12/11/2017 16:40 SAST | Updated 12/11/2017 16:42 SAST

Education Minister In The Dark On Zuma's Fees Decision

"We don't know what the president will finally say," Hlengiwe Mkhize said on Sunday.

Hlengiwe Mkhize, while still Deputy Minister of Economic Development at the Park Hyatt hotel on March 11, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Bafana Mahlangu
Hlengiwe Mkhize, while still Deputy Minister of Economic Development at the Park Hyatt hotel on March 11, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize does not know what President Jacob Zuma's final decision on free higher education will be.

"We don't know what the president will finally say," Mkhize told News24 on Sunday, adding that Zuma had shown clear "commitment" towards resolving the matter during cabinet meetings.

"I have been in meetings; he expressed his highest commitment to this," she said.

Zuma has not yet made the findings of the Heher Commission report public. The commission explores the viability of funding models for higher education.

Headed by retired judge Jonathan Heher, the commission was set up following the first eruption of the #FeesMustFall protests two years ago. The report examined 20 different scenarios of funding compiled by evidence leaders, according to the leaked report, reported News24 sister publication City Press.

Since receiving the report from Judge Heher on August 30, Zuma had resisted calls to release it, with the Presidency saying he was still studying its contents.

This delay has frustrated students and university management, as well as his own department of higher education and training.

This has resulted in students at several institutions taking part in protest action against fee-increase proposals tabled by their respective universities and demanding that the report be made public.

In the interim, media reports have speculated about what his plans will be.

Nevertheless, when it came to specific timelines of a final official announcement by the President, Mkhize said: "He did not put the exact time."

Mkhize said that she hoped that by next week, the two committees – one being the Presidential Ministerial Fiscus Committee and the other the Interministerial Committee for Higher Education Funding, headed by Minister Jeff Radebe – would conclude their proceedings.

"I really hope Radebe will close his process. We have no reason not to move on the policies," said Mkhize.

'Sense of urgency'

She said she was encouraged by the "sense of urgency" regarding the matter.

"I like the sense of urgency from the public, portfolio committees, universities, students, human rights commission...I accept that and I think it's legitimate."

Asked if any definitive time was available over the fees matter, Mkhize said: "Honestly for me it should be done [as in] yesterday, given that there are so many things that are hanging in the balance...

"I want students to close [the academic year], knowing exactly where they stand."

City Press on Sunday reported that while the Heher report stipulated that a no-fees policy would not be viable, it was alleged Zuma would push forward with this, in some form.

The weekly newspaper alleged that a former love interest of one of Zuma's daughters, Morris Masutha had been instrumental in promoting this plan. On Sunday, Mkhize said that she had in fact met with Masutha since being moved to the Higher Education department during the latest cabinet reshuffle which took place on October 17.

"I met him when I joined the department," said the Minster. "When you are new, so many people will approach you and meet with you and talk to you."

She said she asked Masutha, "where do you feature?" and he explained his interest in student politics, as well as his PhD studies.

Mkhize said that she saw media reports implied a "personal relationship" between Masutha with one of Zuma's children.

"You need to meet him. He lives [for] issues of higher education financing."

Working for the state?

Asked whether he was formally employed by government in any capacity, Mkhize responded: "I really don't know...

"On a casual basis he has been doing work for government," she said.

Mkhize was reluctant to be drawn on whether a no-fees policy, in some capacity, was on the cards.

"There are so many possibilities," she said.

Also on Sunday, the Presidency issued a statement saying that President Jacob Zuma never planned to make an announcement on free education in February during his State of the Nation Address. It also denied that it was stopped by the Treasury from doing so.

"The President never planned to make such an announcement," presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulanga said in the statement.

'Zuma not undermining the Heher commission'

The Presidency was reacting to a Sunday Times article, which Zuma's office branded as "a fabrication".

It said that the president, "at no stage" planned to "undermine the work of the [Heher] commission".

Meanwhile, opposition party, the Democratic Alliance announced on Sunday that it had submitted an application, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, to the Presidency for access to the report.

The application was made on Friday.

"It is urgent and imperative that the public see this report immediately," DA MP Belinda Bozzoli said in a statement.

-- News24