The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is gravely concerned with the delay in the disbursement of monies by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to approved students.

In some reports students blame NSFAS, and in other reports it is said NSFAS had not made disbursement to students because it had not received its budgetary allocation from Treasury.

NSFAS and Treasury, One Government

NSFAS and the National Treasury are two components of government. NSFAS can be considered the finger, and Treasury, the hand. NSFAS cannot disburse funds, if Treasury has not paid its budgetary allocation.

Even if NSFAS insulate itself from this citing delayed allocations from Treasury, their failures to disburse student funds on time and effectively in the past, has created a basis upon which our confidence in it has been severely undermined.

But to be drawn into who between NSFAS and Treasury has failed students thus far, is to miss the mark. It is a terrain we don’t want to be drawn into and derailed. For us, these two are but components of one government, and as such, they are government. The failure of either of them is the failure of government.

Government has failed students from poor households

In an article published by City Press on 03 April 2022, NSFAS has received and provisionally approved about 1.2 million applications of needy students who had applied for the financial aid. This means, the delay in disbursing NSFAS funds has caused a serious inconvenience to more than 1.2 million students in the past 2 months.

How does this inconvenience manifest?

Many students who are NSFAS beneficiaries come from townships and villages. This means, in order to reach their campuses; they must travel long distances from their homes.

Having assimilated the bad behaviour of NSFAS disbursing funds late into the semester, parents usually are prepared to go into debts to raise travel costs and some extra money for food at the beginning of the year, so that their children can cope for a week or two.

Thereafter, students do not have money for food, money to rent accommodation and money to procure study materials. In most instances, students finish their first term with all its tests and assignments, without textbooks. Some universities have had to make advances to students so that they procure study material, but it is not all students who are assisted.

The anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of secured shelter, is exacerbated by hunger and not having study material. Consequently, the collective experience of many students in the first semester or first year of their academic cycle, is just that of anxiety and stress. It denies them an opportunity to explore the possibilities that come with an exciting new environment. Excitement is quickly replaced with anxiety.

It is in these conditions, that female students are taken advantage of sexually just so that they have secure shelter and a daily meal. Those who cannot rely on others for financial support tend to drop-out or die of hunger and cold.

Those who do not drop out, end up failing some modules (course). Failing a module threatens one’s future possibility of obtaining funding as it not only impairs students’ academic records but puts them at odds with two of NSFAS criteria: “pass the number of courses as specified in the course pass rate” and the “N+1” rule.

If you fail as a result of the payment delays caused by NSFAS, thus delaying completion of a qualification by one academic year, it means a student would have donated the +1 year to NSFAS. In other words, NSFAS’s +1 rule would not apply to you as a student who failed due to their delay to disburse funds, because they would have simply taken it back through their delay-induced failure. If such a student fails again in future for other reasons, it means NSFAS will not fund them towards completion of their qualification.

For students from poor working-class families, this will simply condemn them back to the villages and townships, where motivational speakers like President Cyril Ramaphosa will encourage them to save R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant to start an ice-cream business or driven into a vicious cycle of pauperism, crime and violence.

In these areas, they will rejoin the 40% of their peers who dropped-out of school before reaching matric, and the 260 000 prospective students whose application for funding was declined on the basis that they did not meet the criteria.

Government must take the future of our children serious or go

Even though NSFAS has confirmed to the Newspaper, The Citizen, in an article published on the 05th of April 2022, that it has received its allocation from Treasury and will proceed to make payments, past experiences compel us to think many students will still be delayed in receiving their allowances right towards the end of the semester.

The African National Congress (ANC) government has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, that it is incapable of developing this society.

On the one hand, it is capitulating to the financial institutions of neoliberal capitalism such as the World Bank, to unleash programs of austerity measures. Their capitulation is not misplaced however: it is tied with their commitment to neoliberalism capitalism, and their personal ambitions to become board members on those institutions.

On the other, it is corrupt and incompetent to run the public sector efficiently. The horrors in hospitals, the dilapidated schools, the unmaintained police vans, poor basic services to the ordinary people, the delayed disbursement of NSFAS grants, etc., bears witness.

SAFTU reiterates its positions, in concert with the Fees Must Fall movement, for publicly funded education from nursery to higher education. It is only through free education, that many of the youth including the 260 000 prospective students whose applications were declined can secure a space in the higher education institutions.

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