The Man Who Funds Missing-middle Students

Retired corporate executive Sizwe Errol Nxasana can be counted among those who are making sure that the youth are provided with the required resources and opportunities to be excluded from unemployment statistics.

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Gaby Ndongo (5 mins read)

With the official unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2019 lingering at 29%, the expanded definition being 38.5% and the number of youth in need of jobs sitting at 56.4%, prospects of a better country may be diminishing.

To counter this menacing reality, there are some whose daily activities are tailored towards sustainably decreasing such negative numbers through the education of the youth.

The rationale behind such is that one’s qualification potentially increases employment opportunities.

Retired corporate executive Sizwe Errol Nxasana is one of the individuals ensuring that the youth is provided with the required resources and opportunities to be excluded from such statistics.

A hectic schedule

He does so through “extremely scheduled” days that are mappable on a graph.

During weekdays, “My days start at three o’clock in the morning and finishes at ten at night,” says the former CEO of Telkom and First Rand, “at half-past three, I am up [to] check my emails, check what’s happened overnight in the news.

“On weekends, my days start at five [in the morning], maybe work for three hours on Saturdays and four to five hours on Sundays.”

This sleeping pattern stems from a younger age. “It has become worse as I get older, but I have always been an early morning person,” says the 62-year-old who was born in Newcastle, KwaZulu Natal.

“At varsity, other students studied at night, but I always studied in the morning. So, I was done by 9pm and then I can wake up in the morning and work,” Nxasana explained.

Just after 4am he blends a mixture of kale, spinach, raspberries, blueberries, avocados.

“From 4:30am to 5:30am, I sweat either at home – I have a big gym at home. Or I go to Virgin Active depending on how I feel: whether I want to be alone or I want to see other people, or I am pressed for time. If I am pressed for time, ten or five-minutes driving to the gym is too much, so I’ll gym at home,” he says.

Nxasana then pays a visit to the shower at roughly 5:30am. He says at about 6am he departs from his house for any of the Future Nations Schools campuses, Sifiso Nxasana House offices in Illovo, Sandton, or he carries on working at home before he heads off to somewhere else.

“Some days, I go to a neighbourhood restaurant in Illovo, open my laptop and order oats porridge in winter but as it gets warmer, I order spinach, salmon and an egg while I am working and nibbling.”

He finishes such sessions by seven o’clock. From then onwards, his day is made up of teaching, a sizeable number of meetings, reading and responding to emails and reviewing of documents in between. “I do a lot of things at the same time,” says Nxasana.

This relentlessly busy man features in some major industries due to his ownership of companies such as Sifiso Property, Sifiso EdTech, Sifiso Publishers and Future Nation Schools, while chairing the National Education Collaboration Trust and the First Rand Foundation.

A game-changer for missing middle students

One of those “things”, apart from the companies and foundations he is involved in, is the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP),  which he founded.

ISFAP, where Nxasana now spends 40% of his working hours, provides funding for poor and missing middle students studying towards a career in Occupations of Higher Demand (OHD), which have been identified as critical to South Africa’s economic development by the Human Resources Development Council.

The “missing middle” students are from households with a total annual income of R350 000 to R600 000. In total, over 216 000 students fall into the “missing middle” category, says Nxasana in an article published by the programme.

Moreover, they have no access to the R82 billion allocated by government through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for university studies and R20.4 billion for TVET college students over the 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework.

Established and operated as a pilot programme in 2017, ISFAP has received 16,500 applications and granted funding to 1,700 students in 2019, up from 1,300 in 2018.

ISFAP’s funding model is in line with the recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team appointed in 2016 by then Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande.

Nxasana’s role was to chair the team as it investigated the available options of funding for poor (students from households with a combined annual income of no more than R350 000) and missing middle students.

Companies that contribute to funding programmes, such as ISFAP, providing bursaries for black students at tertiary institutions earn four points to their BEE scorecards.

It is a result of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti) revisions to the B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice. Changes were made in Code 300, which deals with Skills Development expenditure.

Through such contribution, businesses are funding their future workforce in a sustainable way as there is a pipeline of professionals for OHD.

These forms of assistance seek to reduce the dropout rate at tertiary institutions and as a result increase the number of graduates and employment chances, he says.

After extensively speaking about dozens of other things, it was just about 39 minutes into the interview. Nxasana gazes at his phone with a genuine urge that becomes noticeable. Then he notifies that there is another meeting to attend at 5pm.

After the meeting, he is likely to come back to the Illovo offices or head back to his house at around 7pm where he will have dinner and start working again from 7:30pm until 10pm.

However, the exact time he goes to rest is not 10pm because this father of two daughters still has to watch a dose of some comedy to calm him down.

“Otherwise, my brain will still be working for much longer,” he says. TOJ

Reporting by Gaby Ndongo. Editing by Kupakwashe Kambasha and Magnificent Mndebele. Feature image sourced from Sifiso Learning Group. Information, paragraph 15: the words “Future Nation Schools” were added to this article on Wednesday, 11th September 2019.

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