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Zuma’s fee free plan may cause chaos at SA’s universities

President Jacob Zuma’s move to scrap tuition fees for students from poor South African homes and freeze tariffs for those from working-class households may cause chaos during registration at public universities this month.

Zuma unveiled the plan on December 16, two days before Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as leader of the ruling African National Congress and two days after a body representing the 26 state-owned institutions said each would raise fees by 8%. The University of South Africa, the country’s biggest with more than 400 000 students, held fees at 2017 rates, it said on December 7.

On January 1, the universities said they won’t allow walk-in applications from people who qualify for free education, but people should instead submit details online for assessment. A day later, the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party condemned the move and called on all academically deserving students to report to universities of their choice for registration.

“Zuma’s announcement on free tertiary education is very much a political project and it puts a lot of pressure on the new ANC National Executive Committee,” Joleen Steyn-Kotze, a senior research specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council, said by phone. “It is possible that there will be chaos and universities are going to be on high alert.”

Earlier protests

Weeks of violent protests at universities across the country in 2015 and 2016 delayed the end of those academic years, and institutions’ finances were stretched by the state’s decision to limit tuition costs in 2016.

Africa’s most-industrialised economy is contending with a skills shortage and a 28% jobless rate. Investors are concerned that the fee proposal, which ignores fiscal targets set in the budget, will add to government debt and hasten another rating downgrade to junk for the country’s local-currency credit.

Under the plan that will be phased over five years starting in 2018, students from homes where the combined annual income is R350 000 ($28 400) or less annually won’t have to pay for tuition, books, meals, accommodation and transport.

The directive also froze fees for students from households earning R600 000 or less per year. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which provided assistance to about 226 000 university students whose family income was below R122 000 annually in 2016, will assess applications from prospective students who didn’t previously qualify for financial aid but who now do, Chief Executive Officer Steven Zwane said on Thursday in Pretoria.

NSFAS disbursed R12.4bn in financial aid to almost 482 000 students at universities and technical-vocational colleges in 2016, according to its annual report. Under the new plan, all those who are funding their studies through the organisation will have their loans converted to grants.

Funding allocation

The National Treasury allocated R76.7bn to higher education for the year through March 2018, and estimates this will increase by an average of 8.2% in each of the following three years, the fastest-growing spending item after debt-service costs, it said in the mid-term budget in October.

South Africa will increase subsidies to universities to 1% of gross domestic product from 0.7% now over the next five years, according to Zuma’s December 16 statement. The National Treasury will outline how the government will fund free higher education “in a fiscally sustainable manner” in the February 21 budget, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said after the presidency’s announcement.

“We can easily afford it if we cut out the amount of government money that is currently being wasted on corruption and state capture,” Azar Jammine, the chief economist at Econometrix, said by phone.

“Under the current circumstances there is too much pressure on the fiscus to afford the new measure.”

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Ramaphosa promises to target investment, corruption

South Africa wants to attract foreign investors to help it kick-start economic growth and will crack down on corruption, the new leader of the ruling African National Congress said on Saturday.

Cyril Ramaphosa, who narrowly won the race to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader last month, also used a speech to mark 106 years since the founding of Africa’s oldest liberation movement to call for party unity after a bitter leadership contest.

South Africa’s economy has slowed to a near-standstill over Zuma’s two presidential terms, as allegations of influence-peddling in government and mismanagement of state-owned enterprises have dented consumer and business confidence.

But Ramaphosa’s election win has injected a sense of optimism that the ANC, which has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, could win back the trust of voters and investors disillusioned with Zuma’s rule.

Ramaphosa, 65, a former trade union leader and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, pledged during his campaign for ANC leader to address record unemployment and a sluggish economy.

“South Africa is open for investment,” he told tens of thousands of cheering ANC members in a stadium in the Eastern Cape province on Saturday. Through foreign investment “we can grow our economy, create jobs, end poverty,” he said.

