ANC Treasurer-General Dr Zweli Mkhize has told University of Fort Hare students that “in reality” there is no such thing as “free education”.
Addressing students at a Young Communist League event on “Progressive Black Academics” at the university’s East London campus on Wednesday evening, he faced off with student, socialist and communist radicals’ cries against shortcomings of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and calls for free education.
Mkhize, a former student activist himself when he was at University of Natal, said young people needed to differentiate between idealism and realism in their calls for free education.
Mkhize defended NSFAS saying it was the ANC government’s attempt to assist the underprivileged and that everyone must understand NSFAS could not pay for everyone due to limited financial resources at its disposal. As the financial aid scheme continues to be under fire from beneficiaries for things such as non-payment of meals and textbook allowances, Mkhize blamed corruption among the causes of problems with funds distribution.
Besides, he said, NSFAS was bombarded by applications that were far more than it could handle, including those whose parents could afford to pay their own way.
“When we were students, we sang the same revolutionary songs you are singing, yearning for this particular future that we believed freedom and democracy would bring along.
“Of course you are more idealistic when you are young but you become realistic when you grow older as you realise that idealism and practical experience do not yield exactly what you thought they were going to yield,” he said.
He said the youth of his time also believed in free education and free healthcare “but in reality, free does not mean it is free because somebody has to pay for it.” But his views did not go unchallenged by the audience with Skenjana Roji District (BCM region) secretary of the Young Communist League Thulani Tempi leading the charge.
Tempi challenged Mkhize to look at Cuba and how its socialist policies changed education and health with some of the best medical schools in the world – and that South Africa still sends aspirant medical doctors to Cuba for training.
Tempi went on to say the ANC government had itself to blame for fallist movements such as #FeesMustFall.
This, he said, was because the government did not practise what it preached and ANC leaders pretended to listen to student cries only when electioneering. He asked Mkhize when ANC leaders would begin to address economic inequalities in society and the class struggle.
He said the ANC was “losing it” because some of its deployees in government became corrupted by the system.
“Once leaders run out of ideas they begin to be creative.
“Then they begin to steal in the process because as things stand it appears we as the ANC are losing it.”
Mkhize did not respond to questions from Tempi and other audience members, instead saying his part was only to start a debate which should continue even when he was no longer part of it physically. — firstname.lastname@example.org