The lack of infrastructure to implement President Jacob Zuma’s fee-free education plan should not be a barrier used to deny the poor access to higher education, EFF leader Julius Malema has said.
Speaking live on Limpopo’s Energy FM breakfast show on Monday, Malema warned that denying the poor access to education would be a declaration that all universities’ gates be locked. Malema said that universities’ lack of capacity to accommodate thousands of aspiring students was “none of our business”.
“If you cannot take the poor into the university because of infrastructure… no one must go,” said Malema.
Zuma made the announcement for fee-free education on December 16, just hours before the start of the ANC’s elective conference.
He announced that students from households who had a joint income less than R350 000 per annum would receive government grants and not loans.
Students being taken for ‘fools’
“Government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working-class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at our public universities,” Zuma said in a statement at the time.
Zuma’s announcement was at odds with the Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training, which found that South Africa currently does not have the capacity for free tertiary education for all students.
Malema accused Zuma of taking aspiring students for “fools” by making the announcement in December, after registration had already closed.
Malema demanded that universities re-open their doors so that disadvantaged students can gain access to education.
“You are going to re-open registration,” he said.
“Don’t tell me that there is no infrastructure, it’s not my problem. How do you announce free education while knowing that you don’t have infrastructure? “Lack of infrastructure should never stop our people from registering at the universities,” said Malema.
He argued that Zuma’s announcement was a good opportunity for a majority of impoverished families.
Free education ‘non-negotiable’
Asked whether he foresaw any problems with filling universities beyond capacity, Malema said that eventuality would force government to act.
“It’s a nice problem to have. Why do we avoid a nice problem? Let’s have more students, then [it] will force government to build more infrastructure much quicker.”
He also insisted that free education was non-negotiable, as it was the ammunition needed to fight white monopoly capital. According to Malema, it was only through education that cheap labour and high dependency on grants would be eliminated.
Thousands of aspiring students are currently queuing at institutions of higher learning, including in Limpopo’s University of Venda and University of Limpopo.
Malema said if the students were told to apply online instead, the EFF would deploy a mobile information and communication technology centre to help them enrol.
However, some universities, including the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg, have already announced that they will not be accepting any walk-in applications during the registration period, saying their application processes can be completed online.