State capture: Free State DG 'knew nothing about' Magashule's requests for businessmen to fund students
Was Ace Magashule running a one-man show as Free State premier?
That is the question after Free State provincial government director-general Kopung Ralikontsane threw his ex-boss under the bus over a student bursary scheme by that province.
Magashule has previously been implicated at the Zondo commission for having controversially sourced funding for Free State students studying abroad, obtaining the funding from businessmen who scored multimillion-rand tenders from his government.
One such business person was the late Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani, whose company was involved in the allegedly corrupt R255m asbestos contract.
Ralikontsane on Thursday night said he was in the dark over claims that Magashule was hustling service providers to fund state-sponsored students studying abroad. He heard about it only when witnesses revealed this information at the state capture inquiry, he said.
“There was evidence given by Miss Cholota who was PA to the premier then and e-mails which suggested that certain service providers and individuals were asked to provide funding for students. At least some of those businessmen appeared to have been asked to do that after getting some government contracts. Do you know anything about that?” asked commission chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
Ralikontsane retorted: “That part I only heard when evidence was led here. I had absolutely no knowledge of that. I did not know whether this was kept away from me deliberately. That had nothing to do with our bursary programme which I had control of.”
The DG said the only bursary scheme he knew of was the one which was funded by the provincial government from its budget.
This bursary scheme, he testified, was started by the provincial government in 2000, up to 2014, focused solely on students who enrolled in the two universities in the province — Central University of the Free State and University of Free State. Magashule's government expanded its scope in 2014 to include funding students who wished to study abroad.
This process of expanding the scope, testified Ralikontsane, was birthed in three years after Magashule became premier in 2009, but official policy was signed only in 2016.
Despite this, the Free State had started funding students in China and Turkey in 2014, relying only on a resolution by the provincial executive council (Exco).
The inquiry was puzzled by this, but Ralikontsane attempted to explain.
“This issue of providing international bursaries, the discussion started in 2012 with visits to various countries,” he said. “And in 2014 we already had an opportunity to send a few students to Turkey and a few to China which were the countries in which we had already visited universities. After those visits and report received, the Exco resolved we could start with the international bursary programme.”
Ralikontsane added that because the government did not have enough funds to fund everyone, it also relied on a non-profit organisation (NPO) known as Operation Hlasela.
The controversial NPO which was championed by Magashule during his time as premier became “dormant” according to Ralikontsane when he left the provincial government in 2018 to work full-time at Luthuli House.
“It looks like when he [Magashule] was no longer the premier it died, was he the driving force?” Zondo wanted to know.
“Not necessarily,” responded Ralikontsane.