Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule on making higher ed­u­ca­tion free for de­serv­ing learn­ers in his prov­ince

Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule is in­cred­i­bly proud of the op­por­tu­ni­ties his prov­ince is giv­ing wor­thy stu­dents – and he says it’s all about pay­ing it for­ward

DRUM - - Contents - BY KAIZER NGWENYA PIC­TURES: MARTIN DE KOCK

IT’S one of the burn­ing is­sues of our time: the call for free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Re­cent protests at cam­puses across the coun­try proved once again young South Africans want nothing more than to learn with­out be­ing bur­dened by debt af­ter­wards. And it’s not only the crip­pling fees that are caus­ing com­plaint. Ac­com­mo­da­tion, study ma­te­ri­als, food, data . . . ev­ery­thing adds up, so many stu­dents sim­ply can’t af­ford to pay. The re­cently leaked He­her Com­mis­sion’s report into free ed­u­ca­tion isn’t do­ing much to calm frayed tem­pers. Free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion will just not be pos­si­ble in the near fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to rec­om­men­da­tions from the com­mis­sion, headed by re­tired judge Jonathan He­her.

This is­sue of ed­u­ca­tion is some­thing that’s close to the heart of Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule. The man seen as a staunch Zuma loy­al­ist isn’t against free ed­u­ca­tion for those who can’t af­ford it.

“The gov­ern­ment must take care of the poor,” he tells DRUM. “It hap­pens in many coun­tries. But it’s based on merit. You can’t al­ways pay for peo­ple who are not per­form­ing.”

The rich must pay for the ed­u­ca­tion of their chil­dren, he be­lieves. “As a premier I must pay for the ed­u­ca­tion of my chil­dren be­cause I earn more than R2 mil­lion a year,” he says.

Ma­gashule is do­ing his bit to en­sure, in his prov­ince, no one is left be­hind. He could be dead tired from back-to-back cer­e­monies and events but get him started on the sub­ject and he comes alive.

His ded­i­ca­tion hasn’t gone un­no­ticed. The premier was re­cently con­ferred with an hon­orary PhD by Bahce­se­hir Univer­sity in Is­tan­bul for his years of ser­vice and ded­i­ca­tion to ed­u­ca­tion.

He’s mod­est about his achieve­ment. “It isn’t for me as an in­di­vid­ual, it’s rather an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the good work done by all of us who con­tinue to serve our peo­ple with ut­most hu­mil­ity.”

TO­DAY, sit­ting in his Cape Dutch- style man­sion in Bloem­fontein sur­rounded by never-end­ing views of hills, Ma­gashule ( 58) can’t stop talk­ing about the more than

1 100 stu­dents the prov­ince has sent to study abroad in Rus­sia, In­dia, Cuba, Por­tu­gal, Tur­key and Ger­many.

In Jan­uary they’ll will send 128 more to Brazil, six to Canada and five to Wash­ing­ton DC to study to­wards their PhDs. The bur­saries in­clude ac­com­mo­da­tion and food, and cover all the stu­dents’ needs.

The prov­ince spends the bulk of its bud­get on ed­u­ca­tion. It’s the top pri­or­ity, Ma­gashule tells us. The re­sults of that spend­ing were clear: the Free State pro­duced the high­est num­ber of pupils who passed their ma­tric ex­ams last year. The largely ru­ral prov­ince also achieved the coun­try’s best re­sult with an over­all pass mark of 93,2%.

He al­lo­cated R38,7 bil­lion over the 2016 medium-term ex­pen­di­ture frame­work to ed­u­ca­tion. Of this, R12 bil­lion was for the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year, about R13 bil­lion for 2017/18 and R13,7 bil­lion for 2018/19.

This makes it pos­si­ble for them to give many bur­saries, he says. But they also get help from the pri­vate sec­tor. “You can’t have a rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion if you don’t have good ed­u­ca­tion,” Ma­gashule be­lieves. “We have 1 103 stu­dents study­ing over­seas. We have sent more stu­dents abroad than any other prov­ince in the coun­try.

