Blade Nzimande describes his axing from the higher education ministry as a deliberate move by the president to credit others for possible no-fee hikes.
South African Communist Party (SACP) boss Blade Nzimande, now the former minister of higher education, knew that his days in Cabinet were numbered when President Jacob Zuma, in a deliberate move, withheld the long-awaited Fees Commission report from him – even after Nzimande made attempts to request it.
Nzimande made this startling revelation in an exclusive interview with City Press yesterday in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, adding that he had felt relieved on receiving Zuma’s call on Tuesday.
“I thought that it would be obvious that he will call me and say: ‘Here is the report. What are your views on it before I respond?’ The president never gave me the report. I don’t know about it,” he said.
The report was commissioned by the president last year to look into the feasibility of free higher education, with retired Judge John Heher serving as commission chair. It was presented to Zuma at the end of August.
As the year has drawn closer to final exams, students have called on Zuma to release the report, while universities have made their intentions known to hike fees in 2018.
“For me it was very strange that, as I was minister of higher education and training, the president did not share the report with me. I did enquire, though not directly with him.
“But when he didn’t share the report, that is when I knew that he was going to fire me anytime.”
Nzimande said his axing was a clear indication that it was engineered to ensure that someone else, not him, would take the limelight.
“All I know is that I became aware, and that is all I can say on this. I knew that I could not be given an opportunity to be the minister who decisively responds to the issue of #FeesMustFall. I was aware that credit was not to be given to me. Credit was going to be given to someone else.”
Recalling the moment Zuma informed him that the sword had finally fallen on his head, Nzimande said the president offered no explanation as to why he was losing his job. Nzimande never asked why, as he already knew the answer.
While he insisted that losing his Cabinet post was “water under the bridge”, the SACP general secretary did not hold back in pointing out that Zuma had become so desperate, he was using his prerogative to ram through whatever plan he had up his sleeve. “His actions are those of a desperate man. Let me not speculate on why, but it is clear that some of his actions are very desperate.”
Zuma has unleashed a monster
Nzimande said he was looking forward to a new task – that of going to the trenches to work for his party.
But one thing is certain: Zuma has unleashed a monster in the form of a fuming SACP, which is already doing the groundwork to contest the Metsimaholo municipal by-elections in the Free State on November 29 – a move that could further weaken the ANC.
The biggest dent for the governing party could come in the 2019 national elections, where it may face off against the party that was once its closest ally, as the SACP contemplates effecting a split.
So far, Nzimande insists that he has no intention of giving up his position as an MP in parliament. He will stay on as a backbencher for now, as resolved by his party.
“We shouldn’t look down on backbenchers’ work. They work tirelessly. Those backbenchers have minimal resources.
“It’s not like one is looking down on that, but it’s up to the communist party how it thinks I should be deployed.”
Regarding his future in the ANC, Nzimande admitted that the national executive committee (NEC) had been rendered useless. “From where we stand as the SACP, the NEC is paralysed from the top.”
Nzimande expressed his commitment to taking up the tasks of the SACP with renewed vigour, saying the country desperately needed this.
When asked if he would be willing to return to the NEC, regardless of who won in December, Nzimande said: “That is a very difficult question to answer ... My own view is that, given the challenges that we have, I would like to spend more time in the SACP. The party has challenges.
“Increasing numbers of people have huge expectations of us as the SACP. We need more energy to be put into the SACP.
“Ideally, that would be my preference ... Sometimes you feel that it is a waste of oxygen even to be sitting on the NEC of the ANC because of this paralysis.”
Nzimande’s name appears as an NEC member only on the slate of presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa.
Nzimande, who proved instrumental in ensuring the emergence of Zuma back in 2007, said a worrying trend had presented itself whereby ANC leaders tossed aside the SACP once they became established.
“We cannot continuously be backing individuals and then, when it suits them, they turn against us. That is not an alliance; it is not good for the revolution.
“But also, the ANC has to look within itself. Why is it that every time there is a transition to a new leader, the communist party becomes the scapegoat?”
Nzimande denied that he and Zuma were ever close friends.
“Him, me, initially Zwelinzima Vavi and comrade Sdumo Dlamini, and so on, when there were issues we would quickly meet and say: ‘How do we solve that?’
“I wouldn’t describe that as friendship, but it was a good working relationship.”
The SACP boss said the cracks in the wall appeared in 2015 at the onset of the Fees Must Fall protests. Nzimande discovered that he had no support in government and was left to fend for himself.
Asked if his relationship with Zuma could be mended, Nzimande said, given that the president was on his way out, he found no need to obsess over mending broken fences, reiterating that Zuma continued to be the proverbial albatross around the ANC’s neck. “The ANC itself is aware that one of the biggest problems it is facing is with its president.”
Amid mounting calls for Zuma to have his day in court and possibly face jail time, Nzimande said: “I have no wish for anyone to go to jail. But people who have committed wrongs must face the music through due process.”