Calls for Nzimande and Khosa to resign

Growing calls for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to resign. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/Independent Newspapers

Growing calls for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to resign. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 8, 2024


The are growing calls for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board chairperson Ernest Khosa to resign following allegations, made by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), that they received millions of rand in kickback payments from service providers.

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”.

Calling for Nzimande and Khosa to resign, Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s investigations manager, 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.

NSFAS and the Higher Education Ministry rejected the allegations as “malicious”.

The SACP also denied any wrongdoing.

Heyneke said that the recordings were leaked by a whistle-blower and documented two separate meetings that allegedly took place.

The service provider was among those appointed to carry out direct payments on behalf of NSFAS to students.

After concerns were raised about the system, an independent investigation was carried out by Werksmans Attorneys and advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.

It found that there were irregularities and conflicts of interest during the selection process of the four service providers.

The meetings centred around the Werksmans investigation and made mention of the alleged payments made to Khosa, Nzimande and the SACP.

Outa said its detailed investigative report and the voice recordings would be shared with the Special Investigating Unit, Public Protector, the SA Revenue Service and the Auditor-General’s office.

Reacting to the allegations, South African Union of Students (SAUS) spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa said Nzimande should be fired and the NSFAS board dissolved.

He added that while they noted that the allegations had to be tested, the direct payment system debacle had affected thousands of students.

“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 of the minister.”

NSFAS said Khosa strongly dismissed with contempt the voice recording and insinuation that he had received money, meant for him, Nzimande, the SACP and parties.

NSFAS added that their focus was on the new academic year and it was committed to transformation and clean governance.

It added that it would work with law enforcement agencies to probe the recordings in circulation and all the reported instances of corruption and maladministration at NSFAS.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation said Nzimande rejected the malicious allegations. It added that Nzimande had never used any money from any of the department's entities for the purpose of funding the SACP.

The ministry said that Nzimande viewed the allegations contained in the leaked Outa report as reckless and largely based on gossip.

“Given the damaging allegations, the minister reserves his right to take the necessary legal action. The minister wishes to reaffirm his and the department’s commitment to clean governance within the department and its entities.”

Political parties have also weighed in on the allegations with ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba, saying the revelations confirmed concerns about the “questionable nature of the minister and NSFAS board’s staunch defence of the direct payment scheme”.

“Despite clear indicators suggesting it was nothing more than an elaborate fraud, both the minister and board chairperson continued defending the scheme until the Werksmans Attorneys’ report rendered that defence untenable,” Mashaba said.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said he would lead a live broadcast on Monday addressing the latest scandal.

“The Democratic Alliance will deliver a live broadcast to the nation announcing urgent action to hold Minister Nzimande accountable for this blatant corruption at the expense of South African students,” Steenhuisen said on Sunday.

The Freedom Front Plus requested an urgent meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation regarding the matter. FF+ chief spokesperson Dr Wynand Boshoff said the financial aid scheme had been in a state of emergency since it was saddled with delivering on the ANC’s promise of free higher education in 2018.

“There is also a constant cloud of corruption hanging over the scheme and its budget of more than R40 billion. The current board was appointed in 2021 after NSFAS had been under administration for two years.

“Levelling allegations of taking bribes against the minister and chairperson is very serious. Nzimande has already denied it,” said Boshoff.

The Mercury