How changed schools change lives
Published by Adopt-a-School Foundation Stories written by: Howard Drakes Photography: Bram Lammers Edited by: Cassandra Pireu, Chantelle Oosthuizen, Nicola Brown, Steyn Speed, Willem Steenkamp Design and Illustrations: Elmarie Nel and Janet Berger – Flow Communications Printing sponsored by Caxton Printers Copyright © 2016 Adopt-aSchool Foundation Adopt-a-School Foundation 85 Grayston Drive, Sandton www.adoptaschool.org.za All images and stories are published with the consent of the people involved.
How changed schools change lives
torytelling is an invisible thread that connects all languages, cultures, climates and geographies. It is a universal key that opens unique windows into infinite worlds. Stories allow us to be anywhere, anytime, become anyone and anything, to live and experience beyond the limitations of our physical bodies. Every story is the custodian of a message meant to invite, suggest, guide, enlighten, educate, and even caution. More importantly, it holds up a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected. For many years, we have travelled to opposite ends of this beautifully complex country in search of stories. In the light and dark, the cracks or out in the open, we encountered them. All that was required was a genuine curiosity, a necessary humility, and a real willingness to listen. In every story told we heard the rainbow dreaming. South Africa, it would seem, is as much at home in the light as the dark. But this is a quality that makes it a place so special, even while it sometimes scares. Such a book is a celebration of extraordinary stories as told by seemingly ordinary people, people who are representatives of the country’s public schools but whose voices we seldom hear. Without them, their willingness to share their stories, this would not be possible. All were strangers to us on arrival, some were like family at our departure. Being welcomed into homes, invited to share in the rituals of daily life, family, friendship, and food, as well as tears, the pain of experience, difficult histories, troubled presents, and uncertain futures, was a gift. It was a deeply human experience. Though it is impossible for us to repay this profound generosity and kindness, hopefully the sharing of these remarkable lives will do some justice to the experience. This book is also an important contribution by Adopt-a-School Foundation to the national narrative around the state of public education in South Africa. While the stories are personal, specific,
‘It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling’ – Khalil Gibran
they also have a lot to teach us about bigger realities. What is particularly exciting is the presence of so many young people’s voices here. In the societal discourse and national debates around education, we hear very little from the young people who are every school’s purpose. While these stories should give us cause to celebrate, they should also be read as a cautionary. There is much work still to be done. Perhaps, then, this book is also an invitation. To address the challenges of education today, the ones that will shape the South Africa of tomorrow, will require unity of purpose. What is needed is collaboration, investment, commitment over the longer term, as well as bravery to wade out into rough waters. Success or failure in education will be a legacy in which we all have an equal share. South Africa is not short of problems, but it is a nation that has also shown the potential to repeatedly overcome great difficulties. As these stories show, the willingness is certainly there. For us, this book stands as a testament to the humanity, both unique and universal, that has always been so elusive in South Africa, a country where it has been repeatedly been denied, abused and legislated away. From the land that birthed the policy of separateness, these stories are a call to connect, share, learn and understand. “A sentence, or a story, is a kind of path,” writes essayist and activist Rebecca Solnit. So walk a while with the characters of this book. Take a good look into their lives. You may be surprised by what their stories have to show you. You might even find some of your own narrative reflected here.
Howard Drakes and Bram Lammers
Contents 03 •
01 Foreword 01
Chairperson, Adopt-a-School Foundation
Olifantsvlei Primary School
03 Chapter 1 About Adopt-a-School Foundation Steven Lebere, Executive director Donné Nicol, CEO of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation Sydney Seolonyane Founding Board member
15 Chapter 2
15 19 23 27 31 35 39 42
• • • • • • • •
Olifantsvlei Primary School Madumi Freddy Maphula Thenjiwe Ntebe Catherine Diamond Doris Lebere Shaun Makwala Griffith Zabala, Founding Board member Abram Sekgobela, Project manager
45 Chapter 3 45 • 49 53 59 63 65 69 75 78
• • • • • • • •
Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School Thembi Diamond Ella Matlejoane Victor Sithebe Ntombifuthi Mhlongo Kwanele Dladla Koketso Baloyi Bakang Enele, Programme manager Banyana Mohajane, Head of social and skills development
Moses Maren Mission
81 Chapter 4 81 • 85 89 93 97 101
• • • • •
Vukubone Secondary School Busisiwe Ndlangamandla Chodwell Noah Verenga Fana Moses Mhlanga Mandla Nelson Yende Helena Dolny, Founding Board member Paul Ramusetheli, Head of infrastructure development
107 Chapter 5 Vukubone Secondary School
Modilati Secondary School
145 Chapter 6
The Morifi schools
145 151 155 157 159 163 167 171
• • • • • • • •
107 113 117 122 125 129 133 139
• • • • • • • •
The Morifi schools AME – Limakatso Francina Nketsi AME – Paulina Mathabiso Luka AME – Learners LEC – Lebohang Ephraim Lesia LEC – Mabasia Lefotho St Thomas – Makabelo Memane St Thomas – Marets’elisitoe Moiloa 175 •
179 183 185 191 195 199 201
• • • • • • •
Modilati Secondary School Edith Mapula Modiba Lebogang Delight Phosa Moses Hololo Mpho Maswanganyi Ofentse Mjojeli Sonnyboy Mosana Mpofu Ntjantja Ned, Founding Board member James Motlatsi, Founding Board member
175 Chapter 7 Ingweniphaphama Primary School Induna Alzina Ndima Learners Moses Mahlangu Busisiwe Buthelezi Nombulelo Dlomo Baba Voice Zulu Sibusiso Buthelezi
Ingwenipaphama Primary School
Adopt-a-School Foundation •
Staff and Board members
Chairperson, Adopt-a-School Foundation
here are different ways to tell the story of a school. We can measure it: by pass rates, learner-teacher ratios, classrooms built, workbooks delivered and meals served. We can aggregate it: by analysing expenditure patterns, retention rates and matric results across the country we can form a picture of the average African school. This book takes another approach. It tells the story of our schools through the eyes and voices of the people who inhabit them. In doing so, it provides deep-dive insights into our education system and into our society. This book tells the tale more vividly than any research report could of the devastating effects of Bantu Education. It tells of neglect and despair, of wasted opportunities and stunted lives. It reveals a society in which poverty and inequality continue to define the circumstances of millions of school children two decades after the advent of democracy. Some of the personal accounts that emerge from this book are unsettling, even harrowing. And yet, this is a book of hope. It is a book about courage and fortitude; about commitment, determination and accomplishment. It shows how the human spirit can prevail under even the most appalling conditions. It bears testimony of the dedication of principals and teachers, and of the daily struggles of learners to better their lives and improve the condition of their families. What emerges is a patchwork of insights, experiences, ideas and scenes that is as diverse, rich and colourful as the nation it illuminates. A central theme running through all these stories is the value of collaboration. Few, if any, of the achievements recorded in these pages could have been
achieved through isolated effort. Those who have succeeded have done so because they have collaborated with others – whether it is the community contributing materials to rebuild a school, the delinquent learner inspired by a teacher to excel, or the principal searching for university bursaries for outstanding matriculants. The momentous undertaking to improve the
This book tells the tale, more vividly than any research report could, of the devastating effects of Bantu Education ... And yet, this is a book of hope. It is a book about courage and fortitude; about commitment, determination and accomplishment prospects for South Africa’s school children will not be achieved without meaningful and durable partnerships. A number of schools profiled here have already benefited from working with companies, organisations and individuals dedicated to a better education for all. Their experiences should motivate others to get involved in improving the state of our schools in need. It should inspire all South Africans with skills, resources and capabilities to help. What these stories demonstrate is that – as individuals, as communities, as a society – we can do much more with what we have. Together, these portraits tell the story of the African school; where it has come from, what it is, and – with effort, collaboration and commitment – what it will surely become. Page 2
About Adopt-a-School Foundation
dopt-a-School Foundation was born from a passion and a desire to be a positive force in changing the future of education in South Africa. From humble beginnings the Foundation has grown exponentially. With hundreds of schools spanning the entire country, we are able to make a sustainable difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of learners, their families and their communities. While we have grown both our reach and our scope, our vision remains steadfast. Through our Whole School Development model we aim to address the academic, infrastructural, social and security environment in our schools, to ensure that they are conducive to teaching and learning. When Adopt-a-School first formed, we focused on developing and building school facilities such as classrooms, administration buildings, laboratories, computer centres and sports fields. However, infrastructure alone does not solve the challenges faced in providing quality education. While infrastructure remains a crucial component in our model, we are now equally as involved in developing teachersâ€™ skills, effective leadership and management systems, curriculum structures, improving learner wellbeing, and the safety of the school and its learners. Through this holistic approach we are able to address most obstacles that stand in the way of providing quality education. Our schools may start out as some of the least resourced and most disadvantaged in the country, but as long as there is a passion, and a commitment to education, we are able to bridge many of these gaps. We have had the opportunity to work with exceptional school leaders, teachers and communities. We have witnessed their unwavering dedication to their schools, learners and the future of this country. This dedication assists us in developing projects that are sustainable and meaningful. We work closely with various government departments, corporate sponsors and NGOs to provide schools with the specific assistance that they need. Adopt-a-School has made impressive strides over the years, and we continuously strive to improve our operations and our impact. We are driven by our passion to provide all children with the opportunity to access quality education, regardless of the socio-economic conditions into which they are born.
‘A nation's history may be written in books, but a nation's future is written on the chalkboards of its schools’ – Cyril Ramaphosa
“The school I went to was the kind that no parent would want to send their child.” Steven Lebere smiles while remembering his decision in 1986 to attend Tshireletso High School in Galeshewe, near Kimberley. “It was the most dysfunctional school in the area. I went even against the will of my mother because I followed my friends. She was very upset that I would choose such a school.” But the single mother of three supported her youngest, even though his choice was based on peer influence rather than a belief in what was best for his future. What kept Lebere focused was the influence of home. “My mom was quite strict,” he explains. “There were a lot of rules about when you had to be home, doing your homework after school and so on. So that type of discipline kept us away from a lot of those negative things where people lose focus … She was very involved in our schooling. She monitored our results and would deal with us if we were not doing well; she would also reward good performance. As a result, my siblings and I did well at school.” Despite the class of 1991 only achieving a pass rate of 28%, Lebere was one of 20 learners whose results qualified them for tertiary education. When the young matriculant told his family he intended to study to become a teacher, both his mother and older brother were upset. Instead, Lebere’s older brother helped him apply for electrical engineering at both Peninsula and Port Elizabeth Technikons. The most immediate concern was finance. The ever-resourceful matriarch said that she could afford registration fees. They would make a plan later. As if guided by providence, Lebere accompanied a friend to the offices of the Education Aid Programme, an organisation that was giving bursaries to disadvantaged learners, where the friend was enquiring about a bursary application. Standing at the counter, Lebere was asked what he was doing there. Without
thinking, he replied that he also wanted to know the status of his application. But there was no file, so the clerk asked him some questions and then told him to complete a new form. “So that is how I went to technikon,” he says, laughing, “and that is where things started changing.”
