ANC members at the National Conference on 16 December 2017. President Jacob Zuma announced free tertiary education for students from poor and working class families as the conference opened.
Image: Alaister Russell

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has welcomed President Jacob Zuma’s announcement on free higher education for the poor.

However‚ the union has warned that government will need to curb wasteful expenditure if the plan is to be feasible.

“This is a drastic and a welcome decision that is long overdue and provides the first step towards the envisaged free education for the poor‚ as articulated by the Freedom Charter. Cosatu has long argued that education is not only about socio-economic matter but a human rights issue that cannot be postponed indefinitely‚” the federation said.

Cosatu said it looks forward to engaging with Treasury once the final plan is made public.

“Cosatu continues to argue that free education is feasible if we can curb the wasteful expenditure and endemic corruption that is currently strangling this country‚” the union federation said.

“Currently South Africa is losing roughly R147 billion from the money that is illegally taken out of the country per year. This is the money that can accommodate all South African students at a university level for free.”

Cosatu also demanded the introduction of “redistributive tax interventions” to “force the super rich to contribute towards funding free education.”

The union also called on the ANC’s 54th national conference to demand that universities transform their curricula adequately to respond to “knowledge production that is appropriate to the demands of social and economic development of our African continent and our country.”

Zuma made the surprise announcement on Saturday morning as the ruling party’s conference was expected to begin.

His office announced that free higher education for poor and working class students will be introduced for first-year students in 2018 and fully phased in over five years.

Students from households with a combined annual income of R350‚000 or less will have their TVET college or university studies fully subsidised‚ he said.


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