“We must have an economy that offers policy certainty and addresses areas that inhibit investment, growth as well as social inclusion.”

Ramaphosa reassured investors that the role, mandate and independence of the central bank would be maintained while plans for free higher education for the poor would be implemented gradually so as to safeguard public finances.

The ANC needs to follow the example of liberation hero Nelson Mandela to unite the country and combat the racial inequalities that persist to this day, he added.

Ramaphosa faces a difficult balancing act as he must accommodate the competing interests of rival ANC factions vying for control of the party. One faction backed his bid for ANC leader, while another favoured Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former cabinet minister and ex-wife of Zuma.

ZUMA’S FUTURE

There has been widespread speculation that Ramaphosa and his allies are lobbying ANC members to oust Zuma as head of state in the coming weeks, but he made no mention of Zuma’s future.

Zuma, 75, sat alongside Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to hear Ramaphosa speak and was booed on several occasions during Saturday’s anniversary celebrations.

Zuma’s second presidential term doesn’t officially end until 2019 when national elections will be held, but he could be removed early through a motion of no confidence in parliament or at a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee.

Ramaphosa welcomed Zuma’s recent announcement that there would be an inquiry into influence-peddling in government and said it was a top priority for those responsible to be prosecuted.

Zuma has denied allegations that he has allowed his friends to influence the appointment of ministers. Ramaphosa said that corruption in the private sector was also an important issue.

ANC member Vanita Kok, from the Khoisan royal house, said Ramaphosa’s message struck a chord because “corruption is rife”.

While markets have rallied since Ramaphosa’s victory, some analysts are sceptical he will deliver on his bold promises.

Gwen Ngwenya, an economist at South Africa’s Institute of Race Relations, said: “Ramaphosa is hamstrung by the need to ensure unity, and this will result in confused policymaking.”

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Solar steam powers homes – and new jobs – in South Africa

The power plants are part of SA’s push to cut its climate changing emissions by 2030.

South Africa may still get most of its energy from coal, but in the country’s sunny Northern Cape province, a different electricity source is taking hold: solar steam.

A Spanish renewable energy company has opened three thermal solar plants – which use the sun’s heat to create electricity – in the province.

The plants – which use sun-heated salt to drive turbines – produce enough electricity to provide power to just short of a million people, or almost the province’s entire population, according its operators.

That represents an important shift in a country that suffered power shortages as recently as 2015, but that now has excess power to sell to neighbouring southern African countries.

Just as important, the plants have provided new jobs in a province with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country, at more than 40%, according to U.N. officials.

They recognised the clean-energy project at climate change talks in Bonn in November as a creative model for bringing scarce private cash into renewable energy projects in Africa.

The first solar steam plant – KaXu Solar One, opened in 2015 in Pofadder – provided about 80 new permanent jobs, and about 1 700 temporary jobs, according to Sarah Marchildon, a spokeswoman for the UN climate change secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative.

The other two plants, including Xina Solar One, completed last year in Uppington, on the banks of the Orange River, have created another 45 permanent and 1 300 temporary jobs, she said.

“The region is now benefiting from stable, clean energy, and we are happy to have played a role in helping to solve South Africa’s electricity needs and improving the nation’s sustainability and energy security,” said Gerardo Rodriguez Pagano, the general director of Abengoa South Africa, which developed the plants.

More power, fewer emissions

The power plants – jointly owned by Abengoa Solar, the government’s Industrial Development Corporation and a community trust – are part of South Africa’s push to cut its climate changing emissions by 2030, in line with its promises under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In 2011, the government announced plans for 28 renewable energy projects around the country.

The solar thermal technology is generally a more expensive way to produce clean energy than traditional wind or solar-panel energy, said Kruskaia Sierra-Escalante, a finance manager with the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank group organisation that provided part of the funding for the project.

But it produces a more stable and predictable supply of power as sun-tracking mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays to heat salt, which is then used to produce steam that powers turbines to produce electricity.

