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Is Zuma’s Free University Promise To Be Believed?


As South African school leavers get their exam results today there is growing confusion over the implications of President Jacob Zuma’s promise of free education for 90% of new students.

He made the surprise announcement at the ANC conference in December, despite a commission finding that the country could not afford it.

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been urging prospective students to walk in to universities and demand to be admitted.

But at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand there was no sign of the mass attempts at registration that had been feared.

On Tuesday, the organisation representing South Africa’s universities had warned against this, saying no walk-ins would be admitted.

The EFF – led by firebrand Julius Malema – had been encouraging young people to turn up at universities and essentially claim their promised free university education.

The party had said it would have members stationed at the entrances of universities to force them to accept more students, in a campaign whose title – in IsiZulu – loosely translates to “we will obtain education by force”.

Last month, President Jacob Zuma announced that free higher education would be made available to students from households that have a combined annual income of up to 350 000 rand – just over $28,000 or £20,000.

The pledge made at the ruling ANC’s party conference seemed to take both the treasury and universities by surprise. It is still unclear how much it will cost, or how it will be paid for.

But analysts say while the move does breach established governance process, as it was made outside of a budget, it is not unconstitutional.

Whether it is deliverable though remains to be seen.

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