NSFAS Chair takes leave of absence over OUTA bombshell

By Chris Steyn

National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) Board Chair Dr Ernest Khosa is taking a leave of absence as some students returning for the 2024 academic year are left on the street because of an accommodation crisis.

Dr Khosa’s move follows the release by The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) of leaked voice recordings containing damning allegations about a patronage network in the Department of Higher Education, implicating himself, Minister Blade Nzimande, and several others. 

The recordings contain allegations that service providers allegedly paid millions of rand in kickbacks to Dr Khosa and the Minister, as well as at least R1 million to the South African Communist Party (SACP) in return for tenders and protection for service providers.

In his initial reaction, Dr Khosa dismissed “with contempt” the “insinuation” that he received money, meant for him, Minister Nzimande, the SACP and other third parties.

But, at the NSFAS ordinary Board meeting yesterday’s (Wednesday, 10 January 2024), Dr Khosa “voluntarily requested the Board to consider his notice to be placed on leave of absence to enable the Board to deal with all allegations against him as contained in the recordings distributed by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA)”.

In a subsequent statement, The Board said Dr Khosa had taken it “into confidence regard the impact of these allegations against NSFAS, NSFAS beneficiaries, his person and family”. 

According to the statement, these “includes threats to his life and that of his family”. 

However, Dr Khosa assured the Board that he had not received any financial gratification meant for his personal use, or that of the Minister and the SACP.

“The Board would like to reiterate that Mr Khosa’s leave of absence should not be interpreted as admission of guilt, however, a responsible and conscious decision to advance good corporate governance, transparency and accountability.”

The Board resolved to “immediately” appoint an independent legal firm to look into the veracity of the allegations against Dr Khosa. “The legal firm will be expected to report back to the Board within 30 days upon their appointment by NSFAS.”

In his comment to BizNews today (Thursday), OUTA’s Investigation Manager Rudie Heyneke said: “We welcome the decision and hope that NSFAS will urgently address the issues facing them, especially the accommodation of students and the accreditation of processes for private accommodation providers.”

Meanwhile, some TVET college students are already stuck on the street, apparently because they are unable to log onto the NSFAS student accommodation platform to get accredited accommodation. 

OUTA had warned last year that a timely accreditation process would fail because inexperienced service providers were chosen. 

In a previous statement on the looming crisis with NSFAS-accredited student accommodation, OUTA revealed:  “We completed an investigation into student accommodation tenders at NSFAS, and the findings are cause for grave concern. By early October, only about 6.5% of the 397 000 beds needed for NSFAS-funded students countrywide had been accredited. We doubt that significant progress was made in this regard. Perhaps NSFAS can update students on how this is progressing. Or will students have to sleep in restrooms, libraries and other public spaces again like many had to do at the start of the 2023 academic year?”

Watch BizNews’ interview with OUTA Investigations Manager Rudie Heyneke below

BizNews reported on Sunday that the South African Union of Students (SAUS) had given President Cyril Ramaphosa an ultimatum to act swiftly on OUTA’s revelations, “because to fail to do so would be in itself an endorsement of the criminal syndicate and generally corruption and impunity”. 

In a statement issued by National Spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa it warned: “Failure for the President to act in defense of the poor and working class, we will mobilise all progressive forces to agitate and demonstrate in the most radical manner our rejection and condemnation for the continued stay of Blade Nzimande and Ernest Khosa.”

Amid growing signs of revolt by desperate students, OUTA has repeatedly called on students to protest peacefully and to not damage any infrastructure.

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