Criminal charge against Nzimande coming; NSFAS Council also declares

Henry

The DA is going to criminally charge Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, training and innovation, for his involvement in the handling of the National Scheme for Financial Assistance for Students (NSFAS) money.

Legal action also faces the NSFAS board over its “corrupt and irrational direct payment and accommodation tenders”, with the DA seeking to have the board declared delinquent directors.

Monday’s announcement by John Steenhuisen, DA leader, follows after allegations of a patronage network in the department of higher education began to circulate. Nzimande and Ernest Khosa, chairman of the NSFAS board, are directly implicated.

Last week, the pressure group Outa shared an investigation report and two voice recordings with the Special Investigation Unit (SUE) – which has been investigating corruption at NSFAS since 2022 – to substantiate the damning allegations.

Steenhuisen says that due to “the president’s innate cowardice” to do something about the situation, the DA has taken it upon itself to take action against those involved.

“Instead of firing Nzimande and Khosa, Pres. is silent. Cyril Ramaphosa on the matter,” he said.

“That is why the DA together with its youth organization will start a mass mobilization campaign on campuses nationwide to force Ramaphosa to fire Nzimande.”

‘Damning effects’

The voice recordings handed over to the SOE reveal that service providers who received multi-million rand tenders to make direct payments to students allegedly paid bribes to Nzimande and Khosa.

According to Outa, this was done “in exchange for tenders and protection of service providers”.

Steenhuisen says, however, that this action is not a crime without victims.

“Instead of supporting students who work hard to rise above their circumstances, the ANC only sees another chance to loot,” he said.

“Awarding the payment tenders to companies with no proven track record has resulted in students being charged exorbitant amounts for each transaction.

“Every time a student uses his NSFAS card, he is effectively being forced to help finance Nzimande’s corrupt scheme.”

Steenhuisen says there were many cases where students also received their allowances late or not at all, and some of them could not even buy food.

“But the scandal doesn’t stop there,” he said.

“There are also now serious questions surrounding another set of tenders that NSFAS awarded to manage student accommodation. In addition to cutting the accommodation allowance last year by R15 000 per year, the scheme now also requires tertiary institutions and private accommodation providers to obtain accreditation at a cost of up to R200 per bed. Once accredited, NSFAS also deducts 5% of the rental amount for a ‘licence fee’.”

The DA is concerned that this new system will cause a housing crisis for students, as only 6.5% of the beds required for the academic year are accredited.

“The systemic corruption that is visible at NSFAS and the department of higher education is likely to trigger a serious crisis when students return to campuses later this month, only to find that they do not have access to accommodation,” said Steenhuisen.

“The ANC’s corruption and mismanagement have also caused a funding deficit of more than R1.1 billion, which means that the funding of more than 87 000 students will be withdrawn. This is in addition to the 20,000 students who were already deprived of their funding last year.”

The DA undertook to immediately submit a request in terms of the Act on the Promotion of Access to Information to obtain a copy of the report on the awarding of the relevant tenders.

The official opposition party said it will also write to Ramaphosa and the SOE to demand that the scope of the SOE’s investigation be expanded to also include the alleged bribery of Nzimande and Khosa.

Nzimande’s office says he will reveal more details about the allegations in Outa’s report and “related management issues” at NSFAS at a media conference on Monday afternoon.

Nzimande and Khosa have already rejected the allegations and dismissed them as “gossip… intended to undermine a successful start to the 2024 academic year”.