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President hails students' initiative

- By Buhle Zuma

A conversation between two friends about the challenges of rural learners in accessing higher education has received national recognition for positively impacting on youth.

President Jacob Zuma has lauded the work of the Thusanani Foundation founded by Wits students, for its role in enabling youth to access higher education by bridging the information and technology gap between rural learners and their urban counterparts.

Zuma, who was a guest speaker at the launch of the Foundation, said the initiative was exemplary for responding to issues that are at the core of development in South Africa. 

“Our country continues to be confronted by the interrelated challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. 

“Given these challenges, our government continues to set education as an apex priority… and is thus dependent on initiatives such as Thusanani.” To read the President’s address click here.

Thusanani was founded in 2011 by Morris Masutha, at the time the president of the Student Representative Council at Wits, with his friend Ntandokabawo James. Masutha holds a masters degree in economic development and planning and James who is about to embark on his PhD studies holds a masters in engineering. The challenges of rural learners are very familiar to them having come from rural communities themselves.

Their efforts, which started as a two-man initiative, now boasts over 1000 volunteers in five institutions of higher learning across South Africa, reaching out to over 35 000 high school learners in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, Free State and some Gauteng townships.

The Foundation has managed to enrol over 200 students in various institutions of higher learning. In partnership with universities, Further Education and Training Colleges, non-government organisations, government and the private sector, the Foundation aims to reach out and empower over 100 000 rural and township youth by 2017.

The event also served to launch two scholarships named after struggle stalwarts: the Pixley ka Isaka Seme Scholarship Fund and the Johnstone Mfanafuthi Makhatini International Scholarship Fund. Both funds aim to address the scarce skills shortage while the Johnstone Mfanafuthi Makhatini fund will also specifically cultivate skills in the areas of renewable energy, nuclear, gas, maritime and rail engineering.  

Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, said that it was important that members of society partner with government to address the inequality problem in our society.

Wits equity programmes include the Wits Chancellor’s Equity Scholarship, the Targeting Talent programme, the Bale Scholarship programme for young women, the Go to University to Succeed outreach campaign, the Leadership, Education and Development Programme, and the Wits Initiative for Rural Health Education. 

The launch held on Monday, 10 November 2014 was attended by dignitaries from the Department of Higher Education and Training and municipality officials whose districts have benefited from the initiatives of Thusanani. 

Mr Brian Nhleko from the Sisonke District Municipality, recounted the moment when he first met the delegation of Wits.

Nhleko, who had arrived at his office that day dressed in his best suit after being informed that some of the group members held masters qualifications, had second thoughts when he laid eyes on the Witsies. Their dress code was typical of youth culture, low-slung pants and expressive of the generation of the time. The generation gap made him think “we are heading for disaster,” he said. 

However these first impressions did not last. “When they came it was a real turn-around strategy. We now have schools that boast a 100% pass rate because of the help of the Thusanani Foundation. They motivated learners,” said Nhleko.