Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says he intends to legally challenge the allegations that he and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board chairperson Ernest Khosa received millions of rands in kickback payments from service providers.
At a briefing on Monday Nzimande said he was not guilty of corruption and added that there was no need for him to resign.
“As the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, I have never used any money from any of my departments’ entities for the purpose of funding the SA Communist Party (SACP).
“Nor have I received any personal kickbacks from NSFAS or its entities,” he said.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) last week said it had leaked voice recordings containing “damning allegations about a patronage network in the Department of Higher Education, implicating the minister, NSFAS chair, and several others”.
The civic organisation alleged the minister and board chairperson were involved in the fraudulent scheme orchestrated by corrupt tenderpreneurs to loot NSFAS through irregular contracts.
Outa said it had released voice recordings of two meetings between Khosa and a representative of a service provider, which revealed how service providers allegedly paid millions of rand in kickbacks to Nzimande and Khosa and at least R1 million to the SACP.
On Monday Nzimande rejected the allegations, vowed to take legal action, and told the media that he would voluntarily subject himself to the ANC ethics and integrity bodies.
“My conscious is clear, and I have nothing to hide or fear,” he said.
Nzimande labelled Outa’s report as “malicious and largely false”, saying the allegations were linked to a “fight-back campaign” in which Outa was also “opportunistically colluding” with the very same people it was once investigating.
“I do a lot of political fundraising; however, with strict guidance from the SACP. I’m not permitted to raise funds from entities under my department or knowingly from service providers in that space.
“The allegations against me and attacks on Mr Khosa are part of a nefarious fight-back campaign,” he said.
Since the allegations were made public, Khosa had received threats against his life, Nzimande said.
“Just because we're ministers does not make us fair game. I'm seriously looking at my own rights that are being violated in this process of being faced by allegations that are spurious.
“Being a minister is becoming a job that is so terrible,” he said.
Nzimande also said he was seeking an urgent meeting with the NSFAS board for Wednesday to discuss the matter following the allegations.
Meanwhile, opposition parties joined calls for the resignation of Nzimande and Khosa.
John Steenhuisen, leader of the DA, said the party would write to Ramaphosa and the Special Investigating Unit to demand an investigation into alleged kickbacks to Nzimande and the SACP.
“The DA, including our student organisation, will initiate mass mobilisation campaigns at campuses across the country to force Ramaphosa to fire Nzimande.
“We are preparing criminal charges against Nzimande and we are briefing our legal team to declare the NSFAS board delinquent over the corrupt and irrational direct payment and accommodation tenders.”
Steenhuizen said he DA also plans to submit a request to obtain a copy of the Werksmans report into the awarding of the direct payment tenders.
“The awarding last year by NSFAS of direct payment tenders to companies with no proven track record has resulted in students being charged exorbitant fees for every transaction.
“In many cases, students also received their allowances late or not at all, leaving them unable to even buy food.”
Mkhuleko Hlengwa, IFP national spokesperson, said Minister Nzimande has been “key and central” to every scandal and failure of the Department of Higher Education and Training and NSFAS since 2009.
“He has never been fit for purpose. He must resign with immediate effect and Parliament and the law enforcement agencies must launch a full-scale investigation into this latest revelation of corruption.”