Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Sunday denied media reports that he had intended to announce free tertiary education in his state-of-the-nation address (Sona) in February but was blocked by the National Treasury.
"The story in the Sunday Times newspaper reporting that President Jacob Zuma was planning to announce free education in the state-of-the-nation address in February this year and was stopped by the National Treasury is a fabrication," Zuma's spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said.
Zuma never planned to make such an announcement. The thrust of Sona 2017 was "radical economic transformation" flowing from the African National Congress's January 8 statement and the cabinet and governing party makgotla, he said.
Zuma had appointed a commission of inquiry into higher education funding headed by Judge John Heher. Zuma waited for the commission to conclude its business. At no stage did he plan to make any announcements that would undermine the work of the commission, Ngqulunga said.
Zuma had tasked the inter-ministerial committee on higher education funding headed by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and the presidential fiscal committee to process the Heher Commission report and advise him on how to respond to the content thereof.
"Any action going forward will result from careful consideration by relevant structures in government," Ngqulunga said.
Earlier, the Sunday Times reported that Zuma wanted to announce free education as early as February this year but was stopped in his tracks by the National Treasury when Pravin Gordhan was still finance minister.
However, it emerged this week that Zuma was pushing ahead with the plan to announce fully subsidised higher education for students coming from families earning a combined income of not more than R350 000 a year, despite a warning from the interministerial committee headed by Radebe that the plan was a risk to the economy, the newspaper reported.
"Zuma’s plan is the brainchild of Morris Masutha, the ex-boyfriend of his and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s daughter, Thuthukile. Insiders say several meetings were held last week with Zuma as he wanted Treasury to find money to fund Masutha’s proposal. Treasury insiders say Zuma’s plan has angered deputy director general at the budgeting office Michael Sachs, who has allegedly threatened to resign if the president insists on implementing the plan," the Sunday Times reported.