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‘Baseless and untrue’ – Nzimande hits back at claim by SA Student Union that he’s ‘not available’

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.


Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.

  • On Tuesday, Minister Blade Nzimande appeared before the parliamentary committee on higher education, science and technology.
  • Nzimande said he had requested that universities provide him with a detailed breakdown of the scale and nature of student debt by the end of the week.
  • He also announced that Cabinet had decided that funding would have to be reprioritised to address the NSFAS funding shortfall.

The national university shutdown has taken a new turn after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande lashed out at claims made by the SA Union of Students (SAUS) that he does not want to engage with them on their demands. Nzimande has labelled the allegation as “baseless and untrue”.

“Firstly, all 26 universities have committed to using several debt relief mechanisms on a case by case basis to enable academically-deserving students to register and complete their studies without undermining the underlying financial stability of each institution,” Nzimande said.

According to Nzimande, he has had a number of meetings with student leadership prior to the two media briefings he held on the funding decisions and the commencement of the 2021 academic year. He also said he had already responded to written demands by SAUS.

READ | Student protests: ‘Every year… it’s like a soapie now,’ Blade Nzimande tells Parliament

On Tuesday, Nzimande appeared, along with SAUS, before the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology. During the meeting, SAUS said Nzimande had not been able to meet them at all since the announcement of their nationwide shutdown.

SAUS spokesperson Thabo Shingange told the committee: “We met with the Public Protector and Human Rights Commission… after we experienced violence and brutality. An urgent meeting was called on the Sunday and a formal invitation was sent, and we were told the minister was not available. This reaffirmed the commitment to the shutdown.”

Nzimande said he has requested that universities provide him with a detailed breakdown of the scale and nature of student debt by the end of the week, to facilitate further engagements on the matter. He also said that he has a scheduled meeting this coming weekend with the leadership of SAUS.

READ ALSO | Students’ union vows to continue protests, wants R13bn debt to be written off

He said he had agreed, in the meeting held with vice-chancellors from all 26 universities, that they would continue to have ongoing engagements with student leadership structures to find solutions to the matters affecting registration of students, including financial matters.

As a result of these institutional engagements, some universities had reached agreement with their student leadership.

SAUS delivered a memorandum to Nzimande earlier this week.

In the memorandum, they outlined a list of students’ demands, including clearing of historical debts for all students and that registration for all first-year students be allowed to proceed. They are also demanding no fee increase for the 2021 academic year.

At the same time  Nzimande announced that Cabinet had made a decision that funding would have to be reprioritised to address the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding shortfall.


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