“If a nation wants to educate its children, then it must make decisions and prioritise what is important,” he told students at the University of the Witwatersrand on Friday.
He questioned if a deal for nuclear power stations was more important.
“Is it more important that we should spend R30bn to R50bn on corruption, instead of providing for free education?” he asked.
Mpofu was speaking to students in a tent which had been erected to hold a general assembly on Friday morning. The assembly was cancelled around 09:00, before it started, as students and management had failed to agree on certain matters.
On Tuesday, Mpofu, Wits alumni, and some academics joined the students’ call for free, decolonized tertiary education. Mpofu and students dodged police rubber bullets, stun grenades, and choked on teargas during a protest march on campus. Several people were injured.
This was after students refused to allow the academic programme to resume without their demands being discussed first.
Shortly after the protest, Mpofu and others volunteered to mediate between the Fees Must Fall protesters and the university’s executive management.
They agreed that a general assembly would be held on Friday, for students and the university to try and reach agreement on access to tertiary education.
Mpofu told students on Friday that he and other members of the mediation team were surprised to hear the general assembly had been called off.
“This morning we were very disappointed. But your presence here shows that we were on the right track,” he said.
He said students’ calls for free higher education were legitimate, and in an unequal society like South Africa, it was of the utmost importance that youth be educated.
“There can never be anything more important in South Africa than the provision of free education.”
Mpofu said he and others were still willing to help students.
“We are not going to leave you alone to the dogs of war, to people who put bullets in you. The struggle continues,” he said.