Energy can be stored both in molten salt and as electricity in batteries, something crucial to building a reliable power grid, Sierra-Escalante said.

Because both wind turbines and solar panels provide energy only when the wind blows or the sun shines, clean power sources that can provide energy at other times – such as solar thermal technology that stores heat – are considered key to stabilising clean power grids, experts say.

The World Bank came under huge criticism in 2010 when it agreed to provide a $3 billion loan to help South Africa build Medupi, one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants, as world leaders were trying to seal a global deal to curb climate change.

The World Bank has since agreed, in 2013, that it would finance coal plants only in unusual circumstances, when there are no reasonable alternatives to meet basic energy needs.

More cash for clean energy

The solar project, with its mix of public and private finance, is seen as a model for helping boost large-scale clean energy projects in Africa.

“By involving private sector funds to begin operating in an emerging market, the KaXu Solar One project is an innovative and transformative financial solution that addresses climate change,” Marchildon said.

“Leveraging private sector finance has proven to be a major obstacle for the funding of renewable energy projects in emerging economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Up-front costs to build large-scale solar plants are significant, and international investors can be hesitant to jump into developing markets, she said.

But solar projects, once put in place, have lower operating costs, she said, which can be a draw for investors.

“KaXu has helped to unlock the South African concentrated solar power plant market, attract financiers, and drive down costs,” Marchildon said.

It is now “the first operational private-sector utility-scale concentrated solar power plant project in South Africa – and in the developing world,” she said.

Pagano, of Abengoa South Africa, said the Northern Cape’s sunny conditions – the best in the country – were the reason to put the first solar thermal plants there, but the company would be open to looking at replicating the plants in other areas of South Africa.

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Will Cape Town be the first city to run out of water?

Cape Town, home to Table Mountain, African penguins, sunshine and sea, is a world-renowned tourist destination. But it could also become famous for being the first major city in the world to run out of water.

Most recent projections suggest that its water could run out as early as March. The crisis has been caused by three years of very low rainfall, coupled with increasing consumption by a growing population.

The local government is racing to address the situation, with desalination plants to make sea water drinkable, groundwater collection projects, and water recycling programmes.

Meanwhile Cape Town’s four million residents are being urged to conserve water and use no more than 87 litres (19 gallons) a day. Car washing and filling up swimming pools has been banned. And the visiting Indian cricket team were told to limit their post-match showers to two minutes.

uch water-related problems are not confined to Cape Town, of course.

Nearly 850 million people globally lack access to safe drinking water, says the World Health Organisation, and droughts are increasing.

So it seems incredible that we still waste so much of this essential natural resource. In developing and emerging countries, up to 80% of water is lost through leakages, according to German environmental consultancy GIZ. Even in some areas of the US, up to 50% of water trickles away due to ageing infrastructure.

A growing number of technology companies are focusing their work on water management – applying “smart” solutions to water challenges.

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Youth should not only chase tenders

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has urged South African youth to make the most of the state’s Black Industrialists Programme, and come up with innovative business ideas instead of chasing tenders and shareholdings at established companies.

Gigaba was speaking to the SABC on the sidelines of the Progressive Youth in Business breakfast in the Eastern Cape on Thursday, ahead of the ANC’s birthday celebrations to be held this weekend in East London.

He also highlighted government’s role in helping SA youth access markets. SA has one of the world’s highest rates of youth unemployment.

According to StatsSA’s quarterly labour force survey for the third quarter of 2017, youth unemployment stands at 38.6%.

“We want young people to become innovators and entrepreneurs, to come up with fresh ideas and take advantage of the Black Industrialists Programme,” he said.

The Black Industrialists Programme was launched in 2016 and is driven by the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) to promote a more inclusive economy by increasing black ownership of industrial enterprises.

Government has been making an effort to remove barriers to entry for the youth, but they have to “organise” themselves and identify sectors they want to be involved in, said the finance minister.

“[They should] not only focus on seeking tenders in government and seeking shareholding in existing companies,” he added.