A key turning point in the journey of Adopt-a-School was the realisation that the soul of a school is not in its buildings, but in its people
Port Elizabeth was worlds apart from Galeshewe in terms of size, climate, language and culture. At the time the manufacturing industry was desperate to make up a shortfall in industrial engineers. Seeing the demand, Lebere decided to pursue this line of study. The course was challenging, not just in content but also because Lebere was encountering things such as computers and technical drawing for the first time. More than anything, however, financial constraints meant a split focus between education and basic needs. In his second year, Lebere was supposed to start his in-service training as part of his course requirements. He did not know where to apply and filled in a form before going home during a semester break. A company saw his application and was interested in interviewing him, but was unable to reach him. Luckily the company was patient and, more than this, impressed by him. It offered him a job. It would pay his fees, give him a salary with medical aid and pension benefits, and would guarantee him a position after graduating. Lebere then spent the next eight years gaining invaluable experience in the private sector, working predominantly at Volkswagen South Africa. Eventually, however, he became bored. Technically, the work was repetitive: same process, different problem. He decided it was time for a change. In 2005 Lebere was offered the post of executive director at Adopt-a-School.
He took over from the then director, Donné Nicol, who now heads up the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation. The foundation was in its infancy, and Lebere relished the initial challenge of using his skills to develop systems and processes. “This was the environment that I was looking for,” he says. “There were a lot of challenges, so there was a lot of room to learn and grow. I started seeing my potential while being pushed to the limit … We didn’t really know what we were doing, so part of the challenge was developing systems, looking at what others were doing, so that we could develop and grow.” At the time Adopt-a-School was focused purely on infrastructure development, and so the engineer’s eye for problem solving and efficiency were much needed. Operationally, Lebere made an impact, but as the Foundation grew it became clear that in a people-centred environment, he needed to work on his leadership and management abilities. So in parallel to growing the work of Adopt-a-School externally, Lebere also underwent a personal journey, attending courses in people management, strategic planning and governance with UNISA, leading sustainability for NGOs with Tsiba Education, and leadership development coaching and mentoring. “When I went to the coaching sessions it opened my eyes, it gave me an understanding of personalities, and so I started a process of reflecting on different team members and how to approach people differently. The other thing was listening, creating space for other people’s inputs. And, lastly, it was appreciating people for the work they do.” A key turning point in the journey of Adopt-a-School was the realisation that the soul of a school is not in its buildings, but in its people. Developing infrastructure is relatively easy given the right ingredients, but building people is a process. This understanding represented an evolution in the Foundation’s thinking. As its insight into this complexity has developed, so has its response as well as its competencies as an organisation, and mistakes have very much been a part of this development. As the leader, Lebere’s personal transformation was necessary as part of his understanding of the bigger picture, the complexity of developing people, internal and external, and balancing the sometimes conflicting needs and expectations of the different stakeholders. Few outside the Foundation understand this reality and the associated challenges. This awareness is also at the root of another of Lebere’s difficulties. Schools are generally judged on their results, not by the challenges of their particular
context. This fact is of greater concern for Lebere as it often means the response of the role-players in the education sector is reactive, rather than proactive. Poor matric results one year can mean greater focus on Grade 12 learners the next year. For Lebere this is worrying, because it misses the bigger picture. By the time a learner reaches Grade 12 the chances of interventions having a meaningful impact are limited. To focus on Grade 10 even, he says, is too late. To see real change in matric results means starting at Grade 8 and earlier. It requires lengthening the term of investment and reducing expectations of an immediate return. Only time, a longer-term plan and consistency are likely to produce a significant result. The problem is that between government and private-sector donors, this represents a challenge to the return-on-investment thinking. “Early Childhood Development (ECD) is still an area where we are doing badly as a country,” he says. “We focus too much on matriculants, so not enough resources are being directed here. I was reading a survey done across 100 big corporates in South Africa, where 70% are spending on Grade 12 and from this, 80% is spent on maths and science. Very few companies are spending on ECD. This is a mindset we need to change, and more energy and resources need to be prioritised on developing children in their early years.” Instead, the proactive approach might be two-pronged, where equal attention is given to both Grade 12 and ECD. By going back to the start, the investment will take 12 years to mature, but then return has the potential to be much bigger. This longer view would also mean more time for intervention, evaluation, reflection, redesign and the chance to try again. Alternatively, the current, high-pressure approach continues, and every mistake made is costly. Sitting in Adopt-a-School's offices, Lebere has another admission. When he started in his current role he regarded it as just another job. The soft-spoken engineer becomes resolute, confident, when relating the challenges of making meaningful, long-term change in education. Despite the pressures of his role, pressures that can sometimes overwhelm, he says that he struggles to be away from work. And so Lebere, who once dreamt of teaching while still a learner in a dysfunctional school, now spends his waking hours looking at ways to engineer systems and processes that will create efficiency in every classroom.
As the leader, Lebere’s personal transformation was necessary as part of his understanding of the bigger picture, the complexity of developing people, internal and external, and balancing the sometimes conflicting needs and expectations of the different stakeholders
CEO of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation
he van grinds to a halt. Policemen peel out and fall upon a man without warning. Their beating is merciless. He tries to raise his arms, plead, in defence, but a part of him has already resigned itself to the inevitable. Numerous bystanders in the street look on. Shock grips them, then horror. The brutality. It just feels so wrong, but this is normal in this divided country. Donné Nicol’s body is frozen with terror. Why is no one saying anything? Why is no one helping? She can taste the disgust. Though only 16, everything in her knows this shouldn’t be. Fear burns white-hot. She mustn’t. But something roars from deep in her core, compelling her to act. Unable to stop herself, she crosses the road and intervenes. It is East London, 1986. South Africa is in the grip of a countrywide state of emergency. On this street in a country crying for change, there is a small shift. Conscious or not, the seed of a lesson is planted. In order to create change, one has to become involved. Change never starts from the sidelines; it happens on the field of play. Five years later and Nicol’s young life has taken a number of interesting twists and turns, some by mistake. The 21-year-old activist is sitting in her first ANC Alliance meeting of regional secretaries as the deputy secretary of Border. Around the table are people many years her senior, people whose voices and actions are shaping the country. Chris Hani has just presented on behalf of the South African Communist Party and now Jay Naidoo is speaking for the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Next is ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa’s turn. “Donné will present for the ANC.” The people in the room can barely hear the first page of her report, such is the trembling in her voice. It is not the last time Ramaphosa will throw her in the deep end; it will become his modus operandi during their many years working together, after Nicol becomes his personal assistant two years later. “I am not sure I am that brave any more!” Sitting in a boardroom on the fifth floor of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation offices, she laughs while recalling this past. Her round, open face radiates with each smile, each memory. “What I loved about being involved in starting a foundation 14 years ago,” she
says of the early days of Adopt-a-School Foundation, “was that feeling. An activist sees something that is wrong and wants to change it. Now, though, I think I am a more realistic activist.” Nicol has come full circle. The activist found herself in the world of formal politics in the run-up to the 1994 elections, then business with the establishment of the Shanduka Group, before she eventually returned to activism in 1998 when the idea of Adopt-a-School was born. She was the executive director of the Shanduka Foundation – established to contribute to improving education and entrepreneurial development – for 11 years.
‘The biggest lesson I learnt from this is that it is easier to break things down than it is to build’
In December 2015 the Shanduka Foundation changed its name to the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation after the Shanduka Group merged with Pembani, another black-owned company. No longer associated with the new company, the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation became an independent developmental organisation, with Nicol as its CEO. The youngest of five children, Nicol was born into a close-knit East London family. Her parents supported the Progressive Federal Party, the party of Helen Suzman, and were involved in helping with election campaigns. The youngest always questioned the status quo and even challenged it. Nicol did her entire schooling at Clarendon School for Girls. It was a great school, she remembers, even though there were times she disagreed with certain things. “It was still during apartheid so there were some elements of it that were difficult. I was thrown out of Religious Instruction for being the devil in the class, for asking the teacher how she could reconcile her hatred for black people with Christianity!” Nicol matriculated aged 17. She had always dreamt of writing and intended to study journalism at Rhodes University, but instead she found herself in
Johannesburg, where she registered for a diploma in journalism and public relations. In December 1988 she returned home and was offered a half-day administration job in the PFP offices. Six months later she ran her first election campaign. The candidate at the time was in his 60s, and could not believe her age when she celebrated her 19th birthday before the elections. East London was a hotbed of anti-apartheid activity in the late 1980s. The PFP, and its youth in particular, worked closely with the United Democratic Front (UDF), End Conscription Campaign and the East London Action Forum (EAF). Nicol remembers a telephonic invitation to a meeting of the EAF. She attended reluctantly, leaving the meeting as the elected secretary. “I suppose that night, quite unintentionally, was life-changing,” she says. “It took me away from party politics and pushed me into activism.” From here her involvement with UDF structures, and organisations such as the Black Sash, began to expose her to broader networks of resistance in the region. She talks about this as a transition period, perhaps buoyed by a growing sense of solidarity, where she became fierce in her efforts. In 1990 the PFP underwent a number of changes, coinciding with the unbanning of political parties. Nicol became dissatisfied and resigned. When she saw an advertisement for a regional administrator for the Border ANC office, she was tempted to be part of something bigger. At 20, she was the youngest applicant. After she was appointed, members of the interview panel shared with her that they had had no intention of giving her the job because of her youth and inexperience, but were persuaded in the interview process that she was indeed the best person for the job. The rest, she says, is history. In 1993 she was offered a position to work on the election campaign alongside Popo Molefe and Ketso Gordhan. She chose to work with Cyril Ramaphosa instead, a decision that would greatly influence her life. This put Nicol front-row during the transition, opening her to further life-changing experiences and the opportunity to work with some of the greatest leaders in South African history. After 1994 she went on to work with Ramaphosa in the Constitutional Assembly, developing the country’s new Constitution. These were the golden years, as she calls them, a time characterised by great excitement, positivity and passion, with long hours invested in conceiving and designing a South Africa that would work for all her diverse peoples. “The biggest lesson I learnt from this is that it is easier to break things down than it is to build.” This insight has had a lasting impact on Nicol. Importantly, it tempered the young activist, opening her understanding to the complexities of change. It was one thing to fight against a government and its oppressive ideology; it was another thing entirely to establish an alternative. There were many lessons to be learnt in moving from opposition to operation. The everyday running of government – politically, economically, and socially – as well as the competing needs and interests of groups in society, together with global factors that exert influence but are beyond control, is a Herculean task. “It can be fun pulling things down,” she says with a grin, reflecting on the
process of understanding these bigger realities. “I remember in 1993, the government put the petrol price up and we marched, we caused havoc. There was not that understanding that the price of petrol is linked to oil and other factors way outside of a country’s control. We thought it was a great victory, but some of this was complete naivety about how things actually work.” In the late 1990s Ramaphosa and Nicol left politics for business, establishing the Shanduka Group, an investment holding company with interests in sectors such as resources, energy, real estate, banking and insurance. Nicol had no experience in business, but was well versed in the realities and challenges of South Africa. So in parallel to establishing Shanduka, Adopt-a-School Foundation was born in 2000. Shanduka committed to investing heavily in small business development and education. In the first few years after the move to business, Nicol had to learn to flex a different set of muscles by learning the corporate world. The story of the fax machine for Tshilidzi Primary School, which Ramaphosa had attended, was the beginning. “Cyril wanted to give them money,” says Nicol. “I insisted that we visit the school. That visit changed both of our lives.” When the pair arrived at Tshilidzi to hand over the fax machine, the real extent of the school’s needs struck them like a brick. Nicol remembers the comments of the then Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, made around the same time, that it would take 20 years to deal with South Africa’s school infrastructure backlog. In conversation Ramaphosa expressed concern about what that would mean to the current generation of children. The focus on infrastructure and development soon followed, with Adopt-aSchool mobilising businesses to partner with to fill some of these gaps. Change did follow, underpinned by the philosophy of collaboration, but soon the realisation hit home that schools could not be transformed by brick, and mortar alone. Training related to infrastructure was introduced, skills were developed around the proper use of science labs, computers and libraries. Teacher and curriculum guidance were later added, but still the question remained: how does one develop the school as a whole? This was an important question as the Foundation focuses on schools with the greatest needs, many of which are dysfunctional. The development of a holistic model was organic, each intervention a process of learning, each school a case study. Borrowing from accepted practice in the corporate world, strategic planning was later introduced. “That is how we started moving towards the Whole School Development model. Then we got the contract with the Lafarge Education Trust to work in the Bodibe schools cluster. From there we talked about looking at teacher training, working with principals. We were testing things bit by bit. So Whole School Development only really came about in 2010. One big moment was the strategic planning.” Nicol sat in on the first strategic planning workshop. It was profound. Part of the exercise was to draw up the school’s timeline as a visual measure of
