Popular Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says he is ready to serve anywhere the ANC or the South African public want him to.
This follows a sudden change of heart by Gauteng premier David Makhura, who returned him to education after initially appointing him as finance and e-government MEC.
The news elicited an outcry from the public, who felt he still had unfinished business in education.
“I am a servant of the people. Wherever there is pain and people want me to eliminate the pain, I will go,” said Lesufi, who is also the ANC’s Gauteng deputy chairperson.
When asked about the public wrangling about where he should go, he bursts out laughing, saying he has been quizzed about the absurdity of a politician being popular when the public generally hates politicians.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule joined many South Africans in welcoming Lesufi’s redeployment, but cautioned the MEC to diversify his portfolio.
“We welcome Lesufi’s return as MEC for education,” said Magashule, who was quick to add that within the ANC there was nobody who held a monopoly on any position.
“In the ANC members are all-rounders. Nobody holds a monopoly over education. The ANC deploys its members wherever it sees fit,” said Magashule.
He added that he himself had held various MEC roles before he became premier of the Free State and later, the party’s secretary-general.
“I was the MEC for agriculture, then for police, and roads and transport, as well as MEC for human settlements. In total, I was MEC for six departments before becoming a premier,” said Magashule.
The secretary-general was addressing the media during a Congress of SA Students press briefing, on the sidelines of the ANC’s national executive committee, held in Pretoria.
However, not everyone is happy to see Lesufi regain control over the education portfolio in Gauteng.
Trade union Solidarity and lobby group AfriForum have expressed their displeasure over Lesufi’s reinstatement.
Solidarity characterised Lesufi’s term of office as education MEC in Gauteng from 2014 as having been clouded in controversy.
“This term in office has been controversial and characterised by hostile statements against Afrikaans, among other things, rather than by actual successes in the province,” said Francois Redelinghuys, communications manager of Solidarity.
He added: “Lesufi’s record as MEC is nothing to get excited about. In the first two years of his first term of office, the percentage of learners in the province who passed mathematics in matric dropped from 74% in 2014 to 69% in 2016. During the same period, the number of learners who passed physical science dropped from 76% to 69%.”
Lesufi, however, took to social media platform Twitter to thank South Africans whose cries had led to Makhura’s about-turn.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga also weighed in on the debate, saying his initial removal from education was a big mistake.
“I am very open and honest about it,” Motshekga told News24.
“I know that the premier has his choice, but I think it was a big mistake. He shouldn’t have removed Lesufi at this stage; he should have allowed him to do a second term and consolidate the things that he started. I just thought it was a bad move.”
Mentioning Gauteng and the Western Cape as the frontrunners in education, Motshekga said that with Lesufi at the helm, Gauteng had proved to be a trailblazer in many projects, including the rollout of information and communication technology (ICT) at schools.
“He has been a trailblazer with regard to many things,” added Motshekga. “For instance, when it comes to ICTs, we are going to piggyback on Gauteng and the Western Cape. They will be our anchors when we roll out ICTs to the other provinces.”
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