#FeesMustFall - what Mbeki has to say
Pretoria - It was the duty of the government to allocate funds to address various needs in the country - not just higher education, former president Thabo Mbeki said at Unisa on Monday.
If more of the country’s budget was allocated purely to higher education funding, it would mean less for other pressing issues, like public health care and basic education.
What started out as a dialogue on leadership saw Unisa students airing their frustrations to Mbeki on Monday afternoon.
The students wanted to hear his views on the ongoing fees impasse as well as the leadership of the ANC, which they felt was not steering the party in the right direction. They also accused the leadership of not listening to the people.
Mbeki fielded tough questions about #FeesMustFall as well as public dissatisfaction with the ANC in a dialogue hosted by Unisa and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation. The dialogue was held for African studies students at the university, who had the opportunity to ask the former president questions.
Asked about the #FeesMustFall movement and the cry for free higher education, Mbeki said South Africa needed an educated population and therefore there was a demand for everyone to have access to education.
“It is a collective good for the country, so it’s not something I can fight about. Where it becomes problematic is who pays,” he said.
Mbeki said while reading up on the topic he found out that in their first year, 30% of students with funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme dropped out of university, and more in their third year.
He said the reason mostly was because they were from poor backgrounds and did not have access to the type of schools that could properly equip them for university.
“It means we have to do something about schools. I think it is wrong to confine the funding of higher education to just that topic. There should be the inclusion of access to education as a whole, not just higher education,” Mbeki said.
He said the country’s budget had to be allocated to address various needs, including public health care.
He was asked why the government wasn’t calling for the private sector to throw their hats into the ring to help fund higher education.
“I wouldn’t say my biggest issue is the funding of higher education. I would point the private sector in a different direction.”
He said instead of telling the private sector to invest in funding higher education, he would tell them to build more factories which would employ people and increase economic growth.
The former president, who famously resigned from his position in 2008 after he was recalled by the ANC, was asked about the public dissatisfaction with the ruling party and how there seemed to be loyalty to the party but none for the people of the country. “The ANC was established to liberate the people of South Africa from colonial pressures and later apartheid pressures. Loyalty to the party means loyalty to the purposes of the party.”
He went on to reference his predecessor Nelson Mandela during a 1997 report he presented on a negative phenomenon where people would join the ANC simply to benefit from the party.
He said if the public was dissatisfied with the leadership, the ANC ought to be sensitive to the feelings of the public, and if that was not happening, then it told a story.
“If I join the ANC and I am made a mayor as a result, and I then give tenders to my friends and get the necessary kickbacks, I will be loyal to the ANC and not loyal to the people.”
Mbeki mentioned that Reverend Frank Chikane, in 2007 after the ANC’s national conference, told him that comrades said they didn’t vote for Mbeki because he did not allow them to put a little money in their pockets; they instead voted for someone who would allow it.
He said it was a different type of ANC member who would be fine with taking money from people and not serving their interests, and he would hope the ANC would address that issue.
Mbeki added that just because one had an ANC membership card, that did not make them a leader; nor educated on its policies or meaning they had any political education.
Mbeki also spoke about gender equality in Africa and the seeming lack of leadership in the continent.
“A progressive leader should do progressive things; what the continent needs is progressive leadership to effect the changes that are needed. A progressive leader says my task is to serve the people’. That progressive leader will not be a thief.”