United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. File photo: SOWETAN
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. File photo: SOWETAN

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa has called on President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet to urgently spell out the details of his plan for free tertiary education for students who cannot afford it to avoid a commotion at registration.

Zuma made the announcement of free tertiary education for the poor in an address to the ANC’s national congress in December.

Holomisa said on Tuesday that waiting for Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to spell out where the money would come from in his February budget would be too late. He noted that universities had already issued statements saying they would not accept walk-in registration.

"We certainly do not want to see another situation where police resources are stretched to handle disgruntled students should this promise not materialise," Holomisa said.

While the UDM said Zuma’s idea had merit, the challenge would be to implement the measure in a "fair and orderly" manner. Holomisa said he found it "unsettling" that Zuma’s announcement apparently took everyone off guard and was seemingly made without consulting universities.

"The UDM also believes that, once implemented, [the] student’s progress should be monitored and managed as an investment is managed: unsuccessful students must be removed from the programme. This litmus test should be due every semester.

"From our point of view, the implementation of such an expanded programme can be justified economically, and free education is in fact a strategic economic impetus, as it is an investment by the state in the creation of a larger tax base. We have to keep in mind that three years of tertiary investment leads to 40 years of tax revenue from graduate incomes," Holomisa said in a statement.

"There is a high probability that the effect of a larger graduate population upon societal health generally, and upon reduced associated, concomitant state spending on grants and other social aid specifically, justifies the investment. And, in the long run, the values of an educated citizen will be underpinned by a patriotic sense of duty towards democracy and the responsibilities that it entails."