Nicol is both philosophical and doggedly practical when asserting that education is key to the transformation of South Africa
performance, past and present. The school had done well historically, even before 1994. When the conversation moved to the beginning of the decline the principal stood up, shocking everyone with the admission that it had started the year of her appointment. She was the problem. Her honesty was followed by acceptance, and then by ownership of the responsibility to drive the turnaround that eventually followed. It was a lesson for all. And this story has repeated itself many times over. Ownership, empowerment, belonging, change. All of this has directly impacted more than 730 000 learners. The growth, learning and occasional mistakes continue. But Nicol is not easily satisfied. The more work she does, the more there is to be done. Given her position, she moves in circles where she is exposed to people, organisations and ideas that are all concerned with South Africa’s big picture. Personal experience gives her an awareness of the challenges and needs of individual schools. Added to this, Nicol is plugged in globally. All this presents her with an interesting dilemma, aligning global and national perspectives with grassroots realities. A current frustration stems from a growing awareness of the state of education internationally. Globally, with the exception of less than a handful of countries, it is clear that current national education systems are ill prepared to give children the kind of education they will need to navigate the world they are inheriting. “I have started thinking that I don’t know how we are going to address the education system internationally,” she explains. “And I don’t know how you can propel South Africa, where we can’t get the basics right, if countries like America and Australia are falling behind … Our approach to teaching is formulaic, but that is not the way of the jobs of the future. So there has to be a way to get teachers to become facilitators. The old way of teaching is just not right any more.” She describes this latest juncture in terms of a personal crisis. How to stay relevant and continue to make an impact in a global, fast-changing world. At present, there are more questions than answers. Recently she was asked to be a selector for a large, US-based fellowship. More than 3 000 applications were received from around the world, and these needed to be reduced to a shortlist of 200. Of those applicants allocated to Nicol, 50% dealt with education. The calibre of ideas and solutions were of the highest order. One had managed to turn a smartphone into a science lab that could do complicated experiments, without needing any of the traditional materials. While inspiring, Nicol was left demoralised by the extent of the challenges. “They all started with a problem statement. And the problem was an education system that is not keeping up with the modern world. It is terrifying. The proposed solutions, rather than making me feel better, left me feeling more scared because we are just not keeping up!” Despite these growing, global concerns, Nicol is quick to point out the extent of the change that has taken place in South Africa. When Adopt-a-School first
started there were virtually no township or rural schools that achieved a 100% pass rate; now there are many. While matric results may not be improving as the country might like, Nicol says that behind the current figures is a significant increase in the number of matriculants qualifying for university. In 2015, the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET), of which she is a trustee, gave, for the first time, numerous bursaries to A-students – its focus has traditionally been C-students – because such was the demand that so many of these top performers were unable to find funding for tertiary education. In the coming years, she says, CRET could give as much as 90% of its bursaries to matriculants from adopted schools. Many years ago the quality of learners from these schools was so low that few qualified. These are the miracle stories, she says, that are hardly known in broader South African society. “And that is what we strive for: education as an equaliser,” she explains. “At the very least, when a child steps into a classroom the potential should be there for them to realise their talents. Some won’t, and that is also fine, but it should at least be an option. It is not a utopian vision that says education will fix everything, because there are too many other problems, but you can give people the opportunity to rise.” Nicol is both philosophical and doggedly practical when asserting that education is key to the transformation of South Africa. The problem is complex, but the how is simple. Collaboration is the only way to realise the change that is needed. The strength of her belief in this, fuelled by her own life experience, has even ended friendships, such is her intolerance for negativity and finger-pointing. There is too much at stake and comments from the sidelines are not helpful, or welcome. Hers is an invitation to change. Her words, punctuated with frustration until now, begin to take on the quality of a plea. “It cannot be any one group’s responsibility. It takes the parents, the community, government, the private sector, civil society, it’s about all of us holding hands in this. It’s not enough to just worry about your family, because we are all so closely connected. “I do not understand how people cannot see that … That would be my call. Every person, do one thing within your means. The impact will be massive! Let’s all at least talk and connect and learn from each other, get out from behind the walls that separate us.” In essence, this work is about showing children who come from really difficult situations that their reality is not all there is. It is about empowering a school to shine a light where there may be darkness, so that children can see other possibilities. In both big and small ways, it is about hope. Hope for a better future by investing in the schools of today.
Sydney Seolonyane Founding Board member
he junior certificate exam papers have been marked. The results of three learners stand out from the rest because of their very high standard. It is cause for celebration, or concern. After some deliberation the officials suspect cheating and the Standard 8 boys are made to rewrite. They are a bright group, as their second-round results show. Among them are Kgomotso Mogapi and Abram Onkgopotse Tiro, who will go on to be a student activist, Black Consciousness Movement member and Morris Isaacson High School teacher before his murder by parcel bomb in 1974. The third is Sydney Seolonyane. His final marks are so good that the principal of Manoane Primary School, where he started his schooling, offers him a teaching post the following year in 1966. Financial constraints at home force Seolonyane to accept. To attend high school requires moving to an urban area and the financial resources of his single mother are stretched thin, providing for her five children. At the end of the year at Manoane the principal asks Seolonyane to continue, but by now his older brother is working in Johannesburg. Having seen the dedication to his studies, he offers to pay for his final years of schooling. So in 1967, the 17-year-old Seolonyane leaves his rural home and enrols at Morris Isaacson High, the school that will later become synonymous with the 1976 Soweto Uprising. “I didn’t disappoint my brother,” says Seolonyane with a grin, sitting at his desk in the offices of the Alexandra Education Committee (AEC) at Waverley Girls High School, where he has been the student career counsellor since retiring in 2012. Soweto was a world away from the rural village of Gopane, near the Botswana border, and it offered the young man many new opportunities for interaction and experience, all of which accelerated his learning and development beyond the classroom. The vibrant Christian clubs, in particular, in which he was active, had a significant impact on moulding his character. After matriculating, Seolonyane registered for a teaching degree at the University of the North, Turfloop, in 1970, where he majored in Biblical Studies and History. Like his move to Johannesburg and the youth club involvement, Turfloop was another turning point in terms of his exposure to a diversity of
people and ways of thought. The campus was also on the point of becoming a hub of political activity that would affect the progress of many. In his first year, Seolonyane and many others were temporarily expelled and the campus closed after student protests. The following year was a period of calm, and then in 1972 things began to stir as the “Soweto Christian activists”, names like Cyril Ramaphosa, Griffith Zabala, Frank Chikane and Ishmael Mkhabela, started to flow into the university. These would become Seolonyane’s peers. On 29 April 1972, Abram Tiro delivered a speech, known as the “Turfloop Testimony”, at graduation. It was a scathing critique of Bantu Education and a warning about the consequences of apartheid, and he was subsequently expelled, resulting in countrywide strikes on black campuses. A year of peace followed until the pro-FRELIMO rallies of 1974, organised by the South African Students Association. Student leaders and organisers were
The country, he says, has a lot of work to do to get the system to where it should be
arrested and Ramaphosa, a key figure, was detained in solitary confinement for 11 months in 1974 under the Terrorism Act. The following year Seolonyane was forced to leave Turfloop without his degree, because he had not passed his History course well enough. In 1976 he was offered a post with the Student Christian Movement (SCM), as a travelling organising secretary working in post-matric institutions around the country. His travels exposed the young man to the bigger realities of South Africa. By 1979 Seolonyane had completed his degree through UNISA, this time passing History very well, and in April he moved to Gazankulu, the Tsonga homeland, to teach at Giyani High School. Two years later he took up a post at Bhukulani High School in Soweto. It was his first experience of being part of a racially diverse staff. Teaching History to Standards 6, 7 and 8, Seolonyane’s abilities in the
classroom showed in the results and he wanted to move with his learners as they progressed. But he had reached a glass ceiling because of the colour of his skin. “The principal,” he explains, “was brave and, to an extent, fair. He said to me, ‘You are a good teacher but you are not going to develop in this school. If you apply for a senior post elsewhere, I will give you a very good testimonial.’” So in 1983 Seoloyane left to become an HoD at Molapo Secondary. In two years he managed to complete his Honours degree in Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), and he was promoted to deputy principal. From here he was approached to become the principal of an ABET centre and its five satellites. This reality was very different from school, as classes happened in the afternoons and evenings, and were aimed at those who had failed matric and working adults. The environment also had its own challenges, and Seolonyane’s work increasingly took him away from the job of teaching to performing the functions of management and administration. In 1987 he found himself in the public sector, after being offered a job as a school inspector by the Department of Education and Training. Working in this role Seolonyane was responsible for monitoring a diversity of schools that included hospital, ABET, farm, and church. This work was his reality for the next 25 years, until he retired as a district education co-ordinator in 2012. After 33 years in education, Seolonyane is both critical and realistic regarding the changes in education, both of the legacy of apartheid in learning and the response to it. The country, he says, has a lot of work to do to get the system to where it should be. A founding Board member, Seolonyane’s involvement with Adopt-a-School Foundation resulted from his sustained friendship with Cyril Ramaphosa. When he was approached to be part of establishing the Foundation, the vision resonated with the former inspector. Being no stranger to the field, his first act was to take Ramaphosa and the then Shanduka Foundation head, Donné Nicol, to a school in Alexandra to show them the realities the Foundation would be dealing with. Seolonyane has, through his extensive experience, been able to make a unique contribution. Over the years he has been very active, often travelling the country to visit various projects. Perhaps it is the inspector in him that likes to be hands on, to see the reality with his own eyes. He has also played a role in the evolution of the Foundation’s Whole School Development model. The Department of Education, recognising the need for a multi-faceted approach to school interventions, first conceptualised such a model but struggled to implement it fully. “Adopt-a-School,” he explains, “has taken it further in that it concentrates on one school at a time, whereas the Department was trying to achieve everything at once. It is the difference between a tailored approach versus the blanket approach.” This tailored approach, for Seolonyane, is significant. He uses the Foundation’s eye-testing programme as an example of how even the smallest of focused interventions can have a massive impact, being the decisive moment in the education experience of a child. “From the time I went to school, right up to university,” he explains, “I struggled because I have poor eyesight, very poor. I could not study like the other kids; I would see different things to them. It was only when one of my lecturers
recognised my challenges and got me tested that I finally got spectacles, which literally opened my eyes. If one of your senses are limited, it severely limits your potential for achievement … So a small thing like that can really add value to a child’s life.” Inspired by the changes he is seeing, Seolonyane suggests that education is a microcosm of the nation, reflecting the realities of society as a whole. He is adamant that young people are faced with an ever-increasing range of challenges in a country that is also part of an increasingly globalised world. Quoting many examples from his career counselling work with the AEC in recent years, he says that expectations and realities are often misaligned. Some learners have hopes for tertiary study and careers that are beyond their reach. At the same time, he says, many young people face extreme pressures from their home environments to pursue careers that are not of their choosing. One mother’s response to his advice that her daughter’s desired career was unrealistic, as reflected in her academic achievement, highlights the disconnect: “You guys are here to make our children achieve what they want to achieve!”
