Hon Chairperson, this debate is in honour and remembrance of the youth of 1976, who rose up against the system that saw fit to use education as a means of oppression. The surest way to empower our youth is through quality accessible education. This includes access to higher education and training, the absence of which is oppressive to the majority of our young people even today.
This was most sadly illustrated in January this year, when half of the qualifying young people had their dreams, hopes and aspirations shattered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, NSFAS, shortfall debacle. Their calls and cries rang hollow at the time, as hollow and empty as the bench of the hon Minister Blade Nzimande, who is not present with us in this important debate.
I stand here today, having dedicated my life to this struggle, to carry the hopes and dreams of our young members to the very benches of this Parliament. I stand here today not to fight, like some, for medical aid schemes, but to fight for the future of the people of our country and for the future of our country as a whole. [Interjections.]
I stand here to fight for Lebohang, a young woman who, three months into the semester at the University of Venda, received an SMS from NSFAS, telling her that although she qualifies for higher education, her government will not provide for her. She mandated me to ask the hon Nzimande what she should do. Should she continue attending classes, with nowhere to live, no food to eat and no money to register? Or should she travel back to Tzaneen without any taxi fare, back to her family and village, which has already celebrated her admission into university? [Interjections.] I find it sad and ironic that the name Lebohang, translated from the Sesotho language, means "be grateful".
I will address the hon Nzimande in his conspicuous absence. Hon Nzimande, Lebohang, like hundreds and thousands of young South Africans who were failed in this fashion and in other ways, has very little to be grateful for. You, hon Minister, are directly responsible. You knew that the NSFAS budget was insufficient to allow our people to pursue their future and build our country. You were warned countless times, but chose instead to ignore these warnings and to focus your political efforts on yourself and the hon President Jacob Zuma.
What is your plan, hon Minister? Next year, 50% of NSFAS applicants who were turned away at the beginning of this year will have to compete with a new batch of matriculants to pursue their future in the absence of meaningful free higher education for poor students. This is why urgent action is needed. All you have done is burn through years with working groups upon working groups and committees whilst an entire generation is becoming confined to the fringes of our society. [Applause.]
Young South Africans cannot afford to wait for government to catch up to their needs. In the absence of any substantive plan, hon members, let me assist you with one. The DA has already developed a plan which will make free higher education for poor qualifying matriculants a reality. This starts by ensuring that R16 billion is urgently made available so that no student is prevented from furthering their studies just because they cannot afford to do so. [Interjections.]
This, by the way, is a constitutional imperative that this government has failed to practise. The entire cost of this funding must be converted into a bursary on the completion of a student's studies so that they are not burdened with a debt plus interest just because they come from a poor background.