e African National Congress’ (ANC) national executive committee (NEC) – the party’s highest decision-making structure between elective conferences – has ruled out any possibility of free higher education for all students.
Only children of the poor and working class would continue to benefit from fee exemption courtesy of the state‚ the committee decided at its three-day NEC meeting which ended on Sunday.
The committee insisted that there was already free higher education – for poor and working-class children – adding that the status quo would remain in place despite protests across various university campuses.
The NEC hit out at criticism that the ANC government was reneging on implementing free quality higher education‚ arguing that such a promise was neither made by the party not contained in the Freedom Charter.
The wrong questions are being asked in the free higher education debate
It lambasted students for basing their demands on an incorrect interpretation of the charter‚ reminding them that 1955 document made provision for state-sponsored financial assistance based on “merit”.
But ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday the party had gone above and beyond this provision‚ funding the education of students not based on merit but economic circumstances.
Said Mantashe: “Very few South Africans acknowledge that we’ve gone beyond what the Freedom Charter says.
“The Freedom Charter says that ‘the doors of learning and culture shall be opened’. It says specifically ‘that higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships on the basis of merit’.
“We have gone beyond that. Our position is that we should [continue to] fund access to education to the poor. The principle of ‘one according to one’s ability’ is a very important principle for us.”
Mantashe said the NEC was of the view that the country had gone a long way in cushioning the financial blow‚ to poor students‚ of accessing higher education with three quarters of university and college students having their fees covered by the state.
“The NEC agreed that‚ given that over 75% of students in universities and colleges will benefit‚ the government has moved a long way toward achieving fee-free higher education for many that are in need of assistance.
“We continue to support the principle that those who can afford to pay for higher education‚ must continue to do so in line with the principles of solidarity and cross-subsidisation‚” said Mantashe reading from the committee’s statement.