President Jacob Zuma stirred a hornet’s nest with his sudden pronouncement of free higher education for the poor last month, raising fears of chaos at universities now facing a barrage of applications from thousands of hopeful students who have just finished high school.

The South African government will likely have to foot most of the bill for the exercise, adding pressure on a national budget already straining at the seams and possibly pushing its sovereign credit rating further into junk territory.

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