Students at tertiary institutions deserve free education, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday.
His comments come as tensions continue to rise at tertiary institutions, with students demanding that President Jacob Zuma release the Fees Commission report, while others have stated that they would not pay any fees in the 2018 academic year.
"There is nothing wrong with students demanding free education and, in fact, it is something that our children deserve," he said.
Ramaphosa, however, did not give details of Judge Jonathan Herer's recommendations following the commission's investigation of the feasibility of free tertiary education. The report was discussed at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting.
"The president, the government will come out with an announcement to say how we are going to face this challenge. We must wait for the report... what we want is for our young people to be skilled," he said.
Ramaphosa was in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, addressing a hall packed with hundreds of the ANC presidential hopeful's supporters. He acknowledged that tertiary education was expensive and out of the reach for poor families, most of whom, he said, were part of the high number of unemployed in the country.
ANC conference 'do-or-die moment'
"Students want free education because their parents are struggling. The fees of universities and technikons are too high," he said to applause from his audience.
He urged parents to ensure that their children don't drop out of school and at least finish matric to improve their chances of getting admitted into universities and colleges, and acquiring skills.
It was the first stop the Ramaphosa campaign was making in Mpumalanga and he is scheduled to go to the heart of the hotly contested province, Nelspruit, in two weeks' time. Mpumalanga has become a crucial player in the ANC presidential race, as it has the second-highest number of voting delegates at the December elective conference.
Ramaphosa said the conference, to be held from December 16 to 20 in Gauteng, was a do-or-die moment for the party. He said the hopes of South Africans were pinned on the party's conference.
"People want to see if the conference will revive the ANC or leave it to die. The ANC will never die, it will live... we will revive it," Ramaphosa said.
"We will also cleanse the ANC of all factionalist tendencies, all forms of divisions, all forms of corruption," he said.
Ramaphosa said the conference should get the country back to working and attracting much-needed investment to grow the struggling economy.
He is contesting along with six other candidates – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe, Zweli Mkhize, Mathews Phosa and Baleka Mbete – to replace Zuma.
The nomination process has indicated that the front-runners in the presidential race are Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.