Loud calls by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema for students to intensify protests for fee free higher education in South Africa prove that ”Malema,” a recent university graduate, is “a hypocrite of the highest order”, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande told reporters on Thursday.

“He has just graduated. It’s very unfortunate for the leader of the EFF. I really don’t want to talk about him because he is a hypocrite of the worst order. Some of them, are doing PHDs but they want the children of the poor, who they claim to be speaking for, not to get education by collapsing the universities,” Nzimande told reporters after testifying at the commission of inquiry into higher education fees chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher in Centurion.

“Who is going to benefit by collapsing the universities? The people who are going to lose most are the children of the poor people. I don’t want to talk to him because he is a hypocrite and he is the worst opportunist who actually doesn’t do what he asks others to do.”

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Nzimande was asked to clarify his testimony to the inquiry, in which he had called for students who have been assisted through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme [NSFAS] to repay the money to the State.

“There is nothing called free education because somebody pays. In other countries it’s the taxpayers who actually pay. In South Africa it’s the taxpayers who gives your money upfront and then say when you are working, bring it back in order to assist others. Strictly speaking, somebody is paying,” said Nzimande.

“Like this [2016] no fee increase, it’s the taxpayers who paid for it this year. Next year again it’s going to be the taxpayers who pay for it. So we must understand these slogans properly.”

The Minister blamed companies in South Africa for not having consistent internship programmes which could assimilate many frustrated young people into the work environment through internships and apprenticeship programmes.

“South African employers largely are spoiled, and they were spoiled by apartheid really. They just have no experience of workplace [placements], unlike places like Germany, Switzerland where employers take it as their duty to actually get young people to do internships, learnerships and apprenticeships,” he said.

“In the past, it was the parastatals which were training mainly white artisans but the rest of the South African employers are not doing that.”

He said “a poor country” like South Africa requires that students who have been assisted through programmes like the NSFAS should pay back the money. He said government was proud of its achievements in the education sector with NSFAS helping millions of poor students.

“NSFAS has supported now 2.6 million students who overwhelmingly come from families who had never set foot in a college or university. I have no doubt the NSFAS is possibly the single most contributor to the building of a black middle class. Those are kids who otherwise would not have accessed university or college education,” he said.

Nzimande said part of the problem in South Africa was that “when it’s deep in winter people forget how summer feels like”.

“Like now, because we are faced with these protests, and in the middle of them we tend to forget how much government has done to progressively provide university education for children from poor families in this country. Obviously it’s not enough and that is why this commission is here,” said Nzimande.

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