“Young people are the group in society which can provide more long term and sustainable entrepreneurial activity than you can get from older people close to retirement, trying to make a retirement package as quickly as possible and least likely to embark on more long-term sustainable endeavours,” said Gigaba.

Some initiatives by Treasury to support SMMEs include undertaking public procurement legislation reform and ringfencing sectors in the economy for participation by black people, he explained.

Further, the dti also provides funding for SMMEs through the Black Industrialists Programme, and the private sector, particularly the CEO Initiative, has established a R1.5bn SME fund to support growth and development of small businesses.

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De Lille: This is an attack for power and position

Patricia de Lille has hit back at those calling for her removal as mayor, saying their actions do not represent the City of Cape Town, and show they are pushing to get rid of her to replace her with a party member of their choice. On Wednesday it emerged that the DA’s Western Cape executive wants De Lille removed. This comes as De Lille has found herself at the centre of a political storm, facing several allegations levelled at her by senior colleagues.

On Wednesday De Lille said the move by the DA’s regional executive “does not represent the City of Cape Town DA caucus, because they never met”.

‘No mandate’

“Secondly after this statement by (DA Western Cape metro chairperson) Grant Twigg was issued I received numerous calls from members from various the branches of the DA saying that they have never been consulted on this statement by the regional executive nor have they given them the mandate.” She said the regional executive was meant to represent DA branches as well as members. De Lille said the regional executive needed to provide proof of when they had met the branches and what mandate they had received from the branches. “They can do this by providing a list of the meetings which took place when branches took decisions,” she said.

‘Rush to get rid of De Lille’

De Lille said the regional executive was confused about its role. “This is yet another example of the flagrant disregard for process within the DA in their rush to get rid of me and make (DA Western Cape leader) Minister Bonginkosi Madikizela the next Executive Mayor,” she said. “It illustrates my previous position that these attacks on me have been about power and positions all along.”

De Lille’s conduct in focus this weekend

De Lille’s conduct will also be examined this weekend when the DA’s Federal Executive meets to discuss reasons she previously provided as to why she should not resign as mayor. De Lille’s response relates to a report on findings by what has become known as the “Steenhuisen commission”.  A subcommittee, headed by parliamentary whip John Steenhuisen, was previously established by the DA’s federal executive to look into political management in the City of Cape Town. It is understood several allegations were made against De Lille.

Confidential report

Allegations against De Lille are also contained in a report by independent investigators from Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys. This report, dated December 29, detailed a list of allegations against, and made by, several senior City officials. De Lille was seeking legal advice on the independent report, as she said on Friday there were factual errors in it. She said these were not corrected, even though she had pointed out the errors. The report found that De Lille may be guilty of gross misconduct for allegedly advising City manager Achmat Ebrahim that he need not report to the City council an allegation of misconduct against Melissa Whitehead, the commissioner of the transport and urban development authority.

This related to alleged irregularities involving payments to Volvo for bus chassis. The Bowman Gilfillan report said a forensic report presented prima facie evidence that “the Commissioner (Whitehead) was involved in irregular expenditure in relation to payments in the aggregate amount of R43 801 807.06 made to Volvo for 29 bus chassis”.  It also found that payments totalling R29 584 368 made to Scania for 24 bus chassis during June 2014 were irregular.

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Populism or the South African economy

The biggest challenge facing South Africa’s incoming president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is not his hostile party manager, Ace Magashule, the resentful nationalists in KwaZulu-Natal, or the new ANC NEC.

It is the ANC’s newly found populism.

The poisoned chalice that Jacob Zuma had prepared for his successor means Ramaphosa would have to dance a delicate dance around issues like land expropriation and free tertiary education, without avoiding the tough steps demanded if the country’s economy is going to be stable and growing.

It’s a stark choice: join the populist chorus and be popular now, but within a year or two face the music of a collapsed economy, increasing unemployment and poverty, and possible public revolt.

The way out for Ramaphosa is to talk the populist talk, but quietly do the right things.