Inspired by the changes he is seeing, Seolonyane suggests that education is a microcosm of the nation, reflecting the realities of society as a whole
This disconnect, at the social and community level, Seolonyane explains, means the challenges faced by schools, and the communities they serve, are becoming increasingly acute. In some cases there is indifference and hostility between schools and their communities, something that is reflected in the overall state of these schools. And it is ultimately the young people who suffer with the bigger consequence that today’s reality will become the future’s problem. It is ironic, though, he explains, as learning institutions previously filled some of the gaps that existed in communities and families. They still could. But what is needed is a sense of shared destiny and belonging. “Take the townships: people are afraid of children. We pass kids playing dice on the streets, hanging around taverns; we see them, but we do nothing,” says Seolonyane with a growing sense of frustration when talking about this reality. “We don’t have that sense of communal parenthood any more. As an adult in such communities you don’t see these kids as yours. But they are yours. One of the slogans in education used to be, ‘It takes a nation to educate a child.’ And who makes up the nation? Community. That is where it begins. But what stops us? Is it fear? Is it apathy? I don’t know. It takes a village to raise a child, but where is the village?”
Olifantsvlei Primary School From humble beginnings January 1963
ine dust hangs in the air like mist. The rays of sunlight that are able to find their way inside, through one of the few windows, mix with the thick air, making the shafts of light appear solid.
Young bodies move restlessly on the ground, performing a balancing act between listening to the lesson and fighting off the heat, amplified by the tin roof, as it fills this large space. But the heat is better than the cold that will hold this school hostage for three long months come winter. Though it has been some time since cows were housed in this shed, the smell of old manure still lingers in the air, especially on hot days. The young reverend is enthusiastic in his teaching. He appears a giant, six foot tall and heavyset, when compared with those in his charge. Though they range in age from eight to their early teens, he manages to accommodate everyone. Such is his faith and the belief in the power of education to open up a different path for these children in life. Their parents are all farmworkers , and this is their only opportunity to gain a formal education. This was the Reverend Ramosimeâ€™s motivation when he proposed starting the school in 1960. It was not an easy task. The early 1960s was a deeply turbulent time in South Africa. But the reverend believed he had God on his side. He was a complex character, a man of many layers. Beneath the cloth beat the heart of an artist and lover of all creation. On many occasions he would instruct the class to take their workbooks outside. Each one would find a quiet place to sit and observe. He encouraged them to try capture the world around them: the flowers, bees, birds and trees. From his office, a small shack, and his home in the former farm managerâ€™s house, he developed his vision.
Though it has been some time since cows were housed in this shed, the smell of old manure still lingers in the air
January 2015 Prayer is followed by the joy and lightness of song. The scene is part of a weekly ritual. Row after row is arranged according to grade. They face the cowshed with the teaching staff positioned in front and behind them. Today the cowshed stands out, like a centrepiece in the schoolâ€™s crown, a reminder of its humble beginnings. The Reverend Ramosime is long gone, but the foundation he laid is solid, and has been added to many times over. Inside, the shed looks very different, having been renovated by Adopt-a-School Foundation. White tiles cover the floor, while the walls seem to shine from under a fresh
coat of paint. The roof has been properly insulated and fans hang from the ceiling. It was still in use as a Grade R classroom up until 2006, but it is no longer used for teaching. All around it are old and new school blocks that stretch out into what used to be open veld and farmland. In five decades, much has changed at Olifantsvlei. In the 1980s it was established as a formal primary school, when Ramosime partnered with
Such is his faith and the belief in the power of education to open up a different path for these children in life
“Close your eyes, fold your arms,” comes the order from the teacher in front. “Let’s give God a chance to search your hearts.” Eyes are tightly shut. Arms are folded and made stiff. Muscles strain. Some in the sea of young faces pray with serious intent. It is as if they know they are being watched, either in Heaven or on Earth. “Open your eyes,” says the woman at the front of the assembly. “Good morning, everyone.” “Goood mooorning, maaa’am,” comes the reply.
Today, Olifantsvlei continues to grow and expand the quality of its offering to the community it serves
the Reverend Moses Maren. Together they engaged local businesses and began to raise funds to build classrooms. The first group of three teachers and their 200 learners occupied four classrooms in 1984. This soon grew to eight classrooms and the school’s numbers continued to grow. The current principal, Madumi Freddy Maphula, started at the school in 1993. The following year, as South Africa became a democracy, Maren negotiated a 20-year lease for the land. The vision was to establish a mission that would cater for the educational, social and spiritual needs of the community. But the bigger mission did not properly materialise. One unintended consequence was that, being a public school on private land, Olifantsvlei had to rely on the private sector to help it grow and develop. In 2006, the school was formally adopted by Adopt-a-School Foundation, in partnership with the then Shanduka Foundation and the then Shanduka Group. This partnership resulted
in numerous additions to the school’s infrastructure, including a science lab, a library, various renovations and refurbishments, counselling for learners, and training and development for teachers. Today, Olifantsvlei continues to grow and expand the quality of its offering to the community it serves. Despite some challenges, the dedication of the school’s staff shows results, as is evidenced by an annual percentage pass rate in the upper 90s.
Madumi Freddy Maphula Here to add
he shared experiences of the teachers and the principals,” Madumi Freddy Maphula writes, “suggested that the participants had limited understanding, knowledge and skills in managing and implementing inclusion in schools. Thus guidelines for managing the implementation of inclusion were provided. In addition, guidelines for the educational psychologists that could facilitate the successful management of the implementation of inclusion were developed.” The title of the thesis he submitted for his Master’s degree at the University of Johannesburg – Managing the Implication of Inclusion in Schools – was a study of how schools accommodate children with learning barriers. In 2007 he decided to expand his research to a PhD, to study the strategies used in various SADC countries and compare best practices. It is a project he feels he has the energy for. Most of all, he hopes to make a meaningful contribution to filling some of the gaps he has observed during his 25 years in education. His thirst for improvement, both of himself and those around him, has been with him since birth. He was born in Ga-Ramokgopa, Limpopo. Though it does not show on his ID or any other official document, he was named Motlatjo at birth, which means “you are here to add”. From a young age he was known for his physical ability and sporting prowess in karate and boxing, and particularly on the soccer field. “At that time I was responsible for looking after cattle. That was number one, then came school and then soccer. When the adults in the area played soccer they would sometimes substitute me for one of their players in the last five minutes of a game. This was because my footwork was extremely good; I could dribble very well.” His eyes glow with fondness as his mind recalls the memories. For a second the man, tall with a solid frame, becomes a child again. Sitting behind an immaculately arranged desk, he brings a pair of large
hands together, the thick fingers interlacing. Dressed in a crisp, white shirt patterned with blue and green stripes, a blue and green striped tie, and his signature khaki photographer’s vest, he is the very image of a principal. To his left is a large filing cabinet, four drawers high, with many differently labelled files, all neatly arranged. On top of this are a number of trophies and framed certificates, evidence of Olifantsvlei’s numerous successes. A sense of discipline and structure seems to have characterised Madumi Maphula’s life. He reported for duty at Olifantsvlei on 26 July 1993. Here he found the Reverend Ramosime and the Reverend Moses Maren. The pair had been at the school for a number of years, and were busy with raising funds to expand the school. Their vision was to establish a mission that would serve
His eyes glow with fondness as his mind recalls the memories. For a second the man, tall with a solid frame, becomes a child again the educational, social and spiritual needs of the local community. At the time, the school was small, consisting of only 240 learners and eight classrooms. When Maphula arrived, he encountered a situation where the school had no formal policies, audited financials, admission books or other necessary systems. The new principal felt this was limiting its ability to deliver quality education, so he set about changing this. In many ways he has become an engineer at Olifantsvlei, identifying needs, developing systems and implementing them. He has, both literally and figuratively, been a part of engineering the growth and development of the school. ***
The drone of the tractor engine grew louder, breaking the early-morning silence. He heard his mother readying herself in the dark. When it sounded as if the tractor was going to swallow up their small house, the vibrations rising up from the floor, she opened the door and disappeared. She would spend
‘It is a serious concern for me to see these children and these communities struggling’
the day toiling on one of the many local farms, only to return that evening when the sun was getting ready to set. Maphula was only 12 years old, but already his list of responsibilities was long. The house had to be cleaned, his siblings taken care of, meals prepared, and then there was school. It had been this way since his parents separated. With his father spending most of his time in Soweto, the family had to move to his mother’s home in Madombidzha, Sinthumule, near Louis Trichardt. “The only thing that will take me out of this is education,” he told himself. And so he studied hard. His mother, being uneducated, could not help much. He did not speak Venda, the primary language of instruction at his school. As a result, his progress through school was slow, but he persisted. Maths and Science, in particular, were subjects he grew to enjoy. He liked their logical, structured nature and his disciplined nature enabled him to achieve. In matric he decided he wanted to become an engineer. He applied to an engineering company in Vanderbijlpark and was provisionally accepted for an apprenticeship. But halfway through his matric year, he became extremely ill and was not able to return to school until October, a week before his final exams. A friend, realising what was at stake, convinced Madumi to write. Over two days, the two young men covered an entire year’s work. Despite being absent from class for much of the year, he passed. But disappointment followed when his Maths and English symbols disqualified him from a position in the engineering firm. So he travelled to Johannesburg and found piece work with the South African Breweries, on its delivery trucks. He soon decided he needed a formal qualification behind him, and he applied at the Venda College of Education in Thohoyandou. It seems that his mantra, “education is the key,” paid off. Maphula has not walked an easy path. His life story reveals snippets of a complex man. It seems as if he is made up of a list of ingredients, some of which don’t seem to belong together. For example, the same person who became a celebrity at a young age through his soccer abilities is also incredibly softly spoken and reserved, shy even. And this quieter side seems to conflict with the needs of teaching, where a strong voice and presence are necessary to create order. “I did not want to become a teacher!” he explains. “Teaching was very hard for me. Hard in the sense that if you listen to my voice, it is very soft and I am not that talkative. I am not someone who can shout. So, I would teach during the day and in the evening I found myself highly exhausted. Over time I got used to the talking. But still today I cannot shout. My colleagues still ask me why I do not address the school at assembly regularly. I tell them that if I need to speak to the children, I will do so by moving from class to class.” As a principal, Maphula has also had to deal with the challenges of establishing a school that started off in a cowshed. He has had to create and implement proper systems, develop and build the school. In addition to this, Olifantsvlei Primary
serves communities troubled by unemployment, poverty, lack of services and a host of social ills. Added to this, the development of the surrounding areas, and subsequent building of schools there, saw Olifantsvlei’s numbers decline many times over the years. At one point, he recalls, there was a feeling that the school would eventually close. But, more than anything, it has been Maphula’s principles and tenacity that have seen him through. Together with his team and the much-needed support of Adopt-a-School Foundation, Maphula has seen the school grow from 240 learners in eight classrooms to a fully resourced school catering for nearly 1 400 learners. Even though Maphula is now eligible for retirement, he feels that he has one big project left in him: a kindergarten. After 25 years in primary school education, he feels that more focus needs to be placed on early childhood development for those aged three to five years old. Current research, he says, is demonstrating that this age group has an incredible capacity for learning if given focused attention, something that could establish a strong foundation for later learning. “It is a serious concern for me to see these children and these communities struggling,” he says. ***
So being adopted was a turning point? In 2006, Adopt-a-School began the process of renovating and building much of our infrastructure. They realised the extent of the challenges in the communities we service, where many parents are illiterate, unemployed, lacking income and resources. Many of these kids bring these realities with them to school. Adopta-School arranged counselling where they could. They then assisted in the development of teachers in various subjects and helped us to develop a strategic plan for our school, among many other things. They assisted us to deal with a lot of our challenges as teachers, and they helped me a lot as a principal, both internally and externally. They helped break tensions and resolve issues among the school staff, and helped us to work better as a team. They have changed us in such a way that we produce good citizens from those who are entrusted to our care. I am nearing retirement and I keep on reminding my colleagues that Adopt-a-School is not here for them. They are here for these children who are entrusted to our care. It is important that we work hard to show our supporters we are improving lives, and if we can do that, then we will surely get more resources and support over time. As long as I am here, I am not going to compromise and disadvantage these children even more. We cannot fail to educate these children. When you educate there is no limit, no end goal. Education never stops; it goes on with all its challenges.
