Top matrics rewarded by Mbeki

”I thought the president was a bit taller,” one of the 18 recipients of a university scholarship from President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

This was Akwaowo Akpabio’s only disappointment on a day where he not only had a chance to rub shoulders with the president, but also received a laptop and a full scholarship covering the cost of his tuition, books and accommodation for the year.

Mbeki met the scholarship recipients at the presidential guest house in Pretoria.

”When I was in matric, I had no distinctions, so I don’t know what that means,” he joked as he walked around the sitting room, shaking hands with each of the recipients.

The scholarships, granted through the newly established Thabo Mbeki Matric Merit Award Programme, recognise pupils who achieved academic excellence in their matric exams.

Administered by the Thabo Mbeki Education Trust (TMET), the programme selects two of the most outstanding matric learners from each province.

”You are an inspiration to us all,” Mbeki told the students and wished them good luck with their first year of university.

Akpabio said: ”I don’t think there is pressure on the group except that we should maintain the standards that got us the scholarships in the first place.”

He obtained five distinctions in last year’s matric exams and has already started studying medicine at the University of Pretoria.

”Tukkies has a good history and high standards,” he said.

His fellow recipients will study for degrees including finance, law, physiotherapy, engineering and theology.

Rethe Maree has enrolled for accountancy at the University of Stellenbosch.

”It was a special moment to meet the president today; I wanted to look him in the eyes, and see if he would see me,” she said.

A relaxed Mbeki told a story from his student years in Britain where a professor told them to take their books along when they go skiing in the Alps.

”We never had time to go skiing, I hope you will have time,” Mbeki said.

With seven distinctions last year, Maree was not worried about letting down the president.

”I’m actually very calm about it and look forward to the next year. I’m not feeling any pressure,” Maree said.

TMET chairperson Hasmukh Gajjar said: ”The combined value of the scholarships over the duration of the 18 learners’ studies will be approximately R4-million.”

As a condition of the scholarship, learners are required to become TMET ambassadors, communicating their achievements and successes in order to encourage future matrics to strive for academic excellence.

Mbeki posed for a picture with the group before sending them off to go study.

The TMET was created to provide financial support for the tertiary education of students in the fields of technology and economics. It has expanded to incorporate additional initiatives and has supported more than 250 students through its scholarship programmes to date. — Sapa

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