By Adv Sandisele Zitha
The 2016 #FeesMustFall protests were the only effective mechanism in which students could express their grievances in a democratic society. Students across the country came to a well organised unit fighting for a common goal – Free quality decolonised education in our time.
The explosive and protracted protests were supported and vilified by some sectors of society, both within political and social movements. One notable supporter of the #FeesMustFall protests was none other than the Commander in Chief of the country, President Jacob Zuma. And, one notable opponent was the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande.
During a meeting held at St. Georges Hotel in Tshwane in August 2016, it is common knowledge that the president instructed the then Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, and the now axed Minister of Higher Education, Nzimande, to “find money to accommodate a 0% fee increase for the 2017 academic year”. It is also clear that the call was backed by the Progressive Youth League (PYA), an organisation which held the front line in the fees must fall campaign. The Young Communist League (YCL) later issued a statement saying “students should know that their call is being heard at the highest level, so there is no need for a shutdown”.
A month later, Nzimande, in a clear defiance to the instructions of the president, issued a statement stating that there will be an 8% fee cap for the 2017 academic year. We live in a democratic society where everyone is entitled to their views. However, when it comes to matters of hierarchy of authority and powers, one has to adhere to the rules of “Superior Orders”. A subordinate cannot simply ignore instructions from a person of a higher rank.
Even though he was never a Minister of Finance, Nzimande came out to tell the nation there will be no money to fund a no-fee increment. The president issued a reasonable, fair instruction which was in the best interests of the students, the future of the nation. The instruction was lawful and coming down from the head of state. All Nzimande had to do was to ask the Minister of Finance to provide him with funds to carry out the instruction. But because Nzimande had already politicised the whole issue, he had decided to take refuge in Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp, and decided to do as he pleases.
If everyone had to do what Nzimande did, this country would be ungovernable and lawless. To prove that Nzimande deliberately defied the president, a few months later at a South African Communist Party (SACP) press conference he called for the president to be removed. Why did Nzimande politicise a legitimate and urgent student concern? Can one now come and blame the president for removing a Minister who is not willing to comply with lawful orders from a democratically elected and sitting president?
Would it then not be proper for us to conclude that Nzimande has been axed for non-compliance, his disregard of a superior and lawful order and thereby causing an irretrievable breakdown of trust between himself and the president rather than his stance in the ANC succession battle?