A very good afternoon to you ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start by greeting the Nkwanyana family and appreciate their agreeing to celebrate his life in this way.
It is an honour to have been asked to give this first lecture to stand commemorate the life and legacy of the remarkable Cde S’miso Nkwanyana, whose contributions to education and politics have left an indelible mark in our nation.
I wish to start by saluting the historic role played by generations of University of South Africa (UNISA) students who studied under challenging conditions, often in detention and prison, with many becoming influential leaders in the struggle against apartheid and colonialism, and shapers of a democratic South Africa and indeed the wider African continent. Our very own President Cyril Ramaphosa finished his law degree at UNISA having been expelled from Turfloop University due to his activism agains apartheid.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge officials from the national, provincial and local governments in attendance.
Last but certainly not least, I want to pay special tribute to the student leaders present here.
S’miso Nkwanyana was a strong advocate for the power of student voices in shaping our educational and political institutions. Your presence today is a testament to the importance of student activism in our society.
Through our discussions today, our collective aim should be to carry forward his vision for a more just and equitable South Africa.
Today, we gather here to remember and honour the life of Cde S’miso Nkwanyana, the late KZN Provincial Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Cde Nkwanyana was also the youngest Provincial Secretary the SACP ever elected, and one of the rising stars in the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal which was chaired by Cde Willies Mchunu, who later became Premier of KwaZulu-Natal.
Many comrades will know he was credited for the hard work and passion in building the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal to become the biggest province in the country, not just in numbers but also in terms of national political influence, quality cadreship and policy direction.
It has been 20 years since his untimely passing, and yet his spirit and dedication to the struggle for a better South Africa continue to inspire us.
He played a leading role in theSACP’s Red October campaign which focused on a number of issues, but especially, during Nkwanyana’s time, focused on the exploitative and oppressive role of Finance Capital, particularly the banking system, in alienating working-class communities from accessing capital.
This campaign directly confronted the reactionary “redlining’ practices of the banks – the first time in the history of our country when such a campaign was taken up.
This heroic struggle paved the way for huge pressures on capitalist banks to ease access to unemployed people, students and black small businesses to open accounts.
KZN marshalled one of the largest marches with over 100 000 people confronting the Banking Council of SA and demanding a major overhaul of racist anti-black banking policies.
S’miso Nkwanyana was at the forefront of these militant campaigns for working class rights.
As a student leader, he knew that the student struggles are inextricably linked to the wider struggles of the working class and poor for radical transformation of the socio-economic order.
He knew that the freedom of access of education is bound up with the emancipation of all people from class oppression and exploitation. He knew students and worker struggles were indivisible.
Comrade Nkwanyana understood that the struggle for socialism has to be fought in all the terrains in which capitalist power is exerted, both in the political and economic terrains.
For him, like us, he knew that we have to confront inequality in both the economy and sites of social reproduction.
It is for this reason that the progressive student movement is duty bound, yes to raise their concerns and aspirations with government, but at the same time put pressure on private capital, where the country’s largest concentration of money and resources are to be found.
Our economic crisis is illustrated by the persistent high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality that affect the working-class, together with its associated multiple crises of social reproduction - inability of working class and poor households, families and communities to support their lives.
One manifestation of the multiple crises of social reproduction is that of gender-based violence and the subordinate position of women in society generally.
Cde S’miso, knew that for us to defeat these crises it required sacrifice, determination, unwavering commitment and collective leadership. And he embodied these qualities in everything he did. Whether it was organising strikes, leading protests, or advocating for the rights of workers, he always put the needs of the people first.
That is the type of leader we are here to celebrate. I hope that through this lecture, we can inspire the current generation of youth and student leaders on the importance of true dedication and being guided by principles as a leader.
Simiso did not claim a leadership position for being young, but he was a young, dedicated and hard-working person, whose activism led to his recognition and identification as a leader.
We do not to affirm our youth, but also we expect our youth to be like Simiso Nkwanyana. Our struggle requires generational mix and not generational displacement - a mix of youth energy together with wisdom and experience!
A few comrades and his former colleagues who had an opportunity to work with him have gathered to form the S’miso Nkwanyana Centre for Alternative Ideas, as a tribute to his advocacy for social justice and equality. This I firmly support!
Through seminars, workshops, conferences, and public lectures (like this one), the Centre seeks to engage with a diverse range of perspectives and voices, encouraging dialogue and the exploration of innovative and progressive ideas.
Messages to fellow leaders/politicians
Comrades and compatriots
I need you to understand that S’miso Nkwanyana was was a visionary leader, a tireless activist, and a true champion of the working class. His unwavering commitment to the principles of socialism and his dedication to the struggle for a just and equal society continue to inspire us to this day.
As we reflect on his life, we are reminded of the immense challenges he faced during his time as the KZN Provincial Secretary of the SACP.