I think I have done what I was supposed to, even though I still feel like that I could still do more. Maybe, if all goes well, I should leave the system and start a kindergarten-type school. I say this because I have spotted a lot of shortcomings in education over the years. In particular, black children in black schools are not getting the right foundation in education. Teachers are not committed like they used to be. My wish would be to step into that gap. Research has shown childrenâ€™s ability to grasp information and understand is at its strongest at Grade R level, and it
slowly decreases as they get older. Four- and five-year-olds have an incredible capacity for learning. Following this, one sees the importance of that foundation level, to start these children off on the right footing. So, I would like to see myself making a contribution towards this, to make sure that black children have the strongest foundation possible, which will help them to develop competence and self-reliance in later years. Page 22
The ‘promise’ of education
road smiles stand out on fresh faces, as they clap and sing along. She leads them with all the exuberance of a young woman, even though she could be the great-grandmother to every child in the room. For 30 years she has guided the learning of children like these.
In fact, when Thenjiwe Ntebe first came to Olifantsvlei Primary School, the school building was a converted cowshed situated in an area that was little more than open farmland. One of the many memories she has is how they would often find snakes in the classrooms. During her long service at the school, her first and only teaching job, she has watched the school, literally, be built up around her. She has taught generations of children using different methodologies. She has observed both subtle and monumental changes happen in South African society. “I started here in 1984,” she says, speaking slow and deliberate words. “There were only four classes and two teachers when I arrived, and there were as many as 80 children in each. The shed was divided into three sections, with some 200 of us in total. But I didn’t encounter many problems back then. It was easy!” Ntebe points to a lot of factors that contribute to the current challenges in education, such as a lack of discipline and respect, and declining parental participation. Yet, she also says she cannot explain why things are the way they are “these days”. What is significant though, is that despite her apparent cynicism, the moment she steps into her classroom she is able to transcend this and find the joy and energy that her schoolchildren require. Maybe her name, Thenjiwe, meaning “promise”, has something to do with it. While preparing for retirement, she continues to perform her duty as a teacher, fulfilling the promise of helping shape the adults of tomorrow.
Maybe her name, Thenjiwe, meaning ‘promise’, has something to do with it
What was it like to teach in the beginning, with next to no resources? For me, it was fun. Although we had limited facilities we were able to reach these children. They were easy to work with. If you gave them homework, every last one would do it. These days, they don’t, or their parents will do it for them. So, it is more difficult these days. Page 24
You have seen a lot of learners come through the school since 1984? Too many! Most are working and have their own families, but they still come by to say hello every now and again. I have even taught some of their children! It makes me feel proud and fulfilled to see how they have built their lives. It is really special when I get one of their children in my class. I think back to the mother or father that was sitting in front of me as a child, and now I am busy educating the next generation.
When you read the newspapers, education is often associated with negativity. Do you think this image is correct, or do we not fully understand the reality in our schools? People donâ€™t understand the pressures of a teacher and how much we have to
put up with in the workplace. Instead of criticising, they should assist, and try to help teachers. For example, parents should help more at home and take more responsibility for their childrenâ€™s education. Twenty years ago parents would help the child and ensure the work gets done. Nowadays you often see the parentâ€™s handwriting on the page, so you know they have done the work for them. So in some ways, the contribution of parents is a negative one.
You say that behaviour and discipline has changed for the worse. What needs to be done about it? Discipline should start at home. Parents should talk to their children. Children need to learn to respect their parents and their teachers. We all need to work together. So much has changed in the education system. In my time, children used to have so much work, but these days there is even more. A Grade 3 has so much to do that they cannot even cope. Previously, we were given a syllabus of what needed to be taught, and then each teacher would have to put their lesson plans together
according to the different themes or topics. Today you do two or more different topics in the same lesson, which makes it very confusing for young minds. Additionally, we have to cover all the subjects in one single day. The workload is too much.
And the changes in the young people over the past 30 years? These born-frees! I don’t know what to say about them. They are so rude and unruly. Before we had no resources, but the children still learnt. Today we have so many resources but some of them destroy those resources. What is that?
What is the solution? If the school is too big, it is not to your advantage. We have nearly 1 400 learners this year. We need more schools, not more classrooms. You end up not being able to manage those numbers. Also, many of these children come from terrible
situations. Some stay with their parents in a one-room building that is divided by a curtain. The child hears things and is exposed to things that they should not be. Then they go and share that information with others, and talk about it at school. It is innocent, but the consequences are big. Children these days are exposed to adult things while they are still young. Issues from home come to school. That is what we deal with every day. It is tough.
Are you sad to be leaving teaching?
I am not really ready to retire, but I have to. Things are very different now to 30 years ago, and I guess I am ready.
What do you think your last day at school will be like?
Emotional. I have been here for more than 30 years! I don’t think I will even say goodbye; maybe I will just sneak out the door …
Catherine Diamond ‘It’s my duty’
hey sit, cross-legged, in a circle on the floor. Not five minutes ago they were charging around outside, playing and giggling during lunch. But now they are calm and quiet, responding only when the teacher asks a question. The walls around them are filled with colourful posters that show numbers, shapes, letters and words. It is a visual feast. An invitation to learn. From her knees, Grade R teacher Catherine Diamond holds up a sheet of paper with a drawing of a book on it, the word written below. She asks the class of five-year-olds what it is. They reply as one. She then repeats the word a number of times in different sentences, before picking up the next image. While this class may lack the formal subjects and structure of the higher grades, the teaching methods used are the latest in foundational learning research. Like many South Africans from rural towns, Diamond left her Free State home of Heilbron for Johannesburg in 1989 to look for work. Part of this was about improving her own life. A bigger motivation was her children. The mother of three worked in various crèches while also battling periods of unemployment. And yet, despite her situation, she has always been involved in her children’s education. The family has a long history at Olifantsvlei Primary School and the high school across the road, Moses Maren. The two eldest have been through both schools and her youngest is currently in Grade 5. She has also served on the school governing bodies at various times in recent years. And while their journey has not always been easy, Diamond believes it is her duty to play an active role. “I love my kids very much, so I think it is my duty as a parent to take part in my children’s education. If I don’t take part I shouldn’t expect them to build a brighter future for themselves. How will they do this without my love and support?” Her daughter, Thembi, is in Grade 12 at Moses Maren and is one of
its top-performing learners. Her list of achievements is long and there are many who have high hopes for her future. Though Thembi seems to possess something special, Catherine says her daughter’s success is the product of consistent hard work and strong support at home. Her husband, who never attended school, supports her in motivating their children to succeed in life through education. Thembi is on track to study law next year. Speaking to her, it seems as if the motivation is less about the status or salary associated with the profession, and more about a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. “She has always been like that,” explains Diamond. “Once, she told me that when she gets a good job she will come back to Moses Maren
Her fondness for those in her care is obvious in the classroom. She calls each one by name and they respond to her like a mother and help the school with the resources she has. She wants to help this community. I was surprised. I thought she would say that she wants a big house and an expensive car, but, no. She wants to use her success to help others. It really makes me proud. Wow! Really, in both my husband’s and my family there has never been someone like her.” Diamond’s surprise at her daughter’s choices seems strange, considering they very much mirror her own. Her fondness for those in her care is obvious in the classroom. She calls each one by name and they respond to her like a mother. The sacrifices she has made for the wellbeing of her own children have resulted in her making a livelihood out of laying the foundation of learning for many more. And with the holistic assistance of Adopt-a-School, she is ensuring this foundation is a solid one. ***
It seems many parents are not that involved in their children’s education any more. It’s not that some parents don’t love their kids; it’s just that they are not properly supporting them. From my side it starts from love. In our days we did not have these opportunities. If you went as far as Standard 7, then that was good enough. A lot has changed. I am even learning from my kids now, especially from Thembi. Just because I am a Grade R practitioner, it does not mean I know everything.
You talk about giving your children advice regarding their education; do you think it has had an impact? It has. My kids can now achieve, where I couldn’t. Look at Thembi. I was never like her, she’s always been an example, and that started right back in primary school here at Olifantsvlei. In Grade 2, if I’m not mistaken, she entered a numeracy competition in Soweto and was awarded a certificate, and again in
Grade 7 she received four academic certificates. If I had not always stressed the importance of education, maybe she would not be where she is today.
What has your experience of working in Olifantsvlei been like?
What we do at school is very different to a crèche. I love these little ones! I treat them like they are my own kids. If I had the power or money I would have started my own children’s home. I have picked up on the many difficulties these kids have at home. There is one boy in Grade 1 who comes every now and again, when he does not have food. These kids come to school with so many issues. Your heart breaks for them.
Is your classroom very different to the rest? Yes! Adopt-a-School Foundation really helped us; they have played a big role in our school. They built us this structure and provided many of the educational resources we use every day. They provide much social welfare support for my children, and in 2014 they brought the Brain Boosters team in. Wow! It has made a huge difference in class. After the Grade R graduation last year the foundation phase teachers were like a swarm of bees around me. They were asking questions and commenting at how impressed they are with the little ones who can count to a hundred. With these tools, the kids are actually ahead of the requirements for their age.
