Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande has slammed the call by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) for him to step down due to his metaphoric reference this week likening student protests to a TV soap opera.
Nzimande on Tuesday told Parliament’s higher education portfolio committee that the annual student protests at various tertiary institutions were like The Bold and the Beautiful.
He said protests needed to come to an end in order to prevent any further loss of the 2021 academic year.
“Every year, it’s like a soapie now, The Bold and the Beautiful. Every beginning of the year there is instability,” Nzimande told the committee.
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This saw Saftu issue a statement on Thursday saying his remarks were shameful and undermined students’ efforts for free education.
In a statement, Nzimande said he wanted to make it absolutely clear his metaphor “was not directed at discrediting student struggles for equality, which he fully supports”. He said his comments were directed at “the system that forces this repeat cycle of conflict and instability at our institutions”.
The minister said he was clear about what he said to the committee. He said he told MPs in order to avoid an endless and predictable cycle of student protests, the higher education system should be supported with proper funding to support government policy on free higher education for the working class and poor.
Nzimande added that Saftu’s statement was “vacuous and an opportunistic attempt to grandstand on the basis of a deliberate effort to misconstrue his contribution” to the challenges facing the higher education sector.
“Saftu’s statement seeks to rubbish the significant advances made by the ANC-led government since 1994 in progressively expand access to, and success in, both universities and colleges across the breadth of South Africa. This has been an incredible feat. The sector before and after 1994 is simply incomparable, despite Saftu’s efforts to deny the facts on the ground.
“Central to these strides by the government have been major advances in promoting a strong working-class and pro-poor bias in the expansion and outcomes set for the post-school education and training system.
“We are equally clear this is a historical process that will take years to complete, but our commitment to its full realisation is unquestionable” he said.