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Students march to Union Buildings to demand that NSFAS scrap new ‘extra-fees’ payment system

Students march to Union Buildings to demand that NSFAS scrap new ‘extra-fees’ payment system
Students protest outside the Department of Higher Education and Training in Pretoria on 2 August 2023. (Photo: Twitter / @CliffordChuene)

University students marched to the Union Buildings on Wednesday, demanding that NSFAS ditch a new payment system that beneficiaries say includes exorbitant fees.

Tensions ran high on Wednesday as thousands of students from universities across South Africa protested at the Union Buildings in Pretoria against the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS’s) new payment system.

A breakaway group of protesters marched to the Department of Higher Education and Training, but was met with heavy police resistance, with tear gas and rubber bullets allegedly fired at the group.

The protest was the culmination of months of frustration and backlash against NSFAS from students. The financial aid scheme launched its #NSFASBankAccount system in June, which requires students to open a bank account to receive their financial aid.

The new account system, however, requires students to pay a slew of fees to access their money. Some students reported delays in accessing their funds.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Uncertainty, anxiety and frustration’ — NSFAS students cry foul over new banking system

The protest group at the Union Buildings submitted a memorandum to the Presidency that reads: “The South African higher education sector continues to be plagued by a crisis over funding and accommodation issues, since the dawn of democratic dispensation. This crisis continues unabated even though we were made a promise in 1994, that ‘THE DOORS OF LEARNING SHALL BE OPEN FOR ALL’.”

Among 13 other demands, the memorandum calls for:

  • Decentralisation of the NSFAS administration;
  • An immediate end to the NSFAS direct payment system; and
  • Attendance to and approval of current NSFAS appeals within the next four weeks.

The president of the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) Students Representative Council, Njabulo Sibeko, told Daily Maverick that the memorandum was submitted to the office of the Presidency because “students are suffering and they need to get the attention they deserve”.

Sibeko said the memorandum was submitted to NSFAS and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, but the students had not received a response.

“It is an issue that not only affects UP or [the University of Cape Town] or [University of Limpopo], but it is also a universal issue across the country, and it is vital for students to fight against the direct payment system. It is the same system that is going to prevent them from receiving their full allowances.”

Chad Ferrier, a student at the University of Cape Town who receives NSFAS funding, told Daily Maverick: “The new [NSFAS] account is charging you all these extra fees and it is ridiculous. The whole point of being on NSFAS is because you can’t afford to pay for yourself at university, and now you are being charged more than everybody else.

“It doesn’t make any sense, because why are you charging the people who need the money the most?

“NSFAS is supposed to be here to help students who are financially unable to pay for university… the people using NSFAS, including myself, can’t afford to just have all these unnecessary fees.”

Clifford Chuene, a member of the EFF’s Student Command tweeted: “Blade Nzimande, this is an introduction of what’s to happen in the institution of higher learning, don’t think students are not going to revolt… you will be to blame for everything together [with] those clowns of NSFAS. Students are coming for you, and you won’t like it.”

NSFAS released a statement on 16 July in which it condemned disruptions and violence caused by student protests against its new payment system, but at the time of writing it had not commented on Wednesday’s protests. DM

Ernst Calitz has been reporting for the majority of his studies at the University of Cape Town for Varsity News – the campus student-run paper – where he currently acts as managing editor.

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