The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) suspended its executive officer Steven Zwane with immediate effect on Monday evening.
“The suspension follows allegations of maladministration against Zwane. To ensure fairness and allow the process to proceed uninhibited‚ Zwane has been relieved from his duties pending the outcome of the investigation‚” NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said.
The student funding scheme said Zwane’s suspension was to ensure “fairness” of the investigation into the allegations.
“The NSFAS administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, is in the process of reviewing governance at Nsfas. This is in line with the ministerial mandate to oversee the management, governance, and administration of the entity. This includes all necessary forensic and other investigations currently under way,” the entity said in a statement.
Early this month, the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) called on Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor to fire Zwane over “inefficiencies and lack of leadership” after Nsfas halted 2019 applications that were expected to commence on August 1 due to payment backlogs from 2017 and 2018.
Last month, the National Health and Education Workers’ Union also called for Zwane’s head as well as that of Sizwe Nxasana, who resigned as Nsfas chairperson on August 9.
Nxasana admitted that the NSFAS payments system had come under extreme strain after then president Jacob Zuma announced last December that students from poor families would receive free higher education.
These events surface at a time when the scheme is under a lot of pressure.
Earlier this month, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said Zwane — a former chief operating officer at Barclays Africa — was hired illegitimately, accusing him of nepotism and demanded his resignation.
The statement added that administrator Randall Carolissen was currently reviewing governance at NSFAS.
“This is in line with the Ministerial mandate to oversee the management‚ governance‚ and administration of the entity. This includes all necessary forensic and other investigations currently underway.”
NSFAS came under fire recently after Pandor instructed the institution to halt funding for 2019 students because a backlog in disbursing aid for 2017 and 2018 had not been cleared. NSFAS has an annual budget of R30bn. Pandor reportedly wrote a letter to the board asking it not to open applications for next year until all 2018 processes were properly concluded.
In an radio interview, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Buti Manamela said the implementation of fee-free higher education policy found NSFAS trying to come to terms with some of the challenges that it has faced before. And it had to readjust its system in order to ensure all were in place.
He said the adjustment meant that some students could not receive their allowances. Some believe that their allowances are insufficient.
Pressure mounted for Pandor to fire the chief executive of NSFAS and disband its board following the ongoing challenges in disbursing money for students who were promised free education.