Like he did in Nongoma at the weekend, talking about the Garden of Eden that expropriation of land without compensation could bring – and then adding the caveat: If it leads to higher food production, if it doesn’t harm the agriculture sector or food production.

The ANC has largely avoided cheap political populism since it became the governing party, apart from occasionally allowing its Youth League to make wild statements.

But then Julius Malema arrived on the scene and refused to be controlled by Luthuli House, and populism gradually became mainstream politics.

That was the fertile ground the Zuma/Gupta axis – ably assisted by British PR firm Bell Pottinger – capitalised on, introducing the mantras of #WhiteMonopolyCapital and radical economic transformation into the national discourse.

These concepts have since been used as a machete to attack the constitutionalists and economic realists in the Ramaphosa camp.

Populism is a phenomenon that is researched widely in the world nowadays.

In his recent book, What is Populism?, Princeton University professor Jan-Werner Muller says that a rejection of pluralism is at populism’s core. Populists declare themselves to be the only legitimate representatives of the masses and divide the nation into two: the masses and the exploiting elite. Populists propose simplistic solutions for complex social and economic problems; they are strong on rhetoric and weak on policy.

In the case of Zuma, the Guptas and Co populism is actually just a cover for state capture, corruption and maladministration; an exercise to seek a scapegoat for the lack of development and the failure to provide better lives to ordinary people.

It is an effort to cover up the reality of many billions of rands stolen or misspent, billions that should have gone to development, and to obscure the terrible decisions that had led to economic downgrades and a weak rand.

The scapegoat is white business and the white minority generally, and of course those who are labelled as protectors of white privilege.

Zuma’s reckless, unilateral decree on free tertiary education on the eve of the ANC’s elective conference last month is an example of cheap populism. As is the EFF’s encouragement for prospective students to arrive at universities in their tens of thousands.

The way in which the land debate at the conference was steamrollered late at night, when everyone was exhausted and that ended up in a decision to change a key clause in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is another.

It was a bit like Brexit: a one-time referendum among ill-informed citizens decided by a simple majority that ended up changing the course of history.

Ramaphosa and people in the ANC who think like him were fiercely against expropriation without compensation, and argued quite rightly that the existing clauses in the Constitution allowing expropriation under certain conditions have never been used or tested.

Moreover, it is common cause that the state hasn’t shown the capacity to establish farmers on land already acquired for redistribution.

All these arguments were spelled out in detail in Kgalema Motlanthe’s voluminous Report of the High Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, issued two months ago.

Ramaphosa cannot ignore the ANC resolution, so he would probably try to ameliorate its potentially catastrophic impact by slowing down the process and making sure the eventual amendment is very carefully worded.

This will not be popular. Neither would cutting state expenditure, another necessary step.

The populist genie has escaped from the bottle and it will be hard to put it back.

Ramaphosa’s task is to bring the reality home to his party that the only way real radical economic transformation that benefits more than a few can be achieved, is if the economy expands.

The uncomfortable truth that the populists will have to digest, is that the South African economy’s strength above most others on the continent is that it is part of the global economy. If government acts as if it isn’t, the economy will suffer, as we have seen several times during Zuma’s tenure.

Ramaphosa’s advantage is that his support as a national leader is much wider than is reflected by the narrow margin with which he won against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC’s elections.

Even more importantly, even his enemies in the ANC have to admit that the ANC’s best chance of doing well during next year’s general election would be under Ramaphosa’s leadership.

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Manyi’s PPF: We are not funded by the Guptas

In a previous version of this story, Fin24 referred to Siphile Buthelezi, secretary general of PPF. Buthelezi alerted Fin24 to the fact that he has resigned from this role.

Cape Town – The Progressive Professional Forum (PPF) “is not owned or funded in any way illegally, or legally or clandestinely by the Gupta family”, it said in a statement on Monday.

PPF president Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi, who is a former ANC spin doctor, is also head of policy at the Black Business Council (BBC) and leads the Decolonisation Foundation.

