Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Wednesday rejected claims by the South African Union of Students (Saus) that there is a “perpetual paralysis” in the Department of Higher Education and Training.
The Saus issued a scathing statement last week, criticizing Nzimande’s leadership of the department.
The organization claimed the department was riddled with incompetence and impunity, and accused Nzimande of turning a blind eye to students’ issues.
“The union is frustrated by the state of perpetual paralysis in the Department of Higher Education, under the supposed leadership of Minister Blade Nzimande.
“The reality is that, for the most part, the department is on autopilot, with institutions of higher learning pulling in divergent directions, without coordination,” said Saus’ national spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa.
In a statement on Wednesday, Nzimande hit back at Saus, saying he strongly disagreed with the union’s criticism of his department.
“I wish to strongly disagree and dismiss the statement by the South African Union of Students that insinuates that there is a perpetual paralysis in the Department of Higher Education and Training.
“Were it not for active engagement with all the stakeholders in the sector (workers, staff, management and student representative structures) on the part of our department, we would not have managed to complete the past two academic years working under very difficult conditions,” Nzimande said.
The minister defended his department’s track record during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying at the height of the lockdown in 2020, it continued to ensure that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) paid stipends to its recipients.
He said they were also able to set up the Covid Grant to manage learning and teaching, engaged mobile operators to provide data and Wi-Fi services, as well as worked with universities and colleges to provide laptops to more than 80% of students.
“In fact, we are proud as a department that through this activism and dynamic interaction with stakeholders we have kept our post-school education and training system going.
“We would like to thank all our stakeholders and their representative organizations for this co-operation and working together.”
Nzimande reassured all the students that his department placed their interests first.
He added that they constantly held engagements with organizations like Saus on the state of readiness for the beginning of the 2022 academic year.
“If there are issues of concern that the Saus has on any matter affecting students within universities, there are both institutional and ministerial and department-led forums to discuss all issues of concern, as indeed has been the case since the beginning of the year.”
Appeal for calm
Nzimande also appealed for calm at all institutions of higher learning, and for stakeholders to work together to ensure a smooth start to the academic year.
“Where there are matters of dispute and grievance, structures are in place for Student Representative Councils and institutional management to engage.
“I urge that student leaders and institutional management make use of these mechanisms to resolve problems amicably.”
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