What do you think the impact of resources like Brain Boosters would be if they had it across the grades?
Education will go far. As soon as our kids got used to Brain Boosters, they started to enjoy learning. Even on Fridays they ask me if they can come back the
next day to continue. What is great about it is that we do it not in a teaching way; we do it in a fun way, which makes the kids excited to learn. It makes teaching very easy for us. They don’t learn like parrots, they really learn. I saw this with colours. When you mix it up, ask them where is red, they pick up the right one. If I say everyone wearing red stand up you will see the excitement, they will jump up, others will shout at their neighbour to get up. Even shapes. I was so shocked when Brain Boosters showed us so many shapes. We were used to the four basic ones, now we even talk about “pentagon” and “trapezium”. They will also be better readers because their knowledge of English has improved. At the beginning of 2014 we had to go around the local informal settlements to encourage parents to send their kids, so that we could fill our Grade R classes. But since our graduation last year everyone wants their little ones to be in our class. This year I never even had to send one letter. Some even called me over the holidays to ask where I found Brain Boosters, because they want these materials at home.
‘Reading makes my small world really big’
oung voices read out loud together, but not as one. Softly spoken words mingle. Six books lie open on the table in front of six learners. A young boy moves his finger left to right as he traces the lines of the story he is reading. The girl on his left, her head bowed low over her book, mouths the words to herself.
The long shelves in the smaller, junior section of the library sag under the weight of so many books. Most sit cover to cover, their spines facing outwards, but here and there, strategically placed, others flaunt their covers to passing eyes. An invitation to explore. The adjacent room is nearly four times the size, home to most of the library’s 10 000 titles, everything from life skills to chemistry, dinosaurs to Zulu fiction. It is a place of quiet and calm. Here and there, a damaged book stands out in contrast. One sits carelessly forgotten on a windowsill, exposed to the sun. “We lack a sense of appreciation,” says Doris Lebere, shaking her head. She picks it up, looks at it fondly for a second, before gently wiping the cover and putting it back on a shelf. “How can we leave our friends there to gather dust and get burnt in the sun?” When talking about the books in her care, and about books in general, Lebere refers to them as if they are living, breathing members of her family. It makes sense, considering her own story with reading began decades ago. “I started reading from my early childhood. At first it was not an option, it was an obligation. My parents forced us to read. So it ended up a habit … I never had a negative attitude towards reading, even when being forced. And after some time reading became a passion.” She recalls how her father, in particular, was adamant that his children be educated. This was fuelled by an awareness of the impact of his own, limited education. Reading, he believed, was the vehicle of learning. “My dad was a lion in the house. He was very strict. If you wanted to ask him for something, you had to write a letter. He would then sit with you and mark your grammar before addressing your request. As much as it looked like he was being cruel, it was for the best. As a result, all seven of us siblings can express ourselves very well.” Lebere’s family story sounds unique in a country with poor literacy rates. She
becomes animated, enraged even, when asked about this reality. It seems beyond her ability to comprehend. She takes issue with the Department of Education and school management for not giving greater priority to reading. This “lack of vision”, she says, is a contributing factor to the performance of under-resourced schools such as Olifantsvlei. The solution? A dedicated library period in every child’s weekly calendar. If she can get children into the library, that is the first step in nurturing a love of reading that will, she believes, eventually become a culture. A lack of resources and competing priorities mean that achieving this reality is a challenge. But that does not stop this reading activist, who is taking matters into her own hands. “At the beginning of the year,” explains Lebere, “I go from class to class, advertising the library, trying to get them to come to the library. The first thing I do is show them around and talk about the library. Then I teach them how to handle a book. Imagine, that a book is such a foreign object to some of these kids! After that, we read. “Then I coach them on how to find the books that interest them. We have more than 10 000 books, so it is also important they know how the library works if they are going to get enjoyment out of it. With the little ones, who may have limited understanding, I encourage them to touch a book, hold it, turn the pages and look at the pictures. If that is all they do, it is a step in the right direction.” It is a slow process, and the passionate librarian and teacher knows there is no silver bullet for illiteracy. The solution is long and painstaking, one that needs time and repeated exposure. But the picture is not all doom and gloom. When she came to Olifantsvlei in 2002 there was no library. The mobile library in the school office was a poor excuse and did not come close to fulfilling the need. In 2009, Adopt-a-School Foundation stepped in to build the library, source books and facilitate training through an NGO called Room to Read. With these tools at her disposal, Lebere is putting her energies into changing the status quo, one book at a time. “I feel my day is incomplete if I go to bed without having read,” she says. “There is a book in my bag, in my car, everywhere. If I go to a mall, the best place for me is a bookshop. Even if I don’t have money to buy, let me touch it, see what it is about, steal a word or two out of it. Reading makes my small world really big!” Page 32
You say that reading has made you a better person. I found that it was easy to express myself. If I look at some of my friends who are not readers, I can see how there are limits to their knowledge base and their ability to express themselves. About four years ago there was a young girl in Grade 7 who was a real bookworm. When I asked the class to tell me what reading does for them, she taught me something with her reply. She said that reading allowed her to visit many different countries, not physically, but through reading. The truth of that statement really stuck with me. Reading is power. It opens one’s horizons. You learn. It empowers you.
What has the building of this library meant to you personally? It means the world! If you have a book, you have everything. You don’t have a reason to complain, you don’t have any reasons to feel limited, because books expose us to everything we need to know about the world. They help shape our
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character. The stories in books give us tools for life. Books even caution us, from a historical point of view, by showing us the mistakes of the past, and if we listen we can avoid repeating some of these. Reading is the best thing that a person can ever do! I wish our school could deploy someone full-time to run the library. Unfortunately, our department is not looking at this. They say that it is a budget constraint. We are not fully utilising this resource because of these constraints. I do this part-time or whenever I am able, but this is not enough. To me, this library is an institution on its own and needs to be given the attention it deserves. But we say that, in South Africa, we want children to read, we want better literacy rates. And then we don’t give time for it! If the library is locked most of the time, what message does that send? I believe that in order for the library to be effectively run, our timetable needs to have a dedicated library period so that children have at least 30 minutes once a week. Let them come in here, let them read, let them take a book if they want. Instead we have one-and-a-half hours on a Wednesday for the library, but that clashes with sports time.
It is reassuring to see a lot of books written in other South African languages. How do the kids respond to being able to read in languages like Sotho and Zulu? Most of these books are translated from English, so kids will read it in their mother tongue and then read it in English. That is meant to assist them in terms of comprehension, and to encourage them in both their home language and the language of instruction. I think this can help motivate them to read even more, by building confidence.
Do you think that you are competing against technology nowadays?
Do you think this might be true in other schools as well? My observation so far, though it might be limited, is that most of the rural and township schools do not include the library in their timetable, which makes me wonder how the former model C schools are managing to do it. My kids attend former model C schools and in their weekly timetable they have a media period, where they go either to the library or to the computer labs. During this time the librarian is there and has prepared books that are suitable for their level and age. Now that sends the message that, as a school, we take reading seriously.
So, a well-equipped library is not enough? Are you suggesting that we need to be more proactive? Precisely. We need to direct these kids in their reading as well. Dropping them in the deep end and expecting them to swim won’t create a love of books and reading. We have to assist them. Adopt-a-School introduced an NGO called Room to Read, which gave us intensive training in library skills and how to pitch reading to these kids at the right level. Because of this I am well informed as a teacher, though my knowledge is not complete. There is always space to learn.
Many people no longer read books or newspapers because everything is electronic. I think there is a place for using technology when reading, but at foundation level I believe children must get used to books. They must touch a book, they must feel a book. I always tell these kids that books are our friends. Hold the book to your chest, hug the book, make it your friend, because these books can tell you the stories you want to hear. Technology changes this. This is something I am experiencing with my sons; rather than read a book, they tell me they have seen the movie so they know the story. Even now I struggle to get them to read, but as a parent you have to come up with strategies. My daughter is different; I won the battle there. Now she buys books and shares them with me.
Taking a step back, the bigger picture regarding reading in South Africa looks pretty poor. What will we need to do to change this?
Too many people invest their time in things that are useless, that do not have value. As long as we don’t change this attitude, I don’t see how South Africa can improve. All the treasures that we could want from life are between the covers of books, but unfortunately people don’t explore them. This is one of our biggest challenges. As long as the adult community does not realise this, then we will never achieve. Remember, children learn what they live. In a family of readers, children read, while in those that do not value reading, you won’t even find one book in the house!
Space travel, God, adults and Optimus Prime
"Can I ask you something?" His question comes out of nowhere. It is a complete break from the current direction of the conversation. He does not pause, even for a second, for the answer. "Is it really boring to be an adult?"
It is a difficult question. But it is the expectant young eyes waiting for the answer that present more of a challenge. While soft, they are demanding. The thirst for answers has no equal, except maybe for a desert in the moments before the first rains. Again, without waiting, he continues. "My uncle once told me that being an adult is boring."
fickleness of the adult world’s need to flaunt success. “Do you know Airmax?” he asks. “Nike, that Michael Jordan shoe. My uncle loves shoes. If you go in his room you just see shoes, shoes, shoes. And there was this cellphone he wanted, like a tablet. He told me he was going to buy it. He really wanted it and now he’s got it. Now that he has it, he doesn’t want it any more. He wants a Galaxy S5.” When his family moved to Johannesburg from Tzaneen, Shaun was enrolled at
It is fascinating to observe where Shaun is in his development, the colliding of different experiences and ideas, like science and religion
It is no longer clear if he wants an answer. Imitating this uncle, he mimics a frustrated man’s response to an enquiring young mind. “Children ... It’s clothes, food, this, that, everything, all the time. Eish! Enjoy it!” Shaun Makwala is a handful for any teacher. Any adult, for that matter. His mind wonders about many things, the answers to which, he believes, are to be plucked from the minds of adults. To this 10-year-old, turning 11 in September, as he is quick to tell you – there appear to be no limits to curiosity. “I usually ask Ma’am about this: how did God get here? Did He just – toot-toot – and He made Himself? ’Cos it is very difficult to understand that you can make yourself. I asked her this for the past few years. She says I ask stupid questions, like I am an adult. It’s like my questions are not supposed to be asked by a child.” Sitting in the library, Shaun’s energetic and talkative nature paints a picture of the world inside his head. His thinking still has a freedom about it, having not yet been directed or contained. It is clear that there is little that escapes his attention and scrutiny. One of many stories he tells is about his young uncle’s obsession with shoes, clothes and other status symbols, as well as an innocent observation about the
Olifantsvlei Primary School for Grade 1. That year he really struggled to adjust. At the end of the year he was moved back to Grade R. Since then, he says it is like a light has been turned on and he is showing himself to be a good student. The eldest of four children, Shaun’s close-knit family is something he does not share with many of his peers. It is very likely a big contributing factor to his growing academic success. “There was this time at home,” he starts again. “I was with my father and I asked him about space. So he switched on the TV, National Geographic. He put the channel to 181. We saw space and there was this guy who was talking about space, the many galaxies. One million and six, I think? And then there is this guy who built a space travel machine. He travelled around space. Press one button – deet-deet – and next galaxy, just like that.” One day, he says, he will build his own “space travel machine”. Let us hope so; maybe then his body will be able to keep up with the mind that is already travelling at the speed of light. It is fascinating to observe where Shaun is in his development, the colliding of different experiences and ideas, like science and religion. Through greater exposure, he is starting to ask the kinds of questions that will test the different, sometimes competing, information he receives. As he Page 36
grows up, this will ultimately shape how he sees the world. In the future, Shaun wants to be a scientist. And while he may not yet fully understand what that means in practice, it says a lot about the impact the science subjects have on his developing mind. This, in a country with statistics that suggest negative trends in maths and science. Perhaps Shaun represents a generation of South Africans whose exposure to the greater world has fewer limitations, representing the full graduation of South Africa and its people into the globalised world. If yesterday’s born-frees are studying for qualifications that did not exist before 1994 and pursuing careers that were previously inaccessible to their parents, one wonders what Shaun Makwala and his generation are going to achieve. ***
You say that when you first came to Olifantsvlei you had a difficult time? When I first came here I went straight to Grade 1, but actually I was supposed be in Grade R. I was too young, my brain was too slow and my body was too lazy. I was still childish. In the beginning I was usually sleeping in class, playing around, but towards the end of the year, they put me in Grade R. That is where I met my friend, Shaun Jika, and other people. My uncle also attended Olifantsvlei, but now he is in Grade 11 at Moses Maren. He taught me something, and now my brain is sharp! Last year I got four certificates. English, Life Skills, Natural Science Technology and Maths. When I was in Grade 3 there was this maths competition, and I was the only boy that got a certificate. Hmmm, and what else can I tell you …?
