Avatar photo

By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


‘We can’t eat promises’: Kickbacks leave many students in lurch

University students facing dire circumstances amid delayed funds; corruption allegations rattle Nsfas, leading to board dissolution.


Some angry and desperate university students who have not received their promised National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) money are contemplating suicide, or turning to crime and prostitution to survive, says one of those affected by the impasse.

Meanwhile, the scheme has been rocked by allegations of corruption at the very highest level.

Board dissolved and chair resigned

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande this week dissolved the Nsfas board, at the same time its chair Ernest Khosa resigned.

Khosa was at the centre of suspicions of corruption after the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) released voice recordings in January of two meetings between Khosa and a representative of a service provider. The recordings revealed how service providers allegedly paid millions of rands in kickbacks.

During these conversations it was also mentioned that gratuities were paid to Khosa, Nzimande and the South African Communist Party.

ALSO READ: Nsfas board chair Ernest Khosa resigns

Student protesters from the Tshwane University of Technology marched to the department of higher education in Pretoria to demand the outstanding funds to be paid to beneficiaries immediately. They booed when Nsfas chief operating officer Errol Makhubela came out to receive their memorandum.

Nfsas affected students as a whole

A student, Samuel Dire, said the issues at Nsfas affected more than just one student, it affected students as a whole.

“We came here to the department of higher education because we believe these are the stakeholders who can bring solutions to us,” he said.

“Many students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds were affected by this.

“Students come from rural villages, who don’t have airtime to ask their grandparents to just send them money, so they suffer,” he said.

ALSO READ: ‘I don’t have money for groceries’- UJ Nsfas students hungry after being short changed by over R1.3K

Dire said some of the students didn’t have food, or stayed too far from campus to travel back and forth to get a meal.

“It’s not one student, it’s not two students, it’s many students, if not all of us. The majority of the students are Nsfas funded,” he said.

Dire said some students had to turn to drugs and crime to survive.

Students didn’t have the basics

Sipho Buthelezi said it was sad to see fellow students didn’t have the basics to complete tasks.

“Some don’t have money to print tasks or have the right material,” he said.

ALSO READ: SIU recovers almost R1bn in Nsfas funds from higher learning institutions

Outa chief executive Wayne Duvenage said it was time for Nzimande to resign, or for the president to fire him.

“If you just look at his department and [the] maladministration and corruption that Outa exposed at Nsfas. It really is a debacle under his watch,” he said.

Duvenage said if people started connecting the dots, they would see there were links that Nzimande needed to take responsibility for the gross maladministration and the waste of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s so sad that the poorest of the poor who this Nsfas was set up for is failing so badly. These students rely on the Nsfas scheme to get qualifications and get let down year after year.”

Calls for Nzimande to resign premature

Political analyst Dr Benjamin Rapanyane said calls for Nzimande to resign were premature.

ALSO READ: There’s Nsfas… and now there’s this ‘bursary bonanza’ by major SA retailer

“We should assess the effectiveness of his decision to dissolve the Nsfas board and wait to hear the rationality behind its dissolution and how he intends to resolve the crisis,” he said.

Political analyst Piet Croucamp said the university had dispersed Nsfas funds in the past.

“Some academic institutions didn’t do it well – there was nepotism, corruption and inefficiencies, so that’s why they centralised it and appointed the board and service providers,” he said.