Money for universities is there, if you’re willing to look – Mmusi Maimane

DA says there is a solution and steps towards reaching it must be taken by Minister of Finance

The money for universities is there, if you’re willing to look

26 October 2016

My fellow South Africans

Watching our campuses burn has been one of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with in our young democracy.

These universities are what stand between hope and despair for millions of young South Africans.

These universities are what will ensure our country’s future. They must produce tomorrow’s engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, academics and leaders.

These universities are a precious resource. We should cherish and protect them. Instead we are watching them burn.

We are told by many people that there are no solutions to this crisis because there simply is no common ground.

I refuse to believe this.

If some do believe this, then it is because they are listening to the wrong voices.

There are voices in this conflict who want you to believe that this is a problem with no solution.

Voices that insist there can be no discussion of demands, no constructive engagement, no compromise.

They claim that violence is an acceptable part of protest.

And then there are voices that argue that there simply is no money available to fund our universities.

These are not the people we should be listening to. 

These are the people who must sit down and let others find a way.

Because there is a way — if we are committed to a peaceful solution.

There is money to be found in our budget.

And there is a way of expressing anger and frustration without violence and destruction.

As far as the DA’s position is concerned, I want to be very clear about three things, right up front:

1. The DA believes no qualifying student should ever be denied university access because he or she cannot afford it.

2. The DA will never condone any form of violence, destruction or intimidation in order to make a point. In fact, we condemn it. 

3. The DA believes that campuses should be inclusive spaces where all students are made to feel welcome, AND they should be spaces where opposing ideas are vigorously contested and debated. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I suspect most South Africans will agree with us on these three points.

I also think most people will agree that if we allow our 26 state universities to be closed down, they will never recover.

It will mean that critical sectors like healthcare will have no new recruits.

It will mean that thousands of matriculants who had planned on studying next year will have nowhere to go.

It will mean even less money for universities, dumping them further into crisis.

It will mean that wealthy students who currently cross-subsidise poor students with their fees will go elsewhere to study.

It will mean that our best teaching staff will leave.

There is nothing to gain and absolutely everything to lose in shutting down our universities, and we cannot allow this to happen.

The next move must come from government. This is 100% their crisis, and they have been nowhere since it started.

For the past two decades our government has been underfunding universities. While their subsidies have been going down, class sizes have been going up.

Right now we have a million students in our 26 universities. Most of them can’t afford to pay fees, and half of them won’t finish their degrees.

We cannot sell them this dream of a better life through the opportunity of attending a university, and then smash it by making it impossible to succeed.

As is the case with our public schools, only the state can afford to fund quality higher education. The ball is in the government’s court, and it has been there all along.

No one expects Jacob Zuma to step in. Our expectations of him are so low that people don’t even mention him anymore. 

Most of us have also written off Minister Blade Nzimande. Since the Fees Must Fall crisis began, he has done nothing but duck and dive and pass the buck to anyone he could find.

But this doesn’t mean government is off the hook. 

Today Minister Pravin Gordhan will stand inside this National Assembly and read out his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement.

This statement shows where our government’s spending priorities lie, and how this can be shifted over the next three years.

It is the one chance, in between budget speeches, to say: “we need to make some changes.”

The money is there if you’re prepared to go looking for it.

It’s there in the endless bailouts we give to SAA. It’s there in the extravagant government perks like blue light brigades and new presidential jets.

Earlier this year, the DA found R2.7bn in our current budget that could be immediately reallocated to university funding. The ANC dismissed this.

Their answer is simple: More money for Zuma, no money for students. 

If the ANC is serious about solving this crisis, they can double our government subsidy of universities to bring them in line with other countries.

They can properly fund our NSFAS system and ensure that the missing middle is found again, and the money paid back can be offered to a new intake of students.

I’m talking about a solution where those guilty of violence and destruction on our campuses face the consequences of the law, leaving only those who want a peaceful outcome to do the talking.

I’m talking about a solution whereby our campuses and their academic courses are inclusive and diverse without compromising any of the robust debate that is the lifeblood of all universities.

I believe there is such a solution. I refuse to accept that we will lose this academic year. I refuse to accept that our universities will crumble. I refuse to accept that the violent voices in this crisis will prevail.

And I believe the first step towards reaching this solution must be taken by the Minister of Finance, this afternoon, inside this building.

Over to you, Minister Gordhan.

I thank you. Ke a leboga!

Issued by Mabine Seabe, Spokesperon to the DA Leader, 26 October 2016