Opposition calls for leadership on free higher education

UCT exam venues were disrupted in 2017. (YouTube screen grab)
UCT exam venues were disrupted in 2017. (YouTube screen grab)

Cape Town – Two opposition parties - the DA and the IFP - have called on government to provide leadership amid fears that chaos would break out once universities open for registration.

The fears come in the wake of President Jacob Zuma's announcement of free higher education for some students as well as encouragement from EFF leader Julius Malema that matriculants who passed well should show up at universities of their choice to be registered.

DA spokesperson on higher education and training Belinda Bozzoli called on Minister of Higher Education and Training Hlengiwe Mkhize to intervene in the registration processes at higher education institutions across the country.

READ: 'Don't use free higher education as political football' - USAf

Bozzoli described the process as "currently at risk of devolving into chaos as a result of President Jacob Zuma's reckless announcement and the EFF's inflammatory calls".

"The DA notes the failure of Zuma and Mkhize to provide strong leadership in this matter and we accordingly call on her to decisively intervene in order to avoid a potentially violent crisis," Bozzoli said in a statement. 

Bozzoli described Zuma's announcement as a tool of cheap politicking, which she claimed was aimed at scoring points ahead of the ANC national elective conference, in an attempt to salvage the legacy of his failed presidency. 

"Similarly now, the EFF's ill-considered call for walk-in registrations evidences a failure to understand that placements at higher education institutions across South Africa have not increased - higher education institutions generally formulate their intake figures at least a year in advance in order to ensure that resources are adequately allocated to meet the needs of incoming students."

She said demanding that higher education institutions accept walk-in registrations was in direct contravention of many institutions' registration procedures and placed undue strain on their systems and resources. 

ALSO READ: UDM wants urgent explanation of free higher education

"In addition, given the precedent for walk-in registration processes to turn violent, these calls place students' safety at risk."

The DA believed all deserving students should have access to higher education and that financial support should be provided for poorer students within the confines of the law and the country's available resources, she said.

"Quality higher education for South Africa's youth can no longer be used as a tool for cheap politicking. Political parties must not allow Zuma to cause division as he departs. Moreover, students should refrain from participating in activities that go against the rules of tertiary institutions – registrations must take place in accordance with higher education institutions' rules and procedures."

IFP Youth Brigade national chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa called Zuma to take the nation into confidence about the implementation of free education at institutions of higher learning.

"Mr Zuma made a scant announcement in December 2017, devoid of details, and confusion now reigns supreme among prospective students, institutions of higher [learning] and government," said Hlengwa in a statement.

"This confusion is bound to cause damage, stampedes and loss of life as students rightly flock to institutions of higher learning to claim their right: access to education, which for time immemorial has been the commodified persevere of the few."

READ: The money has to come from somewhere - Heher on Zuma fees annoucement

He said Zuma could not suddenly "vanish into a sabbatical of silence" when the nation needed answers, information and details from him.

"The situation is now a virtual ticking time bomb as public rhetoric stirs the pot."

Universities South Africa announced earlier this week that universities will not accept walk-in registrations, but the EFF renewed its call for financially needy, academically deserving students to report to colleges and universities for registration. 

In an interview with eNCA on Tuesday, Mkhize described Malema's statement as a "reckless political statement", while she expressed her support for Zuma's announcement on Twitter.

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