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Pressure is mounting for Minister of Higher Education Naledi Pandor to fire the chief executive of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and disband its board following the ongoing challenges in disbursing money for students who were promised free education.

The call comes amid threats by private student accommodation in Belhar to evict more than 250 students who have not received payment more than half way through the academic year.

The students blamed the scheme for failing to disburse money to institutions so they could in turn pay Southpoint accommodation. But the scheme has shifted the blame to the institutions.

Fresh calls by the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) follow a similar one by the National Health and Education Workers’ Union (Nehawu) last month.

Sasco president Simphiwe Joja confirmed students who have felt the brunt of NSFAS “inefficencies and lack of leadership” would hold a protest march on either August 16 or 17 to put pressure on the minister to take decisive action against chief executive Steven Zwane and the board.

However, according to reliable sources, Zwane was believed to be on his way out following a board meeting in Johannesburg last month. 

“He was only appointed 10 months ago in the hope that he could turn the organisation around. I believe that the reason he has not left yet is that there might be negotiations on his payout - he was employed on a five-year contract and that would mean quite a lot of money,” a source said.

He also added the issue was no longer a secret as it was being discussed by staff at the organisation.

But the scheme’s spokesperson, Kagisho Mamabolo, denied Zwane was on his way out, saying “this is news to management” and the board had not received a letter of resignation.

Weekend Argus reported on the NSFAS crisis in June after students complained of not receiving allowances for textbooks and meals.

Joja said Sasco was disturbed by the inefficiencies at the scheme which were characterised by late or lack of disbursement of funds resulting in students not knowing whether or not their studies would be fully funded.

“We want the minister to appoint leaders who understand the plight of poor students,” Joja said.

Last month Nehawu also raised concerns, saying it had lost confidence in Zwane and the board chairman Nxasana and called on Pandor to remove them to “save and stabilise the crucial entity of the state”.

The union called for the replacement of Zwane with “a trusted, honest and capable” leader.

Nehawu had communicated its concerns with Zwane in a meeting in July. Although the Department of Higher Education and Training seconded a task team to the scheme for three months to get to grips with the challenges, it will now launch a full investigation into all business processes.

Several meetings between the scheme, Universities SA and the department have been held in an attempt to find a solution.

At the core of the crisis is the scheme’s inefficient business processes and its inability to implement the free education scheme effectively.

Universities SA’s chief executive and spokesperson, Professor Ahmed Bawa confirmed a meeting was held on July 20 and attempts were made to understand how the scheme could resolved the 2017 and 2018 funding cycles which included students receiving their grants and the funding to universities being properly reconciled.

Weekend Argus