The embattled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was still “concluding” the process of clearing the 20 000 outstanding 2023 allowance disbursements on Monday despite its self-imposed deadline of January 15.
“NSFAS will issue an update tomorrow (today) as we are concluding the process,” NSFAS spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said.
NSFAS committed last month that by January 15 all of the students it failed to pay allowances would have received payment to ensure that the 2023 bursary allowances do not affect students returning for the 2024 academic year.
These allowances, according to the entity, were not concluded due to changes in registration data which required further input and consultation with institutions.
The delays in allowances saw thousands of students write their final exams on empty stomachs, without toiletries and struggling to go back home for the end-of-year break.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said he has raised his concerns with the board over the allowance matter.
“I have met with the board and emphasised that if Sassa is administering grants to millions of South Africans why then should NSFAS have a problem in properly disbursing funds to about one million students.
“One student not paid their allowance is one too many. I have also communicated that the turnaround time for appeals need to be short. In relation to the upfront registration fees, R4 billion has been set aside, NSFAS will be using its own reserves and give institutions right away so that students can register,” he said.
Nzimande urged for a smooth start to the 2024 academic year.
“Do not use the start of the academic year to launch your election campaigns,” he said, addressing political parties.
“We cannot sacrifice the future of our youngsters by having political parties trying to use their influence to destabilise the sector of narrow and petty party political reasons.”
Nzimande has been receiving mounting calls from political parties and student organisations to resign following Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s (Outa) damning report and leaked records over alleged kickbacks from service providers.
Opposition parties have been mounting pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to remove Nzimande from his company or follow in the footsteps of NSFAS board chairperson Ernest Khosa, who recently went on a month-long leave of absence to enable the board to deal with allegations contained in the 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, Nzimande, and the SACP. They have all denied the allegations.
DA MP Chantel King and her fellow colleagues held a meeting with NSFAS acting CEO Masile Ramorwesi on Monday at the entity’s offices.
“They were unable to provide an update on today’s deadline for the distribution of all outstanding 2023 funding.
NSFAS officials could not provide the number of students who have successfully applied for 2024 funding. NSFAS was also not able to address our concerns regarding student accommodation. This situation has disastrous implications for the affected students, who are left in a state of uncertainty about their financial support for education.
“The inability to provide information on the number of successful 2024 funding applications adds to the anxiety and frustration among students, making it challenging for them to plan their academic year effectively,” said King.
On Sunday, ActionSA staged a picket claiming Nzimande was seemingly detached from reality.
“We repeat our demand for the immediate resignation of Minister Nzimande and the entire NSFAS board.
There is little doubt that they bear the ultimate responsibility for this manufactured crisis, which has left countless NSFAS-funded students in peril.
He has single-handedly, with the endorsement of the corrupt ruling party, presided over the abdication of the department’s responsibility to meet the needs of South African students,” the party said.