Calls for investigations into allegations of Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande, receiving kickbacks from National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) service providers, have been taken to the joint parliamentary committee on ethics.
There have been mounting calls from political parties, civil society organisations and student groups for the departure of Nzimande from the helm of the department, following the serious allegations that he and former NSFAS chair, Ernest Khosa, had received kickbacks from a service provider.
While Khosa has vacated his seat pending the outcome of investigations, Nzimande has continued with business as usual.
The DA’s shadow minister for Higher Education, Chantel King said they had, in light of the minister’s blatant disregard, lodged a complaint against him with the joint committee on ethics and members’ interest in parliament.
King said the committee must take up the complaint promptly because if there was any truth to the allegations, it meant that the minister had essentially violated the parliamentary code of ethical conduct and disclosure of member’s interests.
“It is crucial that this investigation determine whether the minister is guilty of ethical misconduct and if any public funds were indeed mismanaged. If the minister is innocent, as he proclaimed, although he has not yet provided any evidence to support his case, he should welcome the opportunity to clear his name.
“If the minister is guilty, however, he must be fired, as he would have violated the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, openness, honesty, and leadership, contained in the code, and expected of members of parliament,” King added.
Given that every year thousands of vulnerable students that depend on NSFAS were let down in some way, either due to their money being paid late, never receiving their accommodation allowances, or being wrongly deregistered mid-year, King said, that the sector could not afford to have the person at the helm being accused of gross corruption.
She added: “Every year, the minister makes excuses or attempts to shift the blame, just as the minister is trying to do now by blaming universities for the late payment of last year’s outstanding allowances. It is clear that Minister Nzimande has long since lost sight of who he’s mandated to serve, being these students who are trying to carve out prosperous futures against overwhelming challenges, many of which have been placed there by the minister and his department’s ineptitude, and now alleged corruption.”
Various student organisations have also criticised the financial aid scheme for failing to pay allowances to almost 20 000 students.
The South African Students Congress vowed that it would embark on mass action should unpaid allowances for 2023 not be disbursed to students by the end of the registration period.