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By Dimakatso Modipa

SASCO members and students across different institutions marching to the department of higher education and training to demand food allowance photo by Dimakatso Modipa
SASCO members and students across different institutions marching to the department of higher education and training to demand food allowance photo by Dimakatso Modipa

Members of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) marched to the offices of the Department of Higher Education and training on Friday to deliver a litany of NSFAS-related demands to the incumbent Minister Dr Blade Nzimande

Flanked by hundreds of SASCO members, the organisation’s regional chairperson in Tshwane Welile Mazibuko described the march as a “guerilla visit” to submit their grievances to Nzimande.

“Our fellow students are not happy at all institutions of higher learning countrywide regarding the service providers who are failing to pay students their NSFAS dues,” said Mazibuko.

“These service providers keep on failing students and some of them have not received their money for months now,” he said.

“Some of the students are still at home and can’t go to campuses, while others can’t attend classes as they are hungry and obviously can’t learn while hungry, all this because the service providers have not paid them their NSFAS allowances,” he said.

Mazibuko said SASCO demands the removal of the service providers and for the various higher education institutions to handle the process of paying the students directly.

He pointed out that when the higher education institutions embarked upon paying students directly for a period of two months, there were no glitches and students were happy about that arrangement.

“We demand that any other model that would be implemented by the department of higher education must cater for students who come from poor and marginalized backgrounds,” said Mazibuko vehemently.

Mazibuko said students must not be involved in whatever agreement that was entered into and is binding, between the higher education institutions and the service providers as it (the contract) was exploitative and costly to students.

“Let the institutions and the service providers deal with their own agreement, but we as students want to be paid directly by the institutions,” he said.

According to Mazibuko, the so-called agreement is tantamount to gambling with taxpayers’ money and the future of students.

He warned that should their demands not be met, then they will march again for the removal of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, this as he has apparently exhausted his powers in dealing with this matter and that a new individual must be appointed to ensure the smooth-running of the department in general, and NSFAS in particular.

Mazibuko said they were giving Minister Nzimande 24 hours to meet their demands as the matter was urgent.

“Due to the incompetence of the service providers, some students at the University of Johannesburg received as little as R2 and R30 as payment for their monthly NSFAS allowances,” said Mazibuko.

“At TUT, some students’ money disappeared when they tried to access the portal used for their NSFAS funds,” enthused Mazibuko.

“We want serious intervention, and the Minister must take this scheme seriously so that our fellow students may receive their money,” he said.

Mazibuko was emphatic to point out that the NSFAS was on the brink of collapse and that Nzimande must appoint a capable administrator who will root out corruption and ensure that the scheme works as envisaged.

“Majority of the officials who chow the NSFAS money are the ones whose children don’t use the scheme and therefore they don’t care about the well-being of students who need the funds desperately,” he said.

“The tummies of these corrupt officials grow bigger on a daily basis while the children of the poor are suffering,” said Mazibuko.

He said NSFAS carries the hopes and aspirations of the have-nots and that Nzimande must take it seriously.

Youth League member of Eswatini’s liberation movement PUDEMO and also leader of Swaziland Youth Congress Sakhile Nxumalo was in attendance at the march to lend support to the marching SASCO members.

He announced that many of his comrades from Swayco were also at the march to fight hand in hand with SASCO.

He expressed confidence that SASCO and the ANC will help them to overthrow Eswatini’s monarch Mswati lll.

“We are hungry and go to bed on an empty stomach and the department don’t care about us.

Some of the students have started selling their bodies to get food and all because of the greedy person who holds their money.

We want directly payment on our account and department must cancel all the contractors,” said TUT student Sophia Matlala.

Holding vuvuzelas and sticks in their hands, the SASCO members marched from Burgerspark to the Department of Higher Education headquarters in the Pretoria CBD.

The SASCO members became agitated when they realised that Minister Nzimande didn’t come out to receive their memorandum personally.

“We want Blade! We want Blade,” they chanted in unison calling for Nzimande to show up.

Be that as it may, their memorandum was received by NSFAS Chief Operations Officer Errol Makhubela, who promised to respond to the students’ demand early next week.

The memorandum was read and delivered by SASCO’s Gauteng Chairperson Yandisa Mhlelembane, also known as Ndora.

Key points in SASCO’s memorandum read as follows:

1. The termination of the contract with Fintech companies responsible for administering students’ allowances.

2. The urgent implementation of structural reforms to ensure that NSFAS operates in a manner that prioritises the needs of students.

3. The establishment of NSFAS provincial offices.

4. The reinstatement of institution-based NSFAS appeal committees so as to allow the timeous release of outcomes.

5. Fundi must take over the disbursement of allowances directly into the bank accounts of students, until the reconfiguration of a true direct payment system, whereby NSFAS pays students their allowances directly.

6. Greater transparency and communication between NSFAS and Financial Aid offices of institutions of higher learning.

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