Nzimande ‘proud’ of his legacy

2017-10-29 05:49
Blade Nzimande (File, City Press)

Blade Nzimande (File, City Press)

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For someone who has lost his job, general secretary of the SA Communist Party Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande is remarkably relaxed.

“Kumandi kakhulu ekhaya,” he says, leaning comfortably into a chair. “Ngiphile njengo sheleni,” he adds with an easy laugh.

Five days after President Jacob Zuma informed him by phone that he was no longer the minister of higher education and training, following months of speculation that he was on his way out, Nzimande told City Press that he had anticipated his removal for more than two years and was relieved that the Band-Aid had finally been ripped off.

“For the past two years, my briefcase has been next to the door – I mean it. We had put certain ducks in a row as a family that if this comes, this is what we are going to do.

“We have activated those things now, such as finding accommodation outside state accommodation.

“I am in the process of copying my numbers on to my phones so I can wipe them clean and send them back; the same goes with my iPad. In terms of transport, I need to arrange an alternative car. But these things don’t bog me down. I feel fulfilled.”

The past two years have been tumultuous for Nzimande, who not only earned the ire of his former ally Zuma, but also of the very constituency he was tasked to look after. Last year, he had to apologise for a comment that he made in jest, namely: “Students must fall.”

In 2015, the country came to a standstill as students at universities took to the streets calling for free education in a national shutdown of tertiary institutions. Violent scenes unfolded as heavy-handed police tried to quell the protests.

Following the announcement that he had been given the sack, many students took to social media in celebration of his “fall”. But after almost eight years at the helm, Nzimande has no regrets about his time in a department which, he says, became one of the hardest to manage.

“This department has become, over the past two years, one of the most difficult departments, because it has huge responsibilities but is seriously underfunded, which creates all sorts of problems. Yes, Fees Must Fall is the most prominent problem, but it has not been the only one. Another is a lack of money to fund Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

“Even university subsidies have been going down, so I feel relieved that I am not at the forefront of those trying to deal with those stresses,” he said.

Fees Must Fall protests

Nzimande, who was appointed as minister of higher education in 2009, said despite the challenges, he believed his legacy would speak for itself.

“When I go to Kimberley and see those new buildings and that new university [Sol Plaatje University], it makes me feel very proud.

“I am very proud of the effort we have put into TVET colleges. They didn’t have the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) before I became a minister, and now they do. The figure was R300m in 2010. Now it stands at close to R3bn, and that is free education because Nsfas students at TVET colleges don’t pay that money back.

“Nsfas also grew quite significantly. This year it is at R15bn. When I started eight years ago, it was less than R3bn. We have also opened Sefako Makgatho in Pretoria as a dedicated health sciences institution. When I am given a task, I give the best I can.”

The Fees Must Fall protests will remain the most prominent feature of his tenure, regardless.

City Press exclusively reported last week that Zuma had not given Nzimande the much-awaited fees commission report, despite it being handed to him at the end of August. Nzimande said this was the strongest indication that his firing was imminent. The report was compiled by a commission established last year to determine the feasibility of free higher education.

This week, protest action spread to at least three universities, with students calling for the report to be released.

Reluctant to give details, Nzimande repeated his belief that the first wave of student protests in 2015 had been hijacked by factional battles in the ANC, with the intention of bringing about his demise. “I cannot go into detail, except to say that in the middle of the Fees Must Fall crisis, during the first wave of protests, I discovered that some of my own comrades were fuelling that.

“I thought the reason for this factional activity could be to discredit me [and make it look] as if I was not doing my work. Also, I felt I did not have enough support in government. Fees Must Fall opened up a number of things about the extent and the danger that factionalism poses not only for the organisation, but for government work too.”

Read more on:    blade ­nzimande  |  education  |  politics

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