The Department of Social Action (DSA) of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) unequivocally believes that no academically worthy young South African should be denied the opportunity to study at higher education level because of their financial situation, or that of their family. This is critical both as a matter of justice to redress the consequences of apartheid, but also to build a globally competitive national skills base to enable economic and human development in South Africa. Indeed SACBC’s associate body the Rural Education Access Programme (REAP), by virtue of its partnerships with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and corporate South Africa, has granted bursaries and loans to hundreds of rural young people from low income families enabling them to enter universities all over South Africa.
DSA recognises that South Africa’s current fiscal limitations make completely fee free education impossible for all financially needy students in the short to medium term. The national economy is in decline, the majority of adults are still not in a financial position to pay income tax, many universities are in serious financial difficulty and there are numerous equally valid and urgent demands on the public purse – from housing, to health to quality schooling. Whilst higher education is vitally important, the scale of its resourcing must be held in balance with competing national needs. We also recognise that tuition fee increases cannot be dissociated from cuts in government subsidies to institutions.
As a matter of equity, DSA also believes that if the state offers a young person the chance of gaining a degree that will exponentially increase their earning potential, then at such point as the graduate is earning a substantial income, it is reasonable to expect that they make affordable repayments to the state so that those who follow them can also benefit. The current NSFAS scheme provides for student loans which are in large part converted to bursaries upon successful completion of courses, leaving students with partial debt upon graduation. DSA supports this approach provided there is sufficient funding for all financially disadvantaged students and that all reasonable student needs including adequate food and shelter are covered, and that payments are effected timeously. This is in accordance with principles of common good, particularly applicable in the fiscally constrained context South Africa finds itself in. We encourage NSFAS to urgently address shortcomings in its administration that have sometimes exacerbated the challenges already faced by needy students.
We welcome the establishment of a Presidential task force to investigate financial means of giving effect to the desire to afford access to higher education for all academically and financially deserving young people. This should include partnership with the private sector, more optimal utilisation of current resources as well as additional taxation measures. We also strongly encourage NSFAS to significantly improve the current repayment performance on its loan book. These measures have the potential to inject substantially increased and sustainable funding into the pool, thereby increasing student access.
DSA also recognises that the pace of genuine transformation in our higher education institutions remains unacceptably slow and that there is an urgent need for a clear and time bound plan to:-
Vice Chancellors and University Councils must be held directly accountable for delivery of clear transformation outcomes.
Whilst sympathising with the root causes of student anger, DSA condemns all acts of intimidation, violence and malicious damage to property. Even with the best will and efforts in the world, many of the solutions to legitimate student grievances will take time to be realised. In the meantime, DSA urges all parties to act with a spirit of restraint, mutual understanding and compromise, particularly as students prepare to write year end exams. We then call upon DHET and all other relevant stakeholders, including the corporate sector, to urgently work together to develop and drive a comprehensive and achievable plan of action with short, medium and long term deliverables.
For further contact, please call Russell Davies, Director of REAP on 0767800469.
20 representatives of dioceses attended a workshop on media and communications at Lumko (12-16 October). The programme consisted of: diocesan communications in general, catholic print journalism/production, catholic radio broadcasting, secular print media, secular electronic media (led by SABC representative), social media, internet, website, graphic design, media liaison and “simulated” press conferences.
The Justice and Peace Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has backed the anti-corruption march organised on 30 September by a civil society coalition, called UNITE AGAINST CORRUPTION. In a press release endorsing the anti- corruption march, the commission has questioned the government’s seriousness to curb corruption. “We believe that the Government is not doing enough to demonstrate that it is serious in its efforts to prevent and combat corruption. Political rhetoric is often not accompanied by decisive action,” says Bishop Abel Gabuza, Chairperson of the Justice and Peace Commission.
Justice and Peace is particularly concerned about the lack of decisive action in implementing the decision of the Constitutional Court calling for effective measures to enhance the independence of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the Hawks). In 2012 the Constitutional Court found that the Hawks were not adequately independent from political interference and ordered rectifying legislation.
Adds Bishop Gabuza: “Government has dragged its feet when it comes to the restructuring of the Hawks to protect it from undue political interference as directed by the Constitutional Court.
“We have always maintained that our country will only succeed in combating corruption when anti-corruption institutions are adequately protected from executive and political interference; when competent people are appointed to head these institutions; and when the high-level politicians and those politically connected are held to account for corruption.”
In May this year Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko appointed a task team to oversee the process of strengthening the independence of the Hawks. The task team has been given April 2016 as a target for completion of institutional reform of the Hawks.
The Minister has promised that the reform shall include establishment of the Hawks as an independent budget programme to ensure that there are no malicious budget cuts when the institution is investigating powerful political officials.
The Justice and Peace Commission believes that the mandate of the task team should also include advising the Police Minister on the institutional location of the Hawks that is best suited for its independence and effectiveness as an anti-corruption institution.
Questions have been raised about its location in the South African Police Service (SAPS), which allows the National Commissioner considerable influence over members.
Says Bishop Gabuza: “We need to revive the national conversation around the best institutional location of the Hawks. We also call for greater involvement of Parliament in the appointment of the head of the Hawks. Concentration of the appointment powers in the Police Minister, without some form of parliamentary oversight, does not sit well with the independence of the Hawks.”
For further information or interviews please contact:
Bishop Abel Gabuza
Chairperson of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Tel. 053 831 1861 or 053 831 1862.