Ma­gashule, who has served for nine years, has big plans for his prov­ince – even with only one year left in his term. These range from open­ing an IT academy in the Free State to send­ing young women to work with sci­en­tists in Bul­garia to re­search a vac­cine for HIV.

“We’re send­ing them to Bul­garia for a year to do re­search there be­cause that coun­try is very ad­vanced when it comes to find­ing a vac­cine for HIV.”

He has two grown sons, Thato and Tshep­iso, re­ported to be work­ing for the con­tro­ver­sial Gupta fam­ily. He doesn’t talk much about his fam­ily and is more in­ter­ested in talk­ing about his suc­cess sto­ries with the bur­sary schemes.

Ma­gashule says the Free State ed­u­ca­tion bur­sary is open to all youth, ir­re­spec­tive of race. Tak­ing care of stu­dents must be done holis­ti­cally, he be­lieves. “You can give a bur­sary to a child but if he or she doesn’t have a place to stay then you’re not solv­ing the prob­lem.”

His stu­dents are mostly suc­cess­ful be­cause of dis­ci­pline, he says proudly. They’re taken to mil­i­tary bar­racks and are trained in day camps by mil­i­tary drill in­struc­tors. “In the mil­i­tary bar­racks they’re taught it’s im­por­tant to make up your bed, clean­li­ness, be on time and to re­spect your su­pe­ri­ors.”

And all this trans­lates to good re­sults, and bet­ter re­sources for his prov­ince, he says. The Free State will be a great, vi­brant place to live in by 2020, he be­lieves – if they keep up this pace of de­vel­op­ment.

HE BE­LIEVES in giv­ing stu­dents a chance be­cause he him­self got a help­ing hand to get where he is, Ma­gashule says. His mother worked as a do­mes­tic worker in Sa­sol­burg for the De Vil­liers fam­ily, who helped pay for his high school fees and gave him money when he was study­ing at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare. The only con­di­tion for be­ing helped, he says, was that he pass.

Now he’s pay­ing it for­ward. He’s al­ways fas­ci­nated by coun­tries that do won­der­ful things for their cit­i­zens, he says, and tries to do the same in his prov­ince.

Their bur­saries aren’t in­clined only to­wards the sciences, though. Some of the learn­ers are given bur­saries to study hos­pi­tal­ity in Por­tu­gal and Madeira, while oth­ers have stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy.

“When they come back they’ll be able to open their own cater­ing com­pa­nies or get em­ploy­ment in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try,” he says.

He could go on and on about his stu­dents, he says. But enough about them for now – what is next for him when his term fin­ishes?

There are re­ports some within the ANC want him to re­place sec­re­tary gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe af­ter the party’s elec­tive congress in De­cem­ber. His name has also been touted as a pos­si­bil­ity for the deputy pres­i­dent po­si­tion by cer­tain fac­tions. “I don’t want to be sec­re­tary gen­eral,” he says firmly. “In 2012 I was nom­i­nated for the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee and I de­clined. I’m not am­bi­tious.”

And this has nothing to do with the re­ported wan­ing of power of the so-called premier league, which Ma­gashule is said to be a part of. The premier league is a me­dia cre­ation, he says, and there’ll be all kinds of sto­ries. But not be­ing am­bi­tious doesn’t mean he’ll be step­ping out of the spot­light al­to­gether.

He would be happy to go back to Parys, where he was born, and per­haps be­come a mayor to help up­lift the stan­dard of liv­ing there, he says.

But, he adds, it’s pol­i­tics and any­thing can hap­pen.

FAR LEFT: Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule at his res­i­dence in Bloem­fontein. ABOVE: He’s said to be a firm sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. LEFT: Ace says he’s mo­ti­vated by spend­ing time with young peo­ple and hear­ing how they want to im­prove their lives.

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