SOUTH AFRICA: Accessible Education

SOUTH AFRICA: Accessible Education

South Africa is pushing ahead with a plan to offer free university education to students from poor households, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said in January 2018.

President Jacob Zuma said the government would bankroll the tuition without giving details of how it would be funded. The announcement rattled financial markets, and critics said it was a populist promise that risked widening an already gaping budget deficit.

A government report and the treasury said the plan is unaffordable. Some critics also said the timing of the announcement, which came days before Zuma stepped down as leader of the ruling African National Congress, showed he no longer cared about fiscal responsibility.

Gigaba told reporters at a televised briefing in the capital, Pretoria, that cost estimates were completed, and the plan would be implemented over eight years.

“The president found himself in an invidious position. … It is about how to manage the process and implement it in a sustainable manner without having to breach the fiscal expenditure ceiling,” he said.

“If the president had not acted this year to provide some funding, it would have resulted in further protests,” Gigaba said.

Since 2015, protests by students demanding free education rocked campuses across the country, disrupting teaching and examinations and culminating in a march to Zuma’s offices in Pretoria that saw the president freeze tuition increases.