Nhlanhla Nene was removed as finance minister on Wednesday.  Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Nhlanhla Nene. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

FORMER finance minister Nhlanhla Nene says South Africans must be prepared either to pay more taxes or forfeit "nice projects" in order to raise university fees for poor students.

"The battles the students are fighting are our battles. The money is not only with the Treasury. It is for all of us to come together. Ultimately if the nation pays, the money will have to be found among ourselves," Nene said.

He was speaking on Tuesday at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), where he was a panelist in a discussion hosted by the GIBS ethics and governance think tank.

Across the country protests by students calling for free education under the Fees Must Fall campaign entered a third day on Wednesday.

Violence erupted at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and classes were disrupted at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria on Tuesday.

In Pietermaritzburg, students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have marched to the provincial legislature, refusing to accept a proposal by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande that fees be hiked next year.

But Nene, speaking after the GIBS panel discussion, said parents "can’t just stand there and say they (students) are fighting our cause".

He said that ultimately, parents were responsible for the bill. "You are paying. So, you actually need to take an initiative to make sure we resolve this crisis and resolve it amicably. That we all take full responsibility."

Nene, now an adviser to Thebe Investment Corporation, added: "As parents, we must be prepared either to pay more taxes in order to raise the money or to actually forfeit or sacrifice some of the nice projects we would want."

The Fees Must Fall campaign, which was hatched late in 2015, resulted in no fee increase for 2016 and left the Treasury scrambling to find about R2bn required to compensate universities for a shortfall in revenue.

But the state’s generosity has dried up, and on Monday Nzimande said fee increases for 2017 would be decided by individual universities, although the increments will be capped at 8%.

The Treasury said on Tuesday it was important to note that policy decision had been made to subsidise the fees of students from poor backgrounds and the missing middle (students "too rich" to qualify for poor for government support but "too poor" to afford university fees).

"National Treasury has been exploring different mechanisms of finding the money to pay for the subsidy," it said in a statement.