He worked tirelessly to mobilize the masses, to organise workers, and to fight for students’ rights. He did all of this with an understanding that true liberation could only be achieved through collective action and solidarity.
South African political landscape
S’miso Nkwanyana's nomination into a team of peace brokers in KwaZulu-Natal during the 1999 political turmoil held profound significance, as he was just 27 years old at the time.
This remarkable appointment highlighted his exceptional leadership qualities and the trust placed on his abilities, transcending age barriers.
His involvement not only showcased the importance of youth engagement in conflict resolution but also emphasized the potential for fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to complex political challenges.
We have witnessed the transformation of our nation from an apartheid society to a democracy, marked by milestones that have fundamentally reshaped our society.
The driving force behind this transformation has been the collective effort of the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP) – the tripartite alliance.
As the SACP, we have been a significant pillar within this alliance - consistently advocating for social justice, equality, and the rights of the working class.
Through its leading role in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, the SACP has long been a fighting force in the vanguard of the struggle for fundamental transformation. It’s belief is that, that can only be achieved through socialism.
It is therefore also very important for our universities to become sites of intense debates between different ideological and political traditions, including allowing and deliberately nurturing space for expression of leftist ideas, like those of Simiso Nkwanyana. Our universities cannot just be bastions of neo-liberal, conservative and liberal ideas and call themselves universities. To remain as such they merely become ideological instruments of the wealthy and rich!
Our commitment to progressive policies and the betterment of the lives of ordinary South Africans is evident in many of the policies and initiatives that have been introduced since the birth of our democracy.
However, the most persistent challenge that has hampered our democratic advance is that of structural unemployment and poverty - that is an economy that is stubbornly refusing to grow and develop in order to address the socio-economic needs of the majority of our people.
If we are to be honest and self-critical as government, the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), I would argue, marked a significant setback in our struggle to create a better life for all.
Much as the democratic government pursued a lot of policies and programmes that benefitted our people - massive electrification, provision of water, expansion of free education for workers and the poor, progressive gender policies, etc - an untransformed economy remains a serious brake against advancing the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people.
If truth be told, the source of the load shedding we are facing today comes from the impact of the GEAR policy, that told us to refuse to invest in critical infrastructure, especially in the Eskom power stations.
A clear report from Eskom told us to invest in our power stations in 1998, but government refused to listen because the logic of the neo-liberal GEAR policy dictated otherwise. GEAR was advancing privatisation and minimal role of the state in the economy, and instead fostering unfettered accumulation by monopoly capital. Yes state capture has contributed to the problems we are facing, but the source was GEAR!! And there was absolutely no need to foster such an anti-people economic trajectory!
Cde Simiso threw himself wholly into the campaign to transform the financial sector, because he firmly believed in the SACP’s views that without a transformed financial sector there can be no advance to the goals of the national democratic revolution.
UNISA for instance, as our single largest university, has a duty to create platforms to debate appropriate economic policies needed to create a better life for all in our country.
Post school education and training sector
In 1996 Cde S’miso was appointed as Chairperson of the UNISA Sub-Committee on Education Transformation.
His main role as chairperson was that of working towards the achievement of a non-sexist, non-racial, working class biased and democratic education system. This subcommittee was under the UNISA Broad Transformation Forum, which was established for the university to drive the transformation agenda.
Indeed we have made strides in expanding access to higher education, with increasing enrolment numbers in our universities and technical colleges. The transformation and diversification of our institutions reflect South Africa’s commitment to inclusivity. In other words we have continued to contribute towards what Simiso stood for.
NSFAS and student funding
Our remarkable achievement in this journey has been the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
This initiative has empowered countless students who might otherwise have been denied access to higher education due to financial constraints.
NSFAS has not only provided financial support but has also paved the way for a brighter future for many young South Africans. This is a testament to our dedication of ensuring that education is a vehicle for social mobility. NSFAS has disrupted inter-generational poverty in many families.
Today I want to once more publicly indicate that NSFAS truly represents one of the most progressive interventions by the ANC government to systematically break the legacies of inter- generational social inequality in access to post school education and training.
NSFAS is today a massive R48 Billion scheme which funds more than a million students in the current academic year alone. A total 156 700 of these students are SASSA beneficiaries.
I must also indicate that NSFAS is the biggest student funding agency in Africa and a unique scheme in the world which completely funds students for their study, travel, accommodation and personal care
This government has actually turned the tide in student funding for the children of the poor and the working class.
I must unequivocally say, in memory of Simiso Nkwanyana, we must defend these gains!!!
As you might be aware, I have also issued directives to the NSFAS Board to deal with all the challenges that confront the scheme today, be it on ICT systems, call centre, delayed payment of allowances and defrauding of the scheme.
Again, in relation to student funding I must also indicate that we are now at the tail-end towards the finalisation of our new Comprehensive Student Funding Model, which is meant to develop mechanisms to ensure that those students who fall outside the NSFAS funding criteria are also assisted to study.
