12/11/2017 11:17 SAST | Updated 12/11/2017 13:57 SAST

Panic At Treasury Over Zuma's Free Education Plan

President Zuma reportedly wanted to announce a R40-billion free higher education plan on Tuesday.

Gallo Images / The Times / Ruvan Boshoff
President Jacob Zuma delivers his annual address at the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on November 09, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. Zuma said he would soon announce his decision on the recommendations of the commission that probed the feasibility of free education.

President Jacob Zuma's plan to announce free higher education generated panic among senior officials in Treasury including threats by its deputy director-general to resign if it went ahead, The Sunday Times has reported.

The president reportedly planned to reveal a R40-billion free higher education plan on Tuesday last week but was stopped in his tracks by senior officials in Treasury warning it would spur an economic crisis.

The Sunday Times revealed Zuma wanted to institute free higher education as early as February this year but was stopped by shocked Treasury officials.

It emerged this week that President Zuma has been pushing for fully subsidised higher education for students from families with a combined income of no more than R350,000 a year. This despite a warning from an inter-ministerial committee headed by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe that the economy would not cope with the plan, according to Business Day.

Zuma's alleged push to fast-track free higher education has raised fears a parallel budgeting process was being introduced, one which could also be used to secure cash for the highly controversial and potentially bankrupting R1-trillion nuclear deal.

READ: So, This Is How Government Plans To Fund Higher Education

According to The Sunday Times, Treasury's deputy director-general Michael Sachs is believed to be furious and undertook to resign this week if the plan went ahead. Sachs declined to provide comment to the publication on Friday.

The controversial fees proposal was reportedly drawn up by Morris Masutha, an ex-boyfriend of Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's daughter Thuthukile. A source told the publication Masutha, 28, has been a constant feature in Treasury since he presented a bold plan to government seniors earlier this year at the arrangement of the president.

Masutha, a former president of the student representative council at the University of the Witwatersrand, is believed to have been issuing instructions using the president's name to the ire of many officials, the publication reported.

Treasury insiders reportedly said several meetings with the president were held last week in hopes Zuma would be able to find money to fund Masutha's plan.

Update: The Presidency has since denied President Jacob Zuma had any plans to make an announcement on fees in his State of the Nation Address. A statement released on Sunday, however, did not address other allegations contained in The Sunday Times story.

Read the full story in The Sunday Times.