Ed­u­ca­tion close to Free State premier’s heart

Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule is de­voted to giv­ing poor stu­dents a chance to learn – and be­lieves that rich peo­ple must pay to ed­u­cate their chil­dren


IT’S one of the burn­ing is­sues of our time: the call for free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Re­cent protests at cam­puses across the coun­try showed once again that young South Africans want noth­ing more than to learn with­out be­ing bur­dened by debt af­ter­wards. It’s not only the crippling fees that are caus­ing com­plaint. Ac­com­mo­da­tion, study ma­te­ri­als, food, data . . . it all adds up, and many stu­dents 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 just won’t be pos­si­ble in the near fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion, headed by re­tired judge Jonathan He­her.

Ed­u­ca­tion is an is­sue 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 YOU. “It hap­pens in many coun­tries. But it’s based on merit. You can’t al­ways pay for peo­ple who aren’t 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 no one in his prov­ince 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 pas­sion hasn’t gone un­no­ticed. Bahce­se­hir Univer­sity in Is­tan­bul re­cently con­ferred an hon­orary PhD on the premier for his years of ser­vice and ded­i­ca­tion to ed­u­ca­tion.

He’s mod­est about the 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 res­i­dence in Bloem­fontein sur­rounded by never-end­ing views of hills, Ma­gashule (58) can’t stop talk­ing about some 1 100

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

In Jan­uary he’ll 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 are 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 rate of 93,2%.

Ma­gashule 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 the prov­ince to pro­vide many bur­saries, he says. But the pri­vate sec­tor helps too.

“You can’t have 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’s served as premier for nearly 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. But 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. And tak­ing care of stu­dents must be done holis­ti­cally: “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 suc­cess­ful mostly be­cause of dis­ci­pline, he says proudly. They’re taken to mil­i­tary bar­racks and are trained in day camps by mil­i­tary drill masters. “In the bar­racks they’re taught the im­por­tance of mak­ing your bed, clean­li­ness, be­ing on time and re­spect­ing your su­pe­ri­ors.”

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

MA­GASHULE be­lieves in giv­ing stu­dents a chance be­cause he got a help­ing hand to get where he is. His mother worked as a do­mes­tic worker in Sa­sol­burg for a De Vil­liers fam­ily, who helped to pay his high school fees and also gave him money when he was study­ing at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare. The only con­di­tion for be­ing helped was that he pass. Now he’s pay­ing it for­ward.

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

The Free State’s bur­saries aren’t only for science stu­dents. Some are for study­ing hospitality in Por­tu­gal and Madeira, while oth­ers have cov­ered pho­tog­ra­phy stud­ies.

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

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

Re­ports say some within the ANC want him to re­place sec­re­tary gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe af­ter the party’s elec­tive congress in De­cem­ber. He’s also been touted by some fac­tions as a pos­si­ble can­di­date for the deputy pres­i­dent po­si­tion.

“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 so­called 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’d be happy to go back to Parys, where he was born, and per­haps be­come the mayor to help up­lift the stan­dard of liv­ing there, he says.

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

FAR LEFT: Ma­gashule at his of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Bloem­fontein. ABOVE: With Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma at the un­veil­ing of a statue of Nelson Man­dela in Man­gaung. LEFT: The premier bids farewell to a group of stu­dents se­lected to study in Por­tu­gal.GOV.ZA


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