Nzimande, NSFAS chairman’s heads demanded after polls

Henry

The pressure group Outa is insisting on the resignation of the minister of higher education and training as well as the chairman of the board of the national financial aid scheme for students (NSFAS).

“If they do not resign, we appeal to pres. Cyril Ramaphosa to fire them immediately,” says Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s investigation manager, amid allegations about a patronage network in the department of higher education.

Minister Blade Nzimande and Ernest Khosa of NSFAS are directly implicated.

Outa has meanwhile shared an investigation report and two voice recordings with the Special Investigation Unit (SUE) – which has been investigating corruption at NSFAS since 2022 – to support the damning allegations.

The two recordings of two meetings between Khosa and a representative of a service provider apparently reveal how service providers paid millions of rands to Nzimande and Khosa as well as at least R1 million to the SACP in exchange for tenders and the protection of service providers.

Heyneke says the detailed investigation report and the voice recordings will also soon be shared with the Public Protector (OP), the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the auditor general (AG).

“A thorough investigation should be ordered into the large web of corruption in the higher education sector that Outa’s numerous reports and these surveys point out,” says Heyneke.

The voice recordings

According to Heyneke, the two voice recordings – which were leaked by a whistleblower – were made during two separate meetings after the board of NSFAS decided on 16 August last year that Andile Nongogo (then chief executive of NSFAS) should be placed on special leave.

RNews earlier reported that an investigation was launched at that stage into the aid scheme’s direct payment system and allegations against Nongogo.

However, the council’s decision was not yet known at the time of the two meetings.

“The announcement of Nongogo’s special leave came a day after Khosa met with Thula Ntumba, husband of Tshegofatso Ntumba, one of two Coinvest directors,” says Heyneke.

“During this meeting, Khosa told Ntumba and an unidentified third person that he was familiar with the content of the Outa report and the allegations against Nongogo. Khosa said the only way the NSFAS board can respond is to place Nongogo on special leave and then report to parliament on the steps the board will take to deal with the situation.”

According to Heyneke, Khosa also indicated that Outa’s report is not the biggest problem, but rather an alleged conspiracy within the ANC. At this stage, the name of the deputy minister of higher education and training, Buti Manamela, who apparently wants to get rid of Khosa and Nzimande, is mentioned.

“During this meeting, Khosa further stated that the board gave him the sole authority to draw up the mandate for an investigation, which gave him the opportunity to rule out anything that might create a problem for Nongogo. Khosa said since he was aware of Nongogo’s past wrongdoings, he would make sure that they were not caught out.

“Khosa then mentioned another big problem: the need to appoint a law firm that he will be able to control. He asked Ntumba for suggestions. Ntumba suggested Werksmans Lawyers for the investigation and undertook to give Khosa the name of a partner who would be able to control NSFAS.

“The third, unidentified person then asked Khosa about certain letters that Nongogo had to sign. Khosa then not only confirmed that he had seen the letters, but even admitted that he had changed their contents. He warned that the minister is worried that their relationship with the service providers will become known, and added that he suspects that investigators are monitoring their mobile phones to determine if there are meetings between the minister, the chairman and the service providers.”

Heyneke then points out that it is not only unethical and highly irregular, but also goes against all the principles of good management when the chairman of a board meets with service providers and asks for input on board decisions.

“Why was it even necessary for Khosa to meet these people and update them on internal affairs and ask for their input on the way forward?”

The answer to this question can be found in the recordings of a second meeting between Khosa, Ntumba and an unidentified third person about two weeks after the first meeting, says Heyneke.

“The recording of this meeting revealed that millions of rands were paid to the SACP, Minister Nzimande and Khosa. During the first part of the meeting, which lasted for an hour and a half, Ntumba and the unidentified person discussed Khosa and his actions in detail. They also apparently conspired on how to put pressure on him to extend the investigation period into Nongogo’s actions for at least three months.

“They claimed that it was Khosa’s intention to threaten them with the termination of the Coinvest/NSFAS contracts so that they would pay him to prevent the termination of the contracts. Ntumba further claimed that Khosa met with the chairman of Fundi, another company that does business in the higher education sector, and suggested that Fundi may have paid Khosa and is now putting pressure on him.”

Fundi submitted tenders for several NSFAS contracts, but the tenders were never awarded, says Heyneke.

“They also discussed the criminal charges against Khosa while he was the chief executive of the Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment Commission as well as previous meetings they had with him and the minister. It was also discussed how Khosa allegedly spoke openly about a bribe of R6 million in the presence of another NSFAS board member and former president of Sasco, Bamanye Matiwane. Ntumba also mentioned a meeting he had with Nzimande where his special adviser, Nqaba Nqandela, was present.

“When Khosa joined the two men, he assured them of his good relationship with Minister Nzimande and informed them of the ongoing investigation by Werksmans lawyers, who he confirmed he had appointed on Ntumba’s advice. Khosa referred to Outa’s investigation into Nongogo’s tenure as Seta CEO and reiterated that he does not believe Nongogo did anything wrong at NSFAS.”

According to Heyneke, Khosa also discussed the progress of the Werksmans investigation, after which Ntumba requested that – if the Werksmans report were to suggest that the service provider contracts be canceled – it should be done in such a way that Coinvest does not appear “guilty”. Ntumba also referred to Coinvest’s sponsorship by Nedbank and said it was too important to lose should it come to light that they were involved in any irregularities.

Both men informed Khosa that, although everything did not go according to plan, the “top players” were still willing to give “incentives”, even if it now had to come from “other sources”.

Ntumba also reminded Khosa that he paid R1 million for the SACP conference, along with Star Sign and Print who printed T-shirts and bags for the conference. Ntumba’s wife is a director of Star Sign and Print.

Ntumba left the meeting early due to another appointment. The recording ends when he walks out “which strongly suggests that he was the person who had the recording device”, says Heyneke.

“It is unclear why he recorded the conversation, but it is Outa’s view that he needed something to hold against the chairman.”

Heyneke says Outa believes that the surveys confirm much of what the organization has said in the past, especially about patronage networks in the department of higher education as well as higher education institutions.

“Public officials and service providers apparently use these networks to enrich certain individuals in turn because they got tenders and contracts.”