28/12/2017 07:38 SAST | Updated 28/12/2017 07:40 SAST

Students: "How Will Free Higher Education Work, Pres. Zuma?"

UCT students want clarity from the president urgently, to avoid further protests in the 2018 academic year.

The University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
The University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have called on President Jacob Zuma to explain before the start of the 2018 academic year how free higher education for poor and working class students will be implemented, according to Eyewitness News (EWN).

UCT SRC president Karabo Khakhau told EWN that without details on how the plan will work, there could be a resurgence of protests on campuses across the country.

Earlier this month, Zuma announced that government would fully subsidise higher education for poor and working class students, ignoring the findings of the Heher Commission into higher education. According to the president's announcement, this is supposed to start in 2018 and will be phased in over five years.

But it unclear how the plan will work, or where the money will come from.

Khakhau told the news channel: "When President Jacob Zuma then decides to announce that there is going to be free education coming into 2018 –– it's something that might be beautiful, but it's very reckless, because we cannot continue to have our hopes up."

Universities across the country appeared to have been taken by surprise by Zuma's statement at the time, and many, including UCT, had already announced fee increases of about 8 percent for 2018.

Wits university chancellor Adam Habib said at the time that the universities knew nothing of government's plan to introduce free higher education, and that there was no clarity on how it would be implemented.

Meanwhile, the SACP has expressed concern over the source of this funding, while taking a swipe at the ANC's performance on education to date.

In its end-of-year statement issued on Wednesday, the party said, "The SACP is concerned about the silence of President Jacob Zuma on where the money will come from. We hope that this will not amount to increasing VAT or recklessly using workers' money either in the UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) or the PIC (Public Investment Corporation).

"Doing so will be tantamount to robbing the poor, instead of fairly redistributing production income by taxing the rich and the wealthy to fund students from poor and working class background.

"Last but not least, the fact that President Jacob Zuma appeared opportunistic and possibly harbouring other motives by making the announcement on the eve of the highly contested 54th national conference of the ANC should not be allowed to subvert the importance of accelerated roll-out of free education to students from working class and poor households.

"Until the announcement, further expansion of access to higher education and training was held up by nothing other than structural underfunding of the higher education and training department."