By Chris Steyn
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has warned of “radical” action if President Cyril Ramaphosa does not fire Department of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) Board Chair Dr Ernest Khosa.
This after the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) released leaked voice recordings containing damning allegations about a patronage network in the Department of Higher Education, implicating the Minister, the NSFAS chair and several others.
The voice recordings – made of two meetings between Khosa and a representative of a service provider – contain allegations that service providers allegedly paid millions of rand in kickbacks to Nzimande and Khosa, as well as at least R1 million to the South African Communist Party (SACP) in return for tenders and protection for service providers.
Read more: Leaked recordings expose corruption in South Africa’s higher education leadership
“As per these allegations, it is clear the Minister has been running a money-criminal ring led by the Board Chair, Dr. Ernest Khosa. They effectively hijacked a vehicle espoused to educate and alleviate the pain, suffering and poverty of the poor to enrich themselves and subsequently their cronies,” SAUS said it a statement issued by National Spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa.
“For the first time since the advent of the scheme, almost 100 000 students wrote their end-year examinations in 2023 on empty stomachs without food, toiletries, sanitary products, transport and some even accommodation. This was all due to the deliberate attempts by the leadership and staff of NSFAS to collapse that entity with the support and complicity of the Minister Blade.”
SAUS is demanding that the President “decommission the now defunct and blunt Blade”; dissolve the NSFAS board immediately; appoint a caretaker board to oversee the transition from “the criminal mafia to a credible board”; and ensure that the alleged corruptions is expeditiously investigated and “all criminals implicated” prosecuted.
“It is crucial for the President to act swiftly, because to fail to do so would be in itself an endorsement of the criminal syndicate and general corruption and impunity.”
SAUS warns that if the President fails to act in defense of the poor and working class, it will “mobilise all progressive forces to agitate and demonstrate in the most radical manner our rejection and condemnation for the continued stay of Blade Nzimande and Ernest Khosa”.
Nzimande, however, remains defiant, and has rejected the “malicious” allegations which he views as “reckless and largely based on gossip”.
According to Nzimande, the allegations are intended to undermine a smooth start to the 2024 academic year.
The Minister has also reserved the right to take “necessary legal action”.
And he “reassures” the public that he has never used any money from any of his Department’s entities for the purposes of funding the SACP).
As for Dr Khosa, he has also dismissed “with contempt” the “insinuation” that he received money, meant for him, Minister Nzimande, the SACP and other third parties.
NSFAS spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi called it “interesting” that the OUTA statement coincided with the NSFAS Board’s decision to start the legal proceedings to terminate the contracts of the direct payment solution service providers.
“The NSFAS Board notes the fight back by some unscrupulous individuals and organisations who are determined to defocus NSFAS from implementing the Werkmans Attorneys report recommendation.
“The NSFAS Board will continue to work with law enforcement agencies to further probe the recordings in circulation and all the reported instances of corruption and maladministration at NSFAS.
“The NSFAS Board Chairperson will at an appropriate time take the public into confidence on the recordings in circulation and attempted threats on his life…”
Meanwhile, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has added its voice to calls on President Ramaphosa to fire Nzimande and lodge an investigation into his involvement with NSFAS “syphoned funds”. The party has also called on the President to suspend Khoza from having any involvement with State funds.
Read more: Scathing revelations emerge in Parliamentary examination of higher education – OUTA uncovers the deception
In its reaction, ActionSA welcomed the announcement regarding the outcomes of the investigation by Werkmans Attorneys, “which conclusively determined that the awarding of the NSFAS Direct Payment of Allowances contract was indeed irregular and in gross violation of procurement practices”.
“ActionSA first announced our intention to challenge the dubious nature of the contract, grounded in the irrefutable evidence contained in OUTA’s investigative report. OUTA’s investigation left no room for doubt, revealing that the four service providers appointed by NSFAS for the Direct Payments of Allowances were not only unqualified but, following the system’s rollout, demonstrated a complete lack of competence in administering the student beneficiary accounts.
“In light of the damning outcomes of the investigation, our legal team will be writing to NSFAS to seek clarity on their intentions regarding the immediate termination of the contracts. Should NSFAS fail to take such immediate action, ActionSA will proceed with our separate review application in the High Court to have these fraudulent contracts set aside.”
* Rudie Heyneke, OUTA’s Investigations Manager, will discuss the latest developments with BizNews in an interview tomorrow (Monday).
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