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Nzimande slams corruption claims in NSFAS saga

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 09 Jan 2024
Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation.
Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation.

Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande has fired back at claims that he and NSFAS chairperson Ernest Khosa received millions of rands in kickbacks.

It has been alleged that these kickbacks included at least R1 million for the South African Communist Party (SACP), from one of the fintech partners contracted to disburse monthly allowances to NSFAS-funded tertiary students.

The revelations emerged after the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) released a series of leaked voice recordings of two meetings between Khosa and a representative of a service provider. This was done in return for tenders and protection for service providers, claims Outa.

According to Outa, the recordings and its accompanying report, are the latest bombshell exposing corruption and mismanagement at NSFAS.

My conscience is clear, and I have nothing to hide or fear.

Minister Blade Nzimande

Nzimande yesterday held a media briefing to challenge the allegations contained in the Outa report, calling them part of a 'nefarious fight-back campaign' that’s linked to the fight against corruption and clean governance at NSFAS.

"As minister of higher education, science and innovation, I have never used any money from any of my departments’ entities for the purpose of funding the SACP, as maliciously suggested in the OUTA report. Nor have I received any personal kickbacks from any of the service providers to NSFAS or any of the other entities falling under my departments.

“I therefore wish to dismiss this baseless insinuation by OUTA, some organisations, including some sections of the media, that I as minister was involved in some form of corruption at NSFAS. These are all lies that emanate from a malicious fight back campaign. My conscience is clear, and I have nothing to hide or fear.

"As stated in my statement on 5 January, I reserve my rights to take the necessary legal action and I have voluntarily decided that I am going to subject myself to the relevant legal processes and ethics bodies of the African National Congress (ANC) and the SACP. I wish to once again state that I have nothing to hide or fear.”

He adds: “The SACP has already made its stance known on the false allegations contained in the OUTA statement and rejected them with the contempt they deserve. I also wish to place it on record that I do a lot of party-political fundraising, especially for the SACP as is the case I am sure with leaders of all our political parties.“

However, with the strict guidance from the SACP, I am not permitted to raise funds from entities under our departments or knowingly from service providers in that space."

An entity of the Department of Higher Education and Training, the NSFAS runs a close to R50 billion annual budget, providing financial aid to eligible students at public TVET colleges and public universities.

Last October, the NSFAS board decided to cut ties with the fintech partners selected to disburse monthly allowances to tertiary students.

The move followed an investigation into allegations surrounding their appointment to facilitate the direct payment of allowances to NSFAS students uncovered “conflict of interest”.

The four fintech firms are Coinvest, eZaga Holdings, Noracco Corporation and Tenet Technology. The service providers were awarded the NSFAS direct payments contract, to the value of R47 billion.

However, they have since challenged the allegations levelled against them, mulling legal action.

Opposition calls for action

Meanwhile, political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) have called for Nzimande’s resignation, in light of the allegations levelled against him.

DA leader John Steenhuisen says the latest revelations demonstrate that nothing is sacred to the ruling government.

"The DA will immediately submit a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to obtain a copy of the Werksmans report into the awarding of the direct payment tenders,” he says.

“We will write to [president Cyril] Ramaphosa and the Special Investigating Unit to demand that the scope of the SIU’s investigation be broadened to include the alleged kickbacks to Nzimande and the SACP.“

The DA, including through our student organisation, will initiate mass mobilisation campaigns at campuses across the country to force Ramaphosa to fire Nzimande.

“We are preparing criminal charges against Nzimande and briefing our legal team to declare the NSFAS board delinquent over the corrupt and irrational direct payment and accommodation tenders. This legal action is in keeping with the findings of the State Capture Commission, which recommended that it should become standard practice to declare board members involved in capture and corruption as delinquent.”