Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has expressed shock and anger at the murder of a Walter Sisulu University final year medical student who was a recipient of funding via the government’s National Skills Fund.
Lwando Mantshontsho, who died on Friday after being stabbed during a late-night attack by other students, was recruited in Grade 12 from the poverty-stricken region of Lusikisi in the Eastern Cape in 2011, said the minister. He was among 100 learners selected for the Minister’s Nelson Mandela day programme, which was initiated in honour of the former president’s call for 67 minutes of community service.
At an embargoed media briefing ahead of his budget speech in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Nzimande told the media he was saddened at the tragic news of the student’s death.
Nzimande said that reports indicated that Mantshontsho had died after students “turned on each other” after a night of heavy drinking and partying – following the closure of the university’s Mthatha campus. Earlier, students had embarked on violent demonstrations related to enrolments, he said.
“My heartfelt condolences go to Lwando’s family, friends and all who knew him and interacted with him at the university. It is doubly tragic that the student was just about to complete his medical studies,” he said.
“The circumstances surrounding the death also leave us with a sense of shock and anger, and I call on all our higher education communities, including students, to always act with discipline and care – respecting the law and the sanctity of human life all the time,” Nzimande said.
There have been a number of violent incidents on the Eastern Cape campus in recent years. In the latest attack, which led to Mantshontsho’s death, five students appeared in court facing charges of murder‚ assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and malicious damage to property.
Presenting his budget speech later, Nzimande said that the National Skills Fund had provided support altogether to about 15 000 students each year in scare and critical skills.
Despite the “cynicism” of his critics, he described the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as “one of the most significant success stories in the history of a democratic South Africa”.
Since 2013, more than two million students had been funded by NSFAS. In 2017, a total of 194 353 university students have been supported, of which 78 413 are first-time time entrants and 115 940 returning students. Similarly 123 332 TVET colleges students have already received support this year.
Nzimande noted that despite the turbulence of the higher education system over the last 18 months, 2017 had been relatively stable.
One of the biggest challenges remained the need to provide financial resources in order to build a vibrant TVET college sector, he said.
He was eagerly awaiting the report of the presidential commission of inquiry into higher education and training that is looking into the feasibility of fee-free education and training for the poor and working class.
At the briefing, he said the report was due next month.