Free higher education for all won't be government policy for a long time
Prega Govender, Mail and Guardian, 13 October 2016
Another bruising showdown is looming between student formations and higher
education minister Blade Nzimande, after he said that free higher education
for all was not government policy and "it's not going to be government
policy for a long time to come".
Nzimande was making his presentation before the commission of inquiry that
was tasked with investigating the feasibility of providing fee-free higher
The commission hosted public hearings in Centurion, Pretoria, today.
"We are a highly unequal society. Those who can afford to pay must pay and
those who are rich and wealthy must also pay. It's inappropriate for a
society like ours to define decommodification in that manner. It must be the
poor and those who cannot afford [to pay] who must actually be assisted," he
Nzimande's comments are expected to anger the South African Union of
Students (SAUS) as well as the South African Students' Congress (SASCO) and
the Economic Freedom Fighters student command that have been demanding free
Asked by the chairperson of the commission, Judge Jonathan Heher, whether he
understood that students were demanding free education for everybody,
Nzimande replied: "Some of them, not all of them, are actually putting this
slogan and some of the academics are saying it must be free for everyone.
They want free quality higher education now."
"[In South Africa now], what we are doing is part of decommodification of
education by saying to those who cannot pay that it must not be like a
commodity they can't afford. But to pay for the rich is not
decommodification; you will be asking the poor to subsidise the rich if you
ask everybody, including the rich, to be paid for by government."
Judge Heher told Nzimande that some students had suggested that providers of
private education should be thrown in jail, to which Nzimande quipped: "In
my young days I used to say so, judge, not that my ideological orientation
"But we should take into account context. Let me put it like this. Some have
argued in Cuba higher education is free for everyone. Of course it should be
because there's no wealthy class in Cuba so there's a different situation
"You can't in a highly unequal capitalist society have free higher education
for all even where you have had that in some few countries."
Asked by Judge Heher whether free education for all would become a
possibility if the percentage of poor became very small, Nzimande said:
"Possibly or if you have a socialist South Africa, judge. But on this
trajectory we are on as a country, it's difficult to see that in the
Said Nzimande: "If South Africa remains the kind of society with this
economic system that it has, I don't see that happening under that context."
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