By Thakira Desai
Despite sighs of relief, analysts are questioning how government will finance free higher education, this following a move that effectively overrules the recently released Commission into the Feasibility of Higher Education and Training recommendations. In a statement on Saturday morning, President Jacob Zuma announced government’s decision to subsidize free education for students who fall within the poor and working class income bracket. The decision is set to come into effect in 2018 for students in their first year of study who are enrolled at public universities or TVET Colleges “from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000”.
The decision comes as the 54th ANC National Conference got to a slow start at the NASREC Centre, Johannesburg.
Addressing media at the Progressive Business Forum breakfast, which opened the conference, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba says the details of decision will be tabled in the Budget 2018.
“We have indicated that we are going to complete our fiscal consolidation programme in terms of which will be announced in the budget including outlining ways of funding fee free higher education in a fiscally sustainable manner,
“So we will announce the detail in the Budget 2018. We can’t provide any details at this present moment,” Gigaba noted.
Speaking to VOC News on the sidelines of the conference, researcher for al-Jazeera Thembisa Fakude cites Zuma’s decision as a move to cement his legacy, saying “he is just playing to the crowd”.
Fakude now asks “where is he going to get the money?”
“Regarding the fees [decision], it is all about Zuma trying to cement his legacy, because the minister of finance has said on several occations that there is no money and I am told that Zuma is not only talking about one per cent, he is talking about two per cent.”
Given the president’s marred tenure as both the president of the ANC and the country, this decision is received as a means for him to end on a high.
“Most people said he was the most disastrous president of the ANC – it’s too late in the day, but hopefully he will make it.”
Describing Zuma’s position after a new ANC president is announced as that of a “lame-duck”, Fakude says Zuma will not affect any policy changes within the ruling party.
With just over one year until the next presidential elections, it remains to be seen whether policy on free education will be in line with the outgoing president’s decision, the source of the financing of free education a key concern.
“The possibility of him succeeding in his latest projects relies on the goodwill on whoever is going to win and if Cyril Rhamaphosa does win, chances are very slim that Jacob Zuma will succeed with his projects, particularly the one of subsidizing education.”[VOC]