What Zuma said on SONA 2017 Fees, Land, Corruption
Cape Town – President Jacob Zuma says government will look at increasing the R122 000 household income threshold for students needing full National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) bursaries.
Zuma held his annual State of the Nation Address on Thursday on a night that was overshadowed by violence, with Cope, the EFF and DA MPs thrown out or walking out in protest.
EFF MPs interrupted Zuma’s speech for over an hour, leading to House chairperson Thandi Modise ordering party leader Julius Malema out of the House.
Parliamentary security dressed in white shirts proceeded to bundle the EFF out, and punches were thrown.
Members of the public gallery also fell victim to the illegal use of pepper spray, apparently dispersed by an unknown member of the public.
A powdery substance, with effects similar to teargas or pepper spray, was let off in Parliament’s public gallery while the Economic Freedom Fighters were being thrown out.
Zuma eventually continued his speech an hour later after their exits, detailing key areas of focus for his government, including university fees, land reform and corruption.
Zuma said that students were correct to highlight their plight of rising university fees in 2016.
His “caring” government would look into the prospect of raising the NSFAS threshold to above R122 000 through a phased basis, while students from families earning below R600 000 would continue to have their increases covered.
Zuma said government had also settled all debt owed by NSFAS students and had extended the coverage to larger numbers of students than ever before.
“All students who qualify for NSFAS and who have been accepted by universities and TVET colleges will be funded,” he said.
“The university debt of NSFAS qualifying students for 2013, 2014 and 2015 academic years has been addressed.
“In total, government has reprioritised R32bn within government baselines to support higher education.”
He called on South Africans to work together on the issue, and to also allow the Fees Commission to complete its work this year.
Zuma also said it would be “difficult, if not impossible”, to achieve true reconciliation until the land question was resolved.
Arable land needed to be returned to black people, he said.
“Only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people, which is only 9.8% of the 82 million hectares of arable land in South Africa.”
He said there had been a 19% decline in households involved in agriculture, from 2.9 million in 2011, to 2.3 million households in 2016.
Zuma said he would be referring the Expropriation Act back to Parliament for more public participation so that they could continue to pursue land reform and land redistribution, in line with the Constitution.
He also said that government would continue to implement other programmes, such as the Strengthening of Relatives Rights programme, also known as the 50-50 programme.
“In this programme, the farm workers join together into a legal entity and, together with the farm owner, a new company is established and the workers and the owner become joint owners.
“To date, 13 proposals have already been approved, benefiting 921 farm dweller households at a value of R631m. We applaud farmers and farmworkers for this innovation.”
He also said that many black workers would be better off keeping the land they had rights to, rather than accepting deals for their land.
Government would also commit itself to black farm owners, and would implement a commercialisation support programme for 450 black smallholder farmers, especially women.
Zuma said the fight against corruption would continue.
“Within the National Prosecuting Authority, the Asset Forfeiture Unit completed 389 forfeiture cases, to the value of R349m.
“They obtained 326 freezing orders to the value of R779m.”
A total of R13m was recovered in cases where government officials were involved in corruption and other related offences in the past year.
Zuma also announced the establishment of three specialised units, focusing on drug-related crime, taxi violence and firearm violations.
“The fight against crime is an apex priority. The police will increase visible policing, building on the successful pattern of deployments utilised during the Safer Festive Season Campaign.”
The police would also enhance the utilisation of the DNA Database in the identification of suspects.
Another high court was due to be opened in Mpumalanga this year.
In terms of drought, Zuma admitted that 2016 was a difficult year for the country’s farms and citizens.
“Our farmers went through a difficult period last year because of the drought,” Zuma continued.
He said an estimated amount of R2.5bn was made available for the provision of livestock feed, water infrastructure, drilling, equipping and refurbishment of boreholes, auction sales and other interventions.
R500m would also be made available to distressed farmers to manage their credit facilities and support with soft loans.
Zuma finished his speech just before 22:00