Why did you struggle in Grade 1?
I was five years old. And there is this thing called television entertainment. It made me want to just open my eyes 24-7. I couldn’t sleep. When I did sleep, it was for a looong time. And this thing of Transformers, I first saw it in Limpopo when we got a satellite dish. I wanted to watch it all day. I wouldn’t miss it. But the bad thing now is that they don’t show it any more on Cartoon Network. I have this Transformer, his name is Optimus Prime. My grandmother bought it for me last December. I started to think about this Transformer since I was in Grade 1. I wanted to buy it. Every day I prayed, I prayed, I prayed, it did not come. I prayed and prayed for four years! All of them, praying. God made me get it when I was in Grade 4. Just think about it, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, Grade 4. It’s a lot of praying! When you want to pray for something from God, it takes a very long time. It is quick for Him, but to you it’s a very long time. Four years for Him is nothing, it is like four hours. From this experience I learnt a very big thing. Even now, my
mother wants to buy a car. She prays and prays to win the lotto, but nothing. I usually tell her, “Mom, I got this Transformer after four years, I wonder how long it will take for the lotto to come?” Some people say that Jesus is not true. The scientists. I just want to see Jesus. But not when I am dead, with my eyes open like this. “Ha! Jesus, it is really you?” Like that. Sometimes you have to see something to know that it is true.
Tell me about school. Do you enjoy it?
I enjoy it. [Tapping his head] The thing I like most is that I get more information. Why do you like information? [Split-second pause] I want to use it when I grow! I want to use it for everything that I do.
What is your favourite subject?
Maths! I like it because of these 1-plus-1 things. And we do the vertical things and the breaking down, and I can do this all very quickly. One teacher told us that you must always pass maths. I got 92% in a test we did. Really!
When you grow up, what do you want to be?
A scientist, nothing more. I want to go to space. I want to see the next galaxies and find out if aliens really exist. I want to be a scientist and play with electric stuff! I want to be an inventor and an explorer. I want to explore space and the galaxies. There are many things I want to see. When I ask my teacher, she says I mustn’t know these things right now. I must wait until I am in high school. Do you know the movie by the name Transformers? I want to build that thing. I want to build it! It’s so awesome. Being a scientist is very cool.
What is your dream?
I have a dream. I dreamt once that I was building a Transformer and it blew up in my face. Then I woke up and I didn’t see the rest of the dream. I dream too much! And let me ask you something. Is it true that you can dream something and then it comes true? My great-grandfather passed in 2004, just after I was born. He died when he was 103. My grandmother told me I didn’t see him, but in my mind I did see him. I remember a day when we were in Limpopo, making a fire. He was there. But when I ask my family, they say no. My mind says it was him, I can’t change that …
Founding Board member
ressed in their Sunday best they make their way down Marshall Street, in Johannesburg’s CBD. The parents and their eight children are headed to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Phillips Street. This is their weekly ritual. The mood is light, playful, but as they get closer it is as if they all know to change. Their voices become whispers. Eventually they cross the street and continue walking on the other side, until they are clear of the Marshall Square police station. It is a place that strikes fear in many hearts, just as John Vorster Square will after it opens in 1968. Griffith Zabala was born and spent his formative years in the city. His family lived near a mine dump close to the convergence of Marshall and Commissioner Streets between Fordsburg and Ferreirasdorp, the oldest part of the city. The area, known as Malay Camp, was close to where gold was first dug for. The vibrant commercial settlement was filled with a mixture of Malays, coloureds, Indians, Chinese and black families that worked in the mines, factories, bustling textile industry and in small shops as traders. Like the better-known Sophiatown, its diverse residents mingled freely with little concern for the segregationist laws of the time, until the apartheid machinery tore the community apart. Zabala’s father was from Mozambique and worked as an induna (chief) on the mines. His responsibilities included recruiting people for the mines, something he was very good at, as well as receiving new arrivals and facilitating their entry into the mines. Because of this, he was well respected by this community, but it also meant that the family’s small home was always filled with people. Zabala’s mother, Tutu Radebe, was from Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal. She worked as a seamstress at the Transvaal Clothing Industries for many years. Aged 14, Zabala was given first-hand experience of this world when Radebe forced him to work in the factory as a dispatch clerk during school holidays. The family moved to Chiawelo, Soweto, in 1963. Zabala began his high school education in 1967, at Sekano-Ntoane Secondary School in Senaoane, Soweto,
where he quickly made friends with classmate Cyril Ramaphosa. During school holidays, all the way to their matric year, the pair worked at the Industrial Council for Clothing Industries as clerks, together with people such as Frank Chikane, Lybon Mabasa and Ishmael Mkhabela. It was one of the first times that Zabala became aware of the true nature of the exploitation that cut through South African society. “That is where I got a shock. In 1970, or thereabout, I looked at my mother’s records and saw she was only earning R15 a week as an experienced machinist after working in that factory for more than 20 years. At the same time, as clerks,
Zabala began his high school education in 1967, at Sekano-Ntoane Secondary School in Senaoane, Soweto, where he quickly made friends with classmate Cyril Ramaphosa
we were earning R20 a week. She didn’t even have benefits or job security.” After matriculating Zabala, together with Ramaphosa, went on to the University of the North, choosing a degree in Social Work. Experiences of youth activism, community work and Black Consciousness pulled him towards this choice. But three weeks before his final exams in 1977, Zabala and six others were expelled and declared persona non grata at the university by the then rector of the university, Professor Kgware, because of their politics. It was painful for the young student. Back in Johannesburg, Zabala went about trying to find work. A personnel manager from Unilever, Reuel Khoza, had previously visited Turfloop and was interested in offering Zabala a position at Unilever. He set up an interview with the company, but was turned down when they learnt that he had been expelled. This story repeated itself many times. When he explained his situation to Page 40
Ina Perlman in her office at the Institute of Race Relations, the well-connected humanitarian referred him to the Reverend David Nkwe of St Paul’s Anglican Church. The pastor was running a self-help project in Jabavu, Soweto, and might help. Some days after meeting with Nkwe, Zabala presented himself to the Reverend Dale White at the Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre (WFC) in Roodepoort. The WFC was originally established in 1949 by a group of six men, made up of educationalists and Christian ministers, as a space where different racial groups and denominations could meet and engage freely, something that was rare in South Africa at the time. White, who was eventually awarded the Order of the Baobab in Gold for his work at the WFC, was running a number of initiatives and offered Zabala a job identifying TB patients across Soweto who were linked to the South African National Tuberculosis Association. In 1978 the conversation shifted to ways in which they could foster self-reliance economically, as rising unemployment was becoming an issue. Zabala started a candle-making project at the vestry of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Jabavu White City. It began with 10 people, eventually employing 85 people across Soweto who earned as much as R85 a week. And so Ukukhanya Candles, meaning “light”, was born.
When he returned to South Africa in 1980 he returned to work at Wilgespruit, putting his new-found knowledge into growing and strengthening the centre’s various self-help initiatives. In 1981 he read in a newspaper that the case against his expulsion from the University of the North had been won, meaning he was allowed to return to Turfloop to complete his degree. The only condition was that he redo the entire year. It was an interesting time as, in the interim, Zabala had accumulated many years of practical work experience. Seeing this, the university asked him to supervise fellow students during practicals and later he was offered a lecturing post. But he was more interested in practice than theory, and he returned to work at the WFC. For a decade he continued to grow and diversify the centre’s projects, while also adding to his list of qualifications by completing a number of courses in the US, Canada and the UK. In 1990 Zabala registered for a Master’s degree in Human Resources at the University of the Witwatersrand. The question of self-reliance was becoming increasingly important given the changes that were coming; the big question being asked was what South Africa, after apartheid, might look like and how would it sustain its diverse population. “Our philosophy of the time,” Zabala says, “was that liberation would eventually come and that we needed to be prepared to deal with economics after this change. We knew we needed to have people liberated economically; we saw this across Africa and other places where you achieve political freedom and then you get stuck because you are not equipped to deal with the economics.” In 1991 Zabala left the WFC and went to work on various development projects for labour unions and community development initiatives. In 1993 he set up his own consultancy in response to civil society, and the NGO sector in particular, being emptied of skilled and experienced people who were taking positions in government. Together with USAID and a US-based organisation, Private Agencies Collaborating Together, they developed a training programme focused on management, governance and strategic planning. Zabala was later part of the advisory committee that looked at the establishment of the National Development Agency, where he helped with the concept document and organisational design, and raising the funds needed to make it operational. When his former schoolmate and long-time friend, Cyril Ramaphosa, contacted Zabala in the early 2000s to request help in establishing Adopt-a-School Foundation, he agreed. With his background in development, Zabala has relished the challenge of being part of growing Adopt-a-School, the balancing act of meeting the different needs of the Foundation’s staff, corporate donors and schools. “This is everybody’s problem, all of us. This is a historical, systemic issue that we have inherited, but it is ours and we all need to decide what we are going to do about it. We need to become proactive when it comes to education, rather than always reacting like we do. We can make education work.”
With his background in development, Zabala has relished the challenge of being part of growing Adopt-a-School There was little electricity in Soweto at the time, so the strategy was to market the candles at churches around Soweto every Sunday. It was not merely an act of selling candles, but also a vehicle for economic empowerment. In June 1979 Zabala was given the opportunity to study for a diploma in social development, through the Coady International Institute at the St Francis Xavier University in Canada. The course dealt with development perspectives, cooperatives, credit union self-help schemes and marketing. Zabala thrived on engaging with people doing similar work in countries such as India, Pakistan, Chile, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Ghana, Uganda and the Caribbean islands. The experience had a significant impact on his own understanding, opening his eyes to global perspectives on development. “This was one of my best experiences. I learnt so much about development in general, particularly the value of education in development, moving from theory to practice, where you work with adults to help them design programmes that improve their social and economic life.”
