Cancel arms deal, questionable SOE procurements to fund free education

Paul Hoffman

The reckless and unexpected announcement by Jacob Zuma regarding "fee-free" higher education, made ahead of the ANC elective conference last month, has put the cat among the pigeons at Treasury and in the halls of higher education.

An estimated R40 billion per annum will have to be found by Treasury to fund poor students. The Department of Higher Education - where the practical means to roll out fee-free higher education, accommodation and transport to deserving matriculants whose households earn less than R350 000 per annum has to be organised with the universities - is in a state of panic and confusion over the tall order given by Zuma.

The EFF's strident call for walk-in registrations for those able and available to take Zuma at his word is further complicating the matter.

There seems to be great confusion about the actual cost involved, given the limitations on spaces at universities, where administrators were taken by surprise by an announcement which flies in the face of the recommendations of the Heher Commission. Belatedly, a five-year roll out period has been mooted, surely a red rag to the red berets and to the "fees must fall" movement.

The cupboard at Treasury may be as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's, but that is not to say that the funding required cannot be found elsewhere. The invalidation or cancellation of the arms deals could realise in excess of R70 billion. Other questionable procurements by SOEs, particularly Eskom and Prasa, if set aside, could bring in a similar sum. Furthermore, if Cyril Ramaphosa's promise to recover the proceeds of state capture is acted on swiftly, then over a billion is, if not on the table, then under the mattresses in Dubai, waiting to be recovered.

The Helen Suzman Foundation has recently launched judicial review proceedings targeting questionable Eskom procurements. Earlier last year the Quaker Peace Centre impugned the acquisition of grossly expensive and largely unused aircraft by Armscor from British Aerospace in a Pretoria High Court action. Both matters are pending: negotiated or mediated swift and sensible settlements could realise the funding needed to make the constitutional educational imperative come true at last.

Any disgruntled "fallists" whose attempted walk-in registrations disappoint, should consider peacefully picketing Armscor, Eskom and Prasa. The universities can defuse the situation by making weekend walk-in sessions available to those not yet in the system whose thirst for higher education is unslaked. Aspirant students left empty handed can be given the head office addresses of the delinquent SOEs. The NYDA will doubtless be able to organise the buses, banners and the toyi-toying. Perhaps a vice-chancellor or two will be willing to join in the protests.

- Paul Hoffman is the director of Accountability Now.

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