In the middle of a battle that is being waged against financial exclusions in pursuit of free education, the ‘communist’ minister, Blade Nzimande, has recklessly likened the students’ efforts in exercising their democratic right to demand the basic education right, a “soap” opera. In 2016, at the height of #FeesMustFall, he recklessly made a comment that “students must fall”. Indeed, many students fell in a hail of police rubber bullets, whilst the education of other students was compromised by arrests, imprisonment and suspensions.
It is disconcerting for the minister to be calling the fight for free education and against financial exclusions a “Bold and Beautiful soapie”. For a minister who is the General Secretary of the Communist Party to make remarks that undermine the efforts of students to free quality education and underplay the need for such education is shameful. As a communist, he should be the one championing the realisation of free education, not mocking students for demanding what he should be doing.
However, it is not shocking because the fat perks of ministerial position have transformed him into the enemy of the working class; a class on whose back he rose to prominence. His utterances are reminiscent of his ideological bankruptcy and the political capitulation of his organisation to an indefinite collaboration with an organisation that openly embraces capitalism. He is negligent to the fact that student protests have become part of the yearly national calendar because under the leadership and a government he is a member of, academically deserving students continue to be excluded on the basis of financial affordability.
He passes it off as something to celebrate that they fund the poor and working class except for the “missing middle”. Besides the fact that it is not true that all poor students who apply to NSFAS get it because NSFAS cannot fund beyond a certain capacity, Blade must be reminded that the missing middle are the children of the working class – teachers, nurses, police, clerical workers in government, etc.
If anything, this communist minister should hang his head in shame because students are essentially fighting an austerity programme that has led to cuts in essential services such as education, healthcare, CCMA, social development, StatsSA, South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), etc. The R766 million projected cuts at StatsSA, the R617 million cuts at CCMA, R24 billion cuts at higher education and many other cuts, have been incurred by the government the ‘communist’ is part of. These cuts make it necessary for students and communities to fight for service delivery on a regular basis against deteriorating conditions and exclusion from services in the public sector.
The government he is a member of, has been a catalyst in the capital accumulation post 1994 that sees many communities experiencing continual dispossession of their land due to mine invasions, super-exploitation of workers, destruction of real jobs, and generally retaining the relations that see the predominant black majority doomed to meagre wages and unable to fund the university tuition and living costs of their children.
His utterances are blind and insensitive to the plight of students who face financial exclusions and deregistrations on a yearly basis. It is an insult to students who sleep on hungry stomach because his failure to develop student accommodation as a minister of higher education. It has exposed them to highly inflated rentals charged by capitalists slum lords that depletes most their incomes.
For belittling the genuine struggles for access to the basic service, education, SAFTU calls on the ‘communist’ Blade Nzimande to resign from his position, because he is now an agent of austerity beating students into accepting government’s programme of stealing their future. His fickle dismissive remarks equating the student struggle to a soap opera is reminiscent of one Marie Antoinette. The consequences of such irresponsible comments may yet come to haunt him.