Matthew Lester’s SONA wishlist: #FeesMustFall – more than just a fee freeze | Fin24

Matthew Lester’s SONA wishlist: #FeesMustFall – more than just a fee freeze

Feb 08 2016 17:55

This year President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation speech is sparking interest. Nomura’s Peter Attard Montalto is expecting a broadly left-leaning speech in terms of policy specifics outside “National Treasury areas”. He says it’s more important than the Budget. And while Matthew Lester was astounded by Jacob Zuma’s offer to pay back the money, he also has a SONA vision.

He wants the President to put the #feesmustfall discussion front and centre. Why? Lester sees education as the most effective weapon against inequality, and if you don’t believe him, look at how Bernie Sanders has made strides on Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Presidential race in the United States. His tactic targeting the youth and inequality. But Lester wants intelligent progress and not just another fee freeze. – Stuart Lowman

By Matthew Lester*

I was astounded at JZ’ offer to pay the back part of the money. My immediate question is ‘where the hell is he going to find that sort of money? A plus R2 million a year presidential package and a state pension won’t even pay for the fore hydrant at the swimming pool.

Zuma is naïve if he thinks anything can be settled amicably in SA politics. Our leaders have perfected the ancient martial art of FUKU… - kicking someone in the nuts when they are already groveling in the floor. Apparently it was developed in the Scottish pubs and brought to SA by the 1820 settlers.

In 2007 there was talk that former president Thabo Mbeki would seek a third term as president. Then suddenly his loyal supporters all ran away faster than an Italian tank column.

Maybe the end would be here already if it were not for the looming municipal elections. Or is it that there is no worthy successor? Or is there just too much money involved for too many supporters? I don’t know.

So now the EFF has lost their trump card to disrupt SONA 2016. I am sure they will find another point of order. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this stuff extends into the national budget speech on 24 February.

Some people ask ‘what do you want from SONA 2016 and the national budget speech?’ And usually the answer has something to do with tax. But not this year.

Read also: Matthew Lester on #FeesMustFall: Don’t give it to the rich

The biggest step forward would be to address the issue of #feesmustfall. And we are unlikely to see much because Zuma has kicked for touch by appointing a commission of enquiry into education. Students are unlikely to wait that long. We need something to show that there is progress.

Why is #feesmustfall so important? Some think it’s about a minority of SA’s one million students. ‘What about the rest of SA?’ they say.

There is far more to #feesmustfall than the payment or non-payment of university fees. SA’s students have walked into what will be the biggest debate for the next 10 years… Inequality.

Just 3 years ago the work of Thomas Pikkety was hardly noticed. It was almost universally accepted that economic growth was the universal answer in securing a better lot for all. It seems that we were wrong and thought is changing quickly.

It has been quite fascinating to watch Bernie Sanders make enormous gains on Hillary Clinton in the race for the Whitehouse. Why? He is talking inequality and young people are listening.

Read also: Paul Whelan on #FeesMustFall, Govt’s paralysis & passing the buck

If there is one thing we all seem to agree on is that education is the most effective weapon in the war against inequality. And we have got education all wrong in SA while we have a gini co-efficient of between 77 and 59 depending on how you measure it.

I will accept a tax increase in the budget, its almost inevitable anyway. What I want is some intelligent move that will see progress on #feesmustfall during 2016. And that’s not another student fee freeze that will see the rich benefiting far more than the poor.

*Rhodes University Professor Matthew Lester was educated at St Johns College, Wits and Rhodes universities. He is a chartered accountant who has worked at Deloitte, SARS and BDO Spencer Steward. A member of the Davis Tax Committee investigating the structure of aspects of the RSA tax system, he is based in Grahamstown.

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