Cape Town – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says free higher education for all students in South Africa is not financially feasible.
“Free education for all, whilst it is a desirable notion, in South Africa it will simply not be affordable,” he said while answering questions from MPs in the National Assembly on Wednesday.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa asked about government’s policy 22 years into democracy, given that it was the ANC’s promises of free education that sparked the student protests in October last year.
“If you read the Freedom Charter carefully, you will find that the clause that refers to education, and it says education must be free ‘on merit’,” Ramaphosa answered.
He said government “totally agrees” with the notion of free education for the poor, as well as the subsidising of the “missing middle”; students who did not qualify for NSFAS, but did not get bursaries.
“In the end, it all boils down to can we afford to pay for every student who goes to university, even the children of the people who are sitting here.
“I would say, the children of all of us seated here, should not get free education at university level,” he said to applause from ANC MPs.
“The children of the poor should. I certainly would not be happy if my children were paid for by the State, and so you [Hlengwa] should not be either.”
Money channelled to the poor
Rich parents and those who could afford it should contribute towards tuition fees so that money could be channelled to poor and missing middle students, he said.
He applauded students who were willing to talk with government in the middle of protests and looming exams.
“We’ve got a number of role players who are not sleeping at the wheel. That is why the business community has also come to the fore.”
Ramaphosa said the rights to peaceful protest and to freedom of expression were fundamental principles that contributed to social cohesion.
The Fees Must Fall movement had a significant contribution to make to promote a fairer society, but protests must not devolve into violence and the destruction of property.
Other lessons to learn included role players finding common ground, and parents listening to their children.
‘Nothing wrong with electoral system’
On a separate matter, Ramaphosa said the country’s electoral system was not broken, so “we shouldn’t fix it”.
He was answering a question from ANC MP Andrew Madella. He wanted to know if the proportional representation system promotes the will of the majority while allowing for minority voices to be heard.
“It is important that South Africans of all political persuasions be represented in Parliament. We have the system that gave birth to our democracy. What is broken with our system?
“Right now, it is delivering good results and if put to good effect, should continue yielding good democratic results for our country.”