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Now That Blade Nzimande Has Fallen, Fees Should Fall Too

Zuma's faction is merely using students struggles as a pawn in fighting their party politricks.

20/10/2017 03:58 SAST
Cornel van Heerden/ Foto24/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
Wits University students block and barricade entrances to the institution during a #FeesMustFall protest on September 19, 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Students threatened to shut down the university after Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande announced that universities can determine their own fee increases for 2017 but shouldn't exceed 8 percent.

It's with great joy and jubilation to hear that Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has fallen. President Jacob Zuma's imminent axing of Nzimande comes as no surprise. Nzimande did nothing for the sector and in addressing students' grievances and we doubt the newly appointed Hlengiwe Mkhize will do any different.

With Fees Must Fall entering its third year of protests since it took a strategic retreat, one notes that the major motivation behind this move is in anticipation of the Fees Commission Report that was finalised and released to the President. Regardless of the commission's report and recommendations, it is important to understand the realm of power through which this Free Quality Decolonised Education will be delivered from.

So, regardless of Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle -- whether it's axed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande or newly appointed Hlengiwe Mkhize at the helm of this ministry -- the question still remains, who possesses the power to call for free education other than President Jacob Zuma communicating such a decision through his ministers when exercising power?

The Higher education landscape did not experience any different trajectory under Nzimande and surely will not under Mkhize, who served under the department in 2011 with no good story to tell in relation to their attempts at redressing the injustices of the past and our present challenges.

Today, historically disadvantaged institutions continue to receive very little support from the government and continue to have a dilapidated infrastructure, student services that place the black child in an inferior position on all spheres of development and financial freedom. Thus the struggle for the decolonisation of education and ridding it of its class, racial and gender biases which arose from our past is one that only the President is at liberty to deliver.

The ANC has a standing resolution taken at its Policy Conference earlier this year, on free quality education, to be rolled out next year -- a very ambitious timeframe, taking into consideration they could not do it in 23 years of governance.

Zuma has undermined the ANC's standing policy resolution as well as the Inquiry into the feasibility, by not sharing the commission's findings and paving a strategic rollout plan.

Nevertheless, the executive powers lie with Zuma and no Minister can approve any policy without his authorisation, especially when that will have a huge impact on the state budget. Therefore the call for fee-free education fell outside Nzimade's powers, as much as they do with Mkhize.

The delay in making the commission's report public for stakeholders to engage on proposed plans is evident that the ministry, which is part of Zuma's faction is merely using students struggles as a pawn in fighting their party politricks. This is a clear tactic of political repression in higher education and as a result, we could see more sporadic student revolts across campuses.

Zuma has undermined the ANC's standing policy resolution as well as the Inquiry into the feasibility, by not sharing the commission's findings and paving a strategic rollout plan.

Chairperson of the commission, Judge Jonathan Heher, presented the report to Zuma more than two months ago. To date, the Presidency still claims Zuma is studying the report and its recommendations and would make it available to the public. What is even more worrying, is the bizarre speculation that the new minister will pronounce on this, is not worth celebrating, as axed minister Nzimande lacked those powers then and so will Mkhize.

Students are not interested in the ANC's infighting. But will not sit back and allow their struggles to be used as 'brownie points'. We are resolute, undeterred and clear on our call for fee-free decolonised Afrocentric education.

Regardless of who Zuma moves around on his chessboard, it's still unclear on whether there will be fee-free education for the poor by 2018. Yet, instead of the rhetoric, as a dangling carrot -- in favour of Zuma's factional battles, will extend to another year and be used as a campaign tool for 2019, and not get implementation thereafter.

If Zuma and the ANC are serious about job-creation, sustainable development and eradicating poverty, they must note that education is the most important investment to make as a country and must be treated as an ideology and not as a neutral phenomenon

One can anticipate, if Zuma's preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, looses in her bid for Presidency, before early advised retirement, he will declare fee-free education while there is no budget, so that people can say, "We told you about (Cyril) Ramaphosa", and that will have a huge negative impact on the movement at large.

He (Ramaphosa) ought to demonstrate now if and how fee-free education would be rolled out before the outcomes of the December elective conference. If he decides to do that, it will be Zuma who has been delaying it all along and NOT ministers.

If Zuma and the ANC are serious about job-creation, sustainable development and eradicating poverty, they must note that education is the most important investment to make as a country and must be treated as an ideology and not as a neutral phenomenon. Education must continue to be used as an instrument of liberation through the provision of free, quality and decolonised education.