These organisations are spearheading a drive to tackle a lack of economic transformation in South Africa and the BBC gave a presentation last week at Parliament’s hearings into the banking sector’s progress on the topic.

However, the source of their funding has come under the spotlight, with Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier seeking information from state-owned entities and departments to see who is funding the organisations.

So far, parliamentary responses to Maynier’s questions by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies revealed that government has been funding the PPF and BBC.

Brown revealed that Eskom and Transnet sponsored the PPF with R840 000 in donations, while Davies disclosed that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) gave the BBC R7m over the past three years.

Regarding the BBC donation, Maynier said in a statement that “it looks like the DTI is funding a dodgy Treasury opponent and Gupta proxy”.

Concerning the PPF donation, Maynier said Eskom and Transnet should not support an organisation “which is deeply involved in politics and which campaigns against the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and National Treasury”.

Groups to sue over Gupta proxy allegations

The three Manyi-linked organisations – as well as former Economic Freedom Front MP Andile Mngxitama’s Black First, Land First organisation – have also been accused of being proxies for the Guptas.

This allegation was criticised by the PPF on Monday. “PPF is not a proxy for anyone but it is and steadfastly remains the vanguard of the interests of all South Africans, in particular the progressive professionals,” said the office of the secretary general of PPF.

It was announcing the PPF’s decision to sue Daily Maverick journalist Marianne Thamm for a story on March 17 2017 entitled Tom Moyane, Zuma Kingpin, because she referred to the PPF as “Mzwanele Manyi’s Gupta-sponsored Progressive Professionals Forum”.

The PPF said Thamm’s “labelling is meant to create an impression in the mind of the reader that PPF is sponsored, financially or otherwise by the Gupta family”.

The organisations often refer to “white monopoly capital” or “radical economic transformation” when discussing the topic of transformation.

Manyi tweeted on Sunday that he will be briefing his lawyers to also sue the Sunday Times, following its lead story this Sunday entitled ‘White monopoly capital’ chosen distraction in PR strategy to clear Guptas.

The story claimed that PR firm Bell Pottinger “either helped set up or funded two organisations, the Decolonisation Foundation and Andile Mngxitama’s Black First, Land First, that were critical of the Treasury and ‘white monopoly capital’.”

It said “Decolonisation Foundation head Mzwanele Manyi yesterday did not respond to questions, saying only that there was no direct link between himself, his foundation, Bell Pottinger or the Gupta family”.

Black First, Land First said on a website linked to Mngxitama that “it will report the Sunday Times to the Press Ombudsman,  take legal action against the Sunday Times and identify and occupy land owned by Johann Rupert”.

DA to continue funding probe

Meanwhile, Maynier said the DA is ramping up its investigation into the funding structures of the organisations. The party will be:

– probing whether public funds have been transferred by state departments, state-owned enterprises and public entities to the PPF, Decolonisation Foundation and the BBC;

– submitting requests, in term of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, for copies of the sponsorship policies employed by Eskom and Transnet; and

– requesting Auditor General Kimi Makwetu to investigate the sponsorships received from Eskom and Transnet.

Transport Department has not funded Manyi-linked groups

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the department has not funded or procured services from the PPF, BBC and Decolonisation Foundation in a parliamentary response issued on Monday.

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There’s another royal baby on the way!

The Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall and husband Mike Tindall are expecting their second child!

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson recently revealed the exciting news but according to The Mirror, has given no further information.

The pregnancy comes one year after the couple tragically lost their second child in December 2016, just weeks after Zara (36) announced her pregnancy.

The baby would have been the Queen and Prince Philip’s sixth great-grandchild. The pair has a three-year-old daughter named Mia.

The happy news comes just after the couple celebrated Christmas in Australia with little Mia.

Former rugby player Mike (39) once said that Mia gave them the strength to get over the miscarriage.

“One thing you do learn is how many other people have to go through the same thing. The biggest thing you can have is an outpouring of support. Social media was a good thing for once,” reports The Mirror.