Training and job placements
Through our Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) combined, we opened up more than 52 701 learnership opportunities to the value of R1.6 billion in the last financial year.
We opened up 14 475 internships opportunities to the value of R758 Million.
We opened up 14 954 TVET placement opportunities to the value of R726 Million and we also committed to achieve a target of 20 000 placements of TVET graduates work placements.
Our SETAs combined opened up 7 095 unemployed university students work placements to the value of R311 million, and we also awarded 13 169 bursaries in various fields on skills in high demand to the value of R970 Million.
While celebrating our PSET sector achievements, we must acknowledge the challenges that continue to confront the sector, including the production of work ready graduates through, inter alia, curriculum transformation.
Moreover, access to higher education remains unequal. The disparity in educational resources and opportunities between urban and rural areas, as well as historical inequities, persist. Addressing this imbalance is crucial to achieving true educational transformation going.
PSET Infrastructure development and expanding the sector
As government, we are investing in infrastructure and support systems that is expanding the PSET sector and create better environment for students to study.
To date, my Department of Higher Education and Training has invested over R3.701 Billion for the maintenance and repairs of TVET Colleges’ infrastructure.
We now have completed the construction of nine (9) TVET College Campuses at a cost of R2.6 billion. Majority of these campus are here in the most rural parts of KwaZulu Natal.
The total amount currently available for investment in infrastructure projects across all the 26 existing universities during the 2023/24-2025/26 MTEF period is R8.662 billion.
We have completed feasibility studies for the establishment of the University of Science and Innovation in Ekurhuleni and the Crime Detection University in Hammanskraal. The new universities should see actual construction in the coming year or two.
Again here in KwaZulu Natal, my Department has allocated R182.11 million towards Imbali Educational and Science Precinct which is located at the Indumiso Campus of the Durban University of Technology in Pietermaritzburg.
We have also commenced with a feasibility study for the establishment of the Giyani Education Precinct through the establishment of a University Campus with the Tshwane University of Technology.
I am also pleased to report that the construction design phase for the Ulundi Campus of the University of Zululand will commence in this current financial year and that the actual construction will commence in the 2024/25 financial year.
I must also indicate that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is playing a more significant role in student accommodation because about 35% of its current annual R47. 7bn budget is spent on accommodation.
I must indicate that one of the challenges that confronts us in this respect, are those individuals who masquerade as business people in order hijack infrastructure projects.
These people demand that they be paid 30% of our infrastructure spend without doing any work. Here in KZN, they are called “amadela ngokubona”.
I would like us to work together to deal with these corrupt tendencies as they derail our progress in changing the lives of our people. I must say this is pure corruption and it must be confronted head-on.
I know that we still need to do more to deal with the legacies of apartheid in our sector and I am committed to work with all stakeholders within and outside PSET sector to ensure that we bring the necessary stability and transformation.
We need to ensure that there is a healthy environment in our institutions which encourages the engagement of all stakeholders for us to advance the interest of our sector.
But in the memory of Simiso we must under no circumstance must we allow destruction of university property and threat to life and limb!
On challenges of UNISA
One of my greatest concerns as the Minister, is the challenge that currently faces UNISA, the institution that Cde S’miso’s fought for tirelessly for its transformation.
Founded in 1873, UNISA occupies a unique place in the annals of higher education history as the oldest university in our country. Not only that, Unisa gave birth to the rest of the university system in South Africa.
We therefore cannot let UNISA to fail! With an enrolment projected at 370 000 plus students across 130 countries in the world, UNISA is one of the truly mega-universities in the world today. As government we are deeply concerned about many aspects to do with the strategic direction, academic outcomes, governance and leadership problems which are facing UNISA.
In 2021, and in response to many complaints and also DHET’s own assessment of the situation at UNISA, I appointed a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) of eminent academics and higher education experts led by Professor Vincent Maphai to look into the business model of UNISA.
Its report was tabled to my Ministry and I shared this with the UNISA Council. This was followed in 2022 by the appointment of an Assessor, Professor Temba Mosiua, to further probe into specific matters raised by the MTT for further investigation. And his report was damning too!
All the above reports came to one conclusion that significant interventions are needed at UNISA so as to stabilise this institution.
I am determined to intervene to save UNISA as our single largest university in South Africa, and no amount of noise by hired guns and use of the law to try and refocus our attention from this, will deter and defocus me. We owe it to the likes of Simiso Nkwanyana to make UNISA the institution it should be.
Word to student/youth leaders
Student leaders like Cde S’miso played a crucial role as they were at the forefront of advocating for change. They were the catalysts for progress, the voices that demanded social justice, and indeed they were the agents of transformation.
Let the youth and students of today emulate Simiso Nkwanyana!
May the spirit of Smiso Nkwanyana live long!