the scheme to access higher education in South Africa.

“This decision is in line with broader neo-liberal policies that have sought to cut funding for social services, such as education and health care, in neo-liberal societies such as South Africa. This decision will only serve to reinforce racial inequality and deepen anti-black discourses within the ANC.

“This is painful, because the government has normalised maladministration, maldistribution and corruption in its spheres and has struggled to collect funds from people who have previously benefited from the scheme.

“Many students heavily depend on NSFAS, and the decision to cut the fund will cause collective trauma among the black youth who have been the main beneficiaries of the scheme. NSFAS has been a good project for the ANC and would cause harm to its constituents if its government decided to cut the funding.

“One hopes that the government increases NSFAS efficiency in distributing funds and builds capacity for the scheme,” he said.

Furthermore, Makgoba said NSFAS was too important for the government and black people who largely depended on it, adding that the institution “must be protected from neo-liberal and right-wing thugs” in the ruling party.

“The scheme has played an important role in empowering the black youth, even teaching them how to be responsible for their funds. This may not be an intended outcome but it has been critical in building responsible adults who learn how to manage on their terms.”

In 2015, institutions of higher learning, along with the Department of Higher Education and Training, agreed to increase fees for the following academic year, understanding the historical accounts of structural exclusions of the working class and poor people under the apartheid regime and the difficulties of post-apartheid, this resulted in student political formations and activists organising and mobilisation of students into a unified front under the banner of #FeesMustFall to oppose the proposed fee increment.

The nationwide protests disrupted the academic calendar, saw the vandalisation of property and the expulsion of some of the students who had participated in the protests.

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