The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board has resolved to appoint an independent legal firm to investigate allegations levelled against board chairperson Ernest Khosa.
As a result, Khosa will be going on a month-long leave of absence to enable the board to deal with allegations contained in the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) report and in leaked audio recordings.
The recordings alleged that service providers awarded multimillion-rand tenders by NSFAS to administer direct payments to students paid kickbacks to Khosa, higher education minister Blade Nzimande, and the South African Communist Party. They have all denied the allegations.
The board said the decisions were taken following a special meeting it held on Wednesday to discuss the NSFAS state of readiness for the 2024 academic year.
“The chairperson reiterated to the board that he had never received any financial gratification for his personal use or facilitated any for the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation or the South African Communist Party.
“The board chairperson also raised concerns about threats that have been made against his life and that of his family,” said the board.
According to the board, following the meeting it informed Nzimande of the leave notice tabled regarding Khosa.
“In terms of the NSFAS Act, the Minister has the fiduciary responsibility to appoint the acting board chairperson in the absence of the chairperson. Expressly, the board resolved to appoint an independent legal firm to look into the veracity of the allegations against the board chairperson.
The legal firm, soon to be announced by the board, will be expected to submit its findings within 30 days of their appointment.
The board would also like to assure all South Africans that this process will be handled with due diligence and integrity,” it said.
The board also stated that it would be busy with the appointment of a new chief executive officer (CEO) after it fired Andile Nongogo last year.
OUTA said it looked forward to a truly independent investigation.
“We repeat our call for Minister Nzimande to do the same or President Cyril Ramaphosa to remove him as a minister.”
ActionSA Youth Forum chairperson Hluphi Gafane said they were pleased to observe that the wheels of accountability appeared to be slowly turning, even while Minister Nzimande sought to evade this.
“ActionSA believes that the conduct of the entire NSFAS Board demands scrutiny, as they were all involved in the decision-making process. This not only undermined the Tertiary Education sector but also directly disadvantaged nearly 1 million students,” she said.
According to the party it was crucial that the independent law firm that will be appointed probed the allegations impartially and without fear or favour.
“We believe that Mr Khosa should not receive any form of remuneration during his leave of absence,” said Gafane.
ActionSA is among the parties that filed criminal charges against Nzimande and Khosa.