New broom sweeps out old order

July 2, 1999

University and technikon leaders regard Kader Asmal, South Africa's new education minister, as one of very few people capable of shaking up the unwieldy post-apartheid education system.

Within 24 hours of his appointment last week, the former Trinity College Dublin law lecturer ordered his director-general and four deputies to report direct to him, asked for a report within two weeks on the state of education, for a list of education priorities and a standard of "hard work".

Within 48 hours the director-general Chabani Manganyi, widely viewed as ineffective, announced he was leaving.

Mr Asmal is an erudite master publicist who, new president Thabo Mbeki hopes, will be able to sell the ruling African National Congress's school and tertiary education plans to the public in a way that his retired predecessor, Sibusiso Bengu, was unable to do.

The new minister promised that his priorities were faster delivery, transformation and, where possible, greater intervention in provincial education. He will spend a month listening to the ideas of all interest groups - including universities, unions, opposition and political parties.

Piyushi Kotecha, chief executive officer of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association, was "delighted" at the appointment. The association expected "visionary leadership" from Mr Asmal, who has both long higher education experience and the ability to develop policy and make it work, she said.

Bennie Khoapa, chair of the Committee of Technikon Principles, said: "We believe he will fully understand the issues in higher education." Issues include the need to build unity, to clarify the role of private higher education and financial equity between universities and technikons.

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