The free education fight is an old fight and have since claimed many causalities over the years. All former black or previously disadvantage institutions have been in this battle for free education without success, despite it being an ANC policy. Everyone who attended the so called black institutions knew that every registration period represented a confrontation with management and the police. From Sibusiso Bhengu, Kader Asmal to Blade Ndzimande, the outcry have always been that education is a right not a privilege. The transformation of tertiary institution, not free education, preoccupied the ANC for a very long time. This preoccupation resulted in a meaningless mergers of certain institutions and closure of certain colleges. Those black institutions that were never merged, were never improved. The merged black institutions were simply swallowed by the dominant culture of the historically white institutions. In the process, rendering the transformation efforts useless. Now that the former white institution have caught the fire, the government seems surprised.
The commission set up by President Jacob Zuma to investigate the feasibility of free tertiary education is a waste of tax payer’s money and a futile excise. It simple means the ANC does not have a solid position on free education. In reality, we should also forget the meaningless resolutions emanating from various ANC conferences. At the Polokwane conference in 2007, the ANC resolved to “progressively introduce free education for the poor until undergraduate level”. Again in Mangaung conference in 2012, it resolved that the policy for free higher education to all undergraduate students would be finalised for adoption before the end of 2013. Despite its “resolutions” and the freedom charter stance on free education, the ANC remain lost and incompetent to make the FeesMustFall dream a reality. To complicate the situation, a Ministerial Task Team to normalise the situation at higher education institutions across South Africa have been created. Zooming at the task team, it looks more like a security task team than a free education task team.
The dawn of democracy came with many hopes and gone with a lot of disappointment. One of the many promises of the ANC was the realisation of free education. It never happened, and according to Winnie Mandela is was always an impossible promise. “How did we think we were going to get money to fund education and that we are going to have free education in the first place? It’s an impossible promise.” Mandela alluded. It will seem, free education like other populist promises, were just a rhetorical ploy to gain state power. After governing for 22 years uninterrupted, coupled with a two thirds majority in between, the governing party cannot be a vehicle to deliver free education.
The incoherent statements from various tripartite alliance leaders is a sign of a leadership void. Blade and the government are claiming poverty and look clueless in finding money to fund education within the state coffers or a possible ring-fenced tax. Is not enough to define those who must pay without methods of identifying the so called “rich”. One of the NSFAS corruption stemmed from the submissions of unverifiable documents. There must be a clearly defined constitutional plan to generate funds for free education, NHI and other social imperatives. Without a form of taxation, free education is unsustainable and will be detrimental to tertiary institutions. As it stands, the state have pinned their hopes on the ongoing commission whilst abdicating their duties. Government cannot simply wish away the protests without providing concrete solutions. No inventiveness/intervention on the part of the government has been shown so far. To say the institutions must not exceed 8 percent is simple evading responsibility. The genesis of the current problems originated from the unaffordability of higher education and the eight percent cap represents even higher fees.
Since 1994, the ANC have not done enough on this matter except to set up endless committees. Unfortunately for the ANC, this issue is gaining momentum when the party is losing momentum. Shifting the blame to white monopoly capital without a plan is without merit. The opposition is perfectly posed to capitalise on the ANC’s indecisiveness towards 2019. Its indecisiveness also weakens the ANC aligned students movements within institutions of higher learning. In reality, they are fighting against themselves. The tripartite alliance is also suffering as COSATU and SACP are for free education. Ironically, the SACP GS, represent a government that is firm on a stance that is contrary to the party he leads. This has become a service delivery matter which the ANC have abdicated to its disjointed youth wings to handle. ANC aligned youth formation YCL, ANYL, ANCWL are already at loggerheads and it will get worse. The student’s distraction of property cannot be used to supress the free education struggle. Going forward I can only wish the ANC good luck in 2019 general elections.
By Sivodlo Silombo
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