EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: REUTERS
EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: REUTERS

The EFF maintained its call for potential students to walk in at universities to apply for places‚ following President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of free university education for the working-class.

However‚ applications for universities closed last year and many are fearful that "political stunts" will lead to university protests.

The party said it will make sure its members are at the entrances of universities to force them to take more students‚ even after Universities SA‚ a body representing the country’s 26 universities‚ warned no walk-ins will be accepted.

Much to the surprise of universities and the Treasury‚ Zuma announced free tuition for students of families earning less than R350‚000 a year on December 16. On Tuesday‚ Universities SA slammed politicians’ behaviour calling it "political football".

The body went so far as warning of violence if walk-in students arrived. It mentioned the deadly stampede that crushed an applicant’s parent to death at the University of Johannesburg in 2012.

Despite Universities SA’s strong statement‚ the EFF is not backing down. The party’s general secretary Mbuyiseni Ndlozi took to Twitter saying all qualifying students needed to be accommodated. "Authorities should not blame students‚ who did not apply for universities‚ when they know very well that many did not even think of applying due to lack of funds. There must be plans in place to consider all applications‚ allowing the poor to take advantage of free education."

However, on Tuesday‚ Minister of Higher Education Hlengiwe Mkhize told broadcaster eNCA: "There is no way in which a person can walk in and expect to be registered. There is no way to assume that because you have money you can just go to that particular faculty. There are always criteria people have to meet."

The DA’s spokesperson on higher education‚ Belinda Bozzoli‚ formerly a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand‚ said the number of places at universities were worked out in advance with specialised algorithms, taking into account staff‚ lecture halls and other capacity.

She accused the EFF‚ which she said knew this‚ of "playing games with students’ futures".

It is not yet known how Treasury will fund the free tuition for students whose households earn below R350‚000. Universities are waiting for the annual budget speech‚ which takes place after registration at campuses begins.

Bozzoli said that even if the Finance Minister finds money to fund free education‚ there is only likely to be money for students that have already been accepted and not hundreds of extra applicants, warning the "political stunts" could lead to protests.

"It is very‚ very serious. This is horrific, really. The whole thing is a mess. Ultimately‚ President Jacob Zuma is to blame for this mess [with his last minute free-fee announcement]. He is reckless and irresponsible. He created a gap and the EFF took it."

"The thing with the education system is it should be boring. You cannot teach and research with instability. Seeing students struggle to go class [due to riots] was heart-wrenching."

Twitter commentator Sihle Ngobese criticised the EFF for suggesting a university degree would lead to a job. "The idea that a university degree is the be all and end all is a skewed idea ... Rather encourage kids to pursue hard artisan skills and trades. That is what our economy needs."

Asked about the EFF’s refusal to back down‚ Universities SA CEO Prof Ahmed Bawa merely repeated his message for potential applicants to use the website https://cach.dhet.gov.za/Applicant/UsingCACH to apply to universities in case a place became available.

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