By  Sydney Masinga

Ermelo – Plans are underway to ensure that the R10.3 billion Mpumalanga University opens its doors next year.

During a special Mpumalanga cabinet meeting in Ermelo on Wednesday afternoon, Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande gave the provincial government the red light to perform a sod-turning ceremony for the university, which will be built in Mbombela near the current Lowveld College of Agriculture.

“We want to move further now and put the shovel in the ground. We are excited about the support and the understanding we have received from the Mpumalanga executive council. All we need now is to assist Mbombela municipality to revise its integrated development plan and include the building of the university,” the minister said.

Nzimande added that both the Mbombela municipality and the provincial government should work towards the upgrading of the roads that link the city centre with the university and ensure that there is provision of water and electricity for the university.

“Again, the municipality and the provincial government should also assist with necessary legislative processes such as the gazetting of the university,” said Nzimande. “Lastly, there should be an establishment of technical and political committees to ensure proper progress with regards to the establishment of the university.”

Premier David Mabuza’s spokesperson Zibonele Mncwango said the sod-turning ceremony will take place in September.

He said that while the new university is under construction, the first pool of students who will start their lessons in 2014 will be accommodated at the Agriculture College and the Siyabuswa College (formerly KwaNdebele College of Education).

According to Mncwango, the government will spend R10.3 billion over a period of 10 years to ensure that the university, which is expected to accommodate 15 000 students, is fully functional by 2024.

“The main campus will be in Mbombela on approximately 480 square metres of land adjacent the Lowveld College of Agriculture. The university is envisaged by then to have established satellite campuses consistent with the socio-economic strength of Nkangala and Gert Sibande districts,” said Mncwango.

He said the university will offer qualifications from certificates up to doctorates.

Mabuza officially handed over the land by signing a record of intent with the minister.

“This is going to be a massive project, and the people of this province cannot afford to wait any longer. I therefore offer to sign the letter of intent that should be able to allow processes to release the land in order for all planning activities to be expedited,” said Mabuza.

The premier also appointed three MECs to form part of the political committee that Nzimande requested. The MECs include Education MEC Reginah Mhaule, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Simon Sikhosana and Roads, Transport and Public Works MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu.

“This is one of the best developments that must happen in our lifetime; we are committing to help the minister and his department to work,” said Mabuza. 

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