Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba reportedly pleaded with President Jacob Zuma not to make his shock announcement on Saturday that government would extend fully subsidised free higher education to poor and working class students from 2018.
According to a Sunday Times report, Gigaba wanted Zuma to hold off on the move until next year’s state of the nation address and budget in February.
“The minister has been having this back-and-forth discussion with the president. He tried very hard to push back. He lost this one. The president was hellbent on announcing this … when the minister told him to wait until his state of the nation address, the president ignored the minister,” a source from National Treasury told the paper.
It is understood that Zuma was apparently worried about the outcome of the ANC’s 54th national conference, which is currently taking place at Nasrec, south of Johannesburg.
The president is said to have been concerned that he could be recalled from office should Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa be elected as his successor. Zuma’s announcement was largely seen as an attempt to win over delegates to support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has campaigned for free higher education.
The Sunday Times also reported that Zuma is understood to have worked with Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize and her department’s director-general, Gwebinkundla Qonde, on the details of the plan. However, he did not consulted with Treasury on how additional funding would be made available.
Mkhize’s department has estimated that the free education plan would add R12.4 billion to the cost of higher education for 2018 alone.