The Queen and the royal family are “very pleased” to hear the couple’s news, reports Metro UK,

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Real matric pass rate is 37.3 %, says DA

The real matric pass rate is closer to 40%, if the number of Grade 10s from 2015 who later became dropouts is taken into account, the Democratic Alliance said on Friday.

“The 2017 national matric pass rate for candidates who wrote the exams was 75.1%, while the ‘real’ pass rate – the number of Grade 10s from 2015 who passed Matric 2017 – was only 37.3%,” DA MP Nomsa Marchesi said in a statement.

“This is cause for serious concern, rather than celebration.”

According to Marchesi, 41% of students who in 2015 enrolled for Grade 10, did not make it to matric.

“It is clear that the schooling system is failing our learners not just in matric, but long before they reach the final years of school.”

Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma welcomed the improvement in the pass rate from 72.5 to 75.1%.

“The president has noted the consistently improving pass rate since the dawn of freedom and democracy in the country,” read a statement from the Presidency.

Zuma said that those who failed or did not achieve a university pass should not lose hope.

“There are still plenty opportunities to be explored to fulfil their dreams.”

He reminded those who failed that they would have a chance to write supplementary exams – and those who did not make it to university, that they should approach Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and other vocational training centres.

‘Obsession with the matric pass rate’

Furthermore, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) said that it welcomed the results, believing that they reflected a system which was “gradually maturing”.

The union said that while it was pleased with the “steady upward trend” in results for subjects like Mathematics, Maths Literacy and Physical Science, it was concerned at the decline seen in subjects like Visual Arts and Dramatic Arts, as well as vernacular minority languages.

“Any education system must value the role that subjects in the arts stream play in the context of nation building,” said Sadtu, adding that “languages are about identity, culture and nation building as well”.

Furthermore, subjects like Accounting, Business Studies and Agricultural Sciences had also shown a decline – which was worrying as the country needed such entrepreneurial skills, the union suggested.

“We need to embrace the agricultural sciences as a way towards the diversification of our economy.”

Nevertheless, it said that it continued to “caution against the obsession with the matric pass rate”.

“We cannot say it is the true indicator of the health of our education system judging by the huge numbers of learners who fall by the wayside and never finish schooling.”

Sadtu offered statistics suggesting that while a total of 1 182 011 learners entered Grade 1 in 2006, only just about 543 000 of those had written matric exams.

The union also made a commitment for the teaching practice of its members in 2018.

“We recommit ourselves to the principles of the quality learning and teaching campaign. We will be in class, on time, prepared and teaching.”

‘Where did the other kids go?’

Commenting on Twitter about the students who registered for Grade 1 in 2006 but did not make it to matric, education analyst Nic Spaull questioned: “Where did the other 400 000 odd kids go? Not to FET & into jobs – unlikely”.

Meanwhile the ANC said that the matric rate was an achievement that was the “outcome of years of toil, dedication and determination by the learners, educators, parents and other education stakeholders over a concerted period of time”.

The ruling party commended the Free State for its top performance and also said it was “heartened” by improvements in the results of the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal.

Also adding their response to the matric results, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) said the overall pass rate was “outstanding”.

“Continued growth in our results follows a ground-breaking decision by government to declare Fee-Free Higher Education.”

Students who had done well but were financially disadvantaged were encouraged to apply for the NYDA’s scholarships.

Political party, Freedom Front Plus said it believed that the current system, with its “lowered standards” was “too inadequate” in preparing students beyond school.

The Black Business Council (BBC) said that the pass rate was “commendable”.

“The BBC would further like to support the call advising government to introduce entrepreneurship as a compulsory subject in high school in order to inculcate a culture of job creators amongst learners,” commented George Sebulela, the BBC’s secretary general.

On a provincial level, Gauteng Premier David Makhura congratulated Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi on his position as the second best achieving province.

“Now your sight is set firmly on 1st place!”