THE South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is one of the leading political formations leading the charge on calls for the resignation of Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, after likening student protests in South Africa to ‘a soap opera’.
“In the middle of a battle that is being waged against financial exclusions in pursuit of free education, the ‘Communist minister’ Blade Nzimande has recklessly likened the students’ efforts in exercising their democratic right to demand the basic education right as a ‘soap opera’,” said SAFTU’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.
This comes after Nzimande made off-the-cuff comments about the ongoing protests by students at various institutions of higher learning, beginning at Wits University, where students have been calling for an end to financial exclusion and the cancellation of historic debt.
Nzimande made these remarks after students at a number of universities took to the streets in response to the call by the SA Students Congress (Sasco) to shut down all institutions of higher learning for failing to meet their demands, including the implantation of free education in South Africa.
“Every year, it’s like a soapie now, The Bold and the Beautiful, every beginning of the year there is instability,” said Minister Nzimande.
The minister also called on police to act swiftly against acts of violence and destruction to property.
“The destruction of property is a criminal offence and all those engaging in such acts must be apprehended by law enforcement agencies and face the full might of the law.”
Vavi said it was disheartening for the higher education minister to be calling the fight for free education and against financial exclusions a ‘The Bold and Beautiful’ soapie.
“His utterances are blind and insensitive to the plight of students who face financial exclusion and de-registrations on a yearly basis,” added Vavi.
Student leaders said the minister has on several occasions failed to attend several meetings to discuss issues pertaining to financial exclusion.
“However, it is not shocking because of the fat perks of ministerial position have transformed him into the enemy of the working class; a class on whose back he rose to prominence,” said Vavi.
Vavi said Nzimande must hang his head in shame because students were essentially fighting an austerity program that has led to cuts in essential services such as education and healthcare.
“For belittling the genuine struggles for access to the basic service, education, SAFTU calls on the communist, Blade Nzimande to resign from his position,” added Vavi.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has also called on Nzimande to resign after he compared the student protests to a television soap opera.
EFF’s spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said Nzimande’s removal was long overdue as he continues not to account to Parliament,’repeatedly giving sermons and then retreating to unidentifiable engagements’.
“This has revealed that he has no regard for the oversight role of parliament as he continues to schedule mythical engagements when he is supposed to account before the committee,” said Pambo.
“He has on a yearly basis exhibited disdain for students, at one point calling for them to fall, because they have bravely refused to accept mediocre interventions that do not represent their core demand of the decommodification of education. At the height of a global pandemic, his department which is charged with scientific research and innovation has made no sophisticated contribution to any developmental measure to curb the impact of the virus on South Africa either socially, medically or economically.”
The South African Union of Students’ general secretary, Lwandile Mtsolo, has also supported calls for Nzimande’s resignation.
Mtsolo said Nzimande’s utterances and mishandling of genuine student grievances in various statements were a growing concern.
“It is no secret that the minister has failed to deliver on his own promises. There is nothing ‘Bold and Beautiful’ about poor governance and lack of engagement in times of crisis in the higher education sector,” said Mtsolo.
Mtsolo added that protests and loss of lives should never amount to a ‘soap opera’.
“Coming from a communist background, Minister Nzimande should know better that financial exclusion at the heart of student protests across the country has a negative impact on those who look towards education as a solution out of poverty, the poor and working class in the main,” said Mtsolo.
Sasco’s deputy president, Buyile Matiwane, said the students organisation supported the call for Nzimande to step down.
According to Nzimande, the following damage and costs have been recorded at universities:
- CPUT recorded four cases of vandalism with repairs worth R2.6 million.
- UJ recorded seven cases of vandalism with repairs amounting to R202 826.
- UKZN recorded damage with repairs amounting to R27.3 million.
- UFH recorded damage with repairs amounting to R468 000.
- UWC recorded two cases of vandalism and theft to the worth of R166 007.
- UniVen recorded three cases of vandalism in 2020 with repairs costing R133 227.
Nzimande said the total cost of repairs, including those that have already been carried out, amount to R32.7 million.
“None of these acts and massive losses incurred could be justified or associated with any legitimate forms of protest and should be condemned unequivocally by all, including our student and union stakeholders. I am also convinced that all progressive stakeholder organisations will agree that criminal and violent acts have no legitimacy in genuine political protests around demands for greater equality in post-school education and training.”
Nzimande has called on University Vice-Chancellors to tighten appropriate security measures at higher learning institutions.