President Jacob Zuma. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/ GCIS
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/ GCIS

Students are running out of patience as President Jacob Zuma holds onto the final report of the fees commission he tasked with probing the feasibility of free higher education.

Zuma received the report from chairperson Judge Jonathan Heher in August and promised to release it to the public in due course. But Sinethemba Mkhatshwa‚ who is a second-year geology student at Tshwane University of Technology‚ said it was difficult for student leaders to fold their arms and wait when universities were already deciding on fee adjustments.

She said students were anxiously waiting for the findings of the commission‚ saying they wanted free education now.

Zuma established the commission in January 2016 after a wave of violence that swept through campuses across the country, resulting in the shutting down of several campuses. "We urge the president to release the report as students cannot wait anymore. We cannot wait for a situation where we wake up one day to be told universities are implementing fee adjustments‚" Mkhatshwa said.

In a memorandum served on the Presidency at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday‚ the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) gave Zuma two weeks to release the report or face another shutdown.

On Tuesday‚ the Higher Education Transformation Network slated the "unilateral" fee increments by Stellenbosch University‚ Central University of Technology and North West University before the release of the commission’s report. Last Wednesday, Stellenbosch University announced its student fees would increase by 8% in 2018.

Mkhatshwa‚ who also serves as the deputy secretary of Pasma in Gauteng‚ said she wondered what was in the report‚ since Zuma wanted to take more than two months to "apply his mind".

"Now [Blade] Nzimande has been removed‚ we wonder why he was removed. Was it because, maybe, he was for free higher education that he was removed?" she asked.

On Wednesday, Zuma removed Nzimande from the higher education portfolio and replaced him with Hlengiwe Mkhize‚ the former home affairs minister.

Mkhatshwa said the biggest frustration was the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)‚ which she said had reached its sell-by date. "How do you call it funding when we have to pay it back?" she said. "It is a funding system that locks you in debt. NSFAS must fall‚ it must be converted into grants."

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