Abram Sekgobela T
he pair of friends are greeted by long queues of eager young people at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Abram Sekgobela has agreed to accompany his friend for moral support, and to help with his registration process. In his final year of Occupational Therapy studies at the Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA), Sekgobela understands both the excitement and bureaucracy. Reaching the funding counter, his friend submits the necessary documentation. The administrative assistant then asks which course he is applying for. Without thinking, Sekgobela answers, “Chemical Engineering.” It just so happens that he brought his matric certificate along and after his results are examined, he is told that he qualifies for a bursary. Before he can grasp what is happening, he is being led to the queues for Chemical Engineering. He likes occupational therapy, particularly the theory, but his lecturers have commented repeatedly that he has to work on establishing a connection with his patients. A security guard shouts an instruction, breaking his thoughts. “If you are registering for Mechanical or Civil Engineering, you are in the wrong queue.” The words “civil engineering” strike Sekgobela’s ears like lightning, transporting him back to a childhood of drawing detailed, three-dimensional buildings and constructing things by hand, of being in love with structures, as well as big dreams for the future. It is like he has awoken from a deep sleep. Two words have changed Sekgobela’s life. He registers for Civil Engineering at TUT in 2001, before dropping out of MEDUNSA. Friends and family question his sanity. How can he quit, so close to the end of his degree? His response is simple: to continue would be to waste more time, when he now knows what he is meant to do.
Sekgobela was born in Ngobi village, in the north of Hammanskraal. Primary school, in particular, was enjoyable and he showed himself to be a strong student, earning him popularity and positive attention. While his parents supported their children’s education, Sekgobela’s abilities were inherent and fuelled by strong self-motivation. In 1996 Sekgobela was the only matric in his school to write all subjects on higher grade, even after being discouraged from doing so. The following year the family left Hammanskraal for Mabopane. Financially, it was not possible for Sekgobela to continue to tertiary education, so he spent the year doing piecemeal jobs. His childhood dream of becoming a civil engineer was shelved, forgotten. While in matric, representatives from MEDUNSA had visited his school, looking to recruit potential candidates for occupational therapy.
‘I learnt too quickly. Within two months I was an inspector working on my own section … That is how I work. If I really want to understand something I commit myself to it’ Sekgobela was an obvious choice and so he filled in the forms. In 2002, seven years after forgetting about his engineering dreams, Sekgobela walked into his first lecture at TUT. Three years later he was qualified. His first job was with Knight Piésold Consulting. After a few months in the Johannesburg office he worked as a junior inspector on the Berg River Dam project, near Franschhoek. For the first time in his life, Sekgobela was now doing the work he had dreamed of, and he made full use of the opportunity. “I learnt too quickly. Within two months I was an inspector working on my own section … That is how I work. If I really want to understand something I commit myself to it,” he says. In January 2007 he started work on the Marlboro-Centurion section of the Page 42
Gautrain as a site engineer. To be involved in a project of this size and nature was a rare opportunity that Sekgobela relished, and he threw himself into the work. Within six months he was the first to volunteer to do method statements. A complex document serving as a step-by-step plan for the project, a method statement has to consider and address every stage of the entire build cycle. It was a chance to test himself. In December 2009 the global financial crisis made its presence felt, and the project began retrenchments. From here Sekgobela did some shorter contracts with other companies, until he received a phone call from an old acquaintance, Paul Ramusetheli, who asked if he was interested in a unique opportunity. “I didn’t know what Adopt-a-School was … When I saw they were building schools I thought to myself, ‘No, from dams, trains, and hospitals to building classrooms! That is a step backwards.’ But then Paul explained the whole thing to me and it sounded interesting. It was more like working with a community and giving back.” Sekgobela was interviewed and started as a project manager in August 2012. Since then he has worked on projects in more than 20 schools, most of them in KwaZulu-Natal, witnessing first hand the poor physical state of many public schools. Unlike the construction industry, the Adopt-a-School model takes a peoplecentred approach to projects. Previously Sekgobela had little engagement with the beneficiaries of his work, whereas now he has to work with them as project partners. For the concrete-loving Sekgobela, his biggest learning curve was to fast-track an education in creating connections with people. From community engagement and sitting on project steering committees, to site management and skills development, his current job revolves around people. And while tough, it has been rewarding: “By the end of the project I know the people. I still get phone calls years later to ask how I am, and when I will visit.” While the size and complexity of the projects pale in comparison to his previous positions, there is a sense that the impact of Sekgobela’s work is felt much more in his current role. Having grown up in a rural area, he knows from personal experience the importance of the school as a place where children from underresourced communities can expand their horizons. “I think this is the same for these kids; if they get a better school, it will grow their knowledge of the world. If where they come from and where they go to is the same, then the world will stay small. And that is really unfair.” This reality keeps things in perspective, a constant reminder of the power a building has to change someone’s view of their place in the world. When the chance to work on a never-done-before project came up, the challenge-loving Sekgobela was the first to put his name forward. Adopt-a-School Foundation has embarked on a pilot in partnership with the Department of Education’s Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI), aimed at testing a different approach to the total transformation, infrastructure and social development, of three mud schools in KwaZulu-Natal. There are
still around 400 mud schools in use in South Africa, and the ASIDI project was designed to try implement a more holistic methodology to transforming this reality. What excited him was the opportunity to build three complete, fully equipped schools from the ground up. Since starting in 2014 he has split his time between the three sites, covering long distances, dealing with a range of issues, and having to problem-solve on the go. “When we started it was a challenge,” he says, “because there was nothing. But now we can see the buildings rising up. So I think the day we hand over is going to be big. It means a lot to me personally. I would never let them take me off this project; it is something I want to see to completion. The project has become part of me.” Ingweniphaphama Primary School, one of the ASIDI schools, was the worst he had ever seen. The tired, three-roomed mud structure both shocked and encouraged him. He tells the story of arriving on site at the beginning of the build, only to find that 13 of the 19 community members hired as builders were women, many of them mothers of the school’s learners. But as experience keeps showing him, people, like buildings, are unique in character and behaviour.
Unlike the construction industry, the Adopt-a-School model takes a people-centred approach to projects “I think they could see I was not happy,” he says with a smile, “so they told me that they were there to work and I should give them the opportunity; they would show me what they could do. They showed me!” So the former occupational therapy student, the one who struggled to connect with his patients, has come full circle. Today he works hand-in-hand with diverse communities and people, connecting, both personally and professionally, with them on projects. The qualified civil engineer now spends more time building people than infrastructure, empowering them as agents of change in their own schools and communities.
Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School
The school in the dust
uch of the burnt orange earth is exposed, vulnerable to the elements. In places, a few tufts of green cling stubbornly to life. These grounds have been walked bare by thousands of young feet and then baked hard by the summer sun. But today, even though the heavens stir, threatening rain, the dust is still. It is as if it does so out of respect for the scheduled event: a celebration. Inside an unusually long classroom block of tiled floors and red brick walls, many chairs, in different configurations, and a centre table have been carefully arranged. The atmosphere is quiet, as still as a classroom should be. Those assembled sit in the sections allocated to them. Mostly, they are silent, as if observing protocol. Those who talk, do so in whispers. All of a sudden a uniformed group at the back rise to their feet and, in a single
â€˜If you see yourself as a grasshopper, the next person will see you as a grasshopper. If you see yourself as nothing, you will be nothingâ€™
breath, the large space is filled with the unified voices rising and falling in prayerfilled song. Then a woman, dressed in an outfit that seems to glimmer, steps forward. Page 45
“If you see yourself as a grasshopper, the next person will see you as a grasshopper. If you see yourself as nothing, you will be nothing.” She scans the audience, taking them in over the rims of her glasses. Nearly six foot tall, her physical presence commands attention. The patterned, matching silver jacket and skirt, and the Bible cradled in one hand, add a seriousness and formality. When she speaks, her chosen words have the quality of a sermon. “If you approach life after matric as if you will face giants, you will find giants.” Most of what she has to say is directed at the young
people seated to her left. Some nod their heads in silent agreement. The programme continues in the same spirit, equal parts celebration and reflection. The guest speaker, industrial psychologist Floyd Hlengani, takes the floor. He speaks as a young person, as a professional, but more importantly as someone who has had to rise above challenging circumstances. He switches between his psychologist’s voice, township slang, English and Zulu. There are elements of a lecture, interspersed with deeply personal storytelling laden with advice. “When they went around class one day in primary school,” he begins with a glint in his eye, “asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I told them a psychologist. My class laughed at me.” Born and raised in Tembisa on Johannesburg’s East Rand, Hlengani’s background closely mirrors the realities of those he is talking to. When he lost his father he was still at school, adding to many pressures by thrusting him into the man-of-the-house role. After completing matric he faced financial impediments to study further. But he persevered. Not only did he manage to achieve his degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, but he proved himself enough to be selected to do a Master’s degree. “There were times I asked myself: why am I struggling? Why am I facing hardship? I was one of those students who never had lunch money. It was at varsity that I learnt that the hardships I faced, were the ones that got me to where I am today. For example, I played cricket with my varsity peers and then after the match I would go and work behind the bar, serving them. It is not about being clever, because there were many who were cleverer than me – it is about determination.” The fresh faces, both buoyed by their success and daunted by the next, uncertain stage in their lives, hang on his words. There is no formula or compass to direct them and there are no guarantees. “The two most important days in a person’s life,” says Hlengani in conclusion, “are not the day of your birth and the day of your death. No. It is the day you are born, and the day you figure out why you are here …” Then comes the turn of a woman introduced as “the driver of the train”, the principal. Starting off, she says that she does not want to speak, but she does. And her words are both stern and heartfelt. She speaks to the young people, some dressed in clothes that read Class of 2014, like a mother. “We are here to celebrate the class of 2014!” Ella Matlejoane’s announcement is greeted with wild applause. “But we celebrate with dignity and respect.” She pauses then, before continuing: “This class, coming from the places you come from, you have
‘If you approach life after matric as if you will face giants, you will find giants’
still ensured that, as Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School, we will be counted among the best.” And with this statement the prizegiving begins. In one corner, a table has been decorated with care and delight. The embroidered tablecloth is crisp and clean. Meticulously arranged are a number of trophies, medals and certificates, together with small gift boxes and two large bunches of flowers. They are symbolic of the deep sense of pride there is in the success of the previous year. And the list is long. In the space of half an hour, many names are called out in categories such as distinctions, best overall learners per subject and grade, teachers with outstanding subject results. On hearing his name, one teacher rises slowly from his seat. There is almost an air of disinterest about him. During the ceremony he has left the room numerous times, changing seats each time. He shakes hands while receiving his trophy, but his facial expression remains unchanged. As he turns to go back to his seat his former students whistle and clap, acknowledging the investment that helped propel them to a 100% subject pass rate. Seeing this, even he cannot help himself. Just before turning to sit, he pumps his arm vigorously as a wide grin bursts onto his now-proud face. And so another Moses Maren matric lunch draws to a close, and those assembled split off into different groups to eat. The annual event is the school’s alternative to a matric dance; their opportunity to focus on rewarding the hard work of both teachers and learners, rather than on partying. Today the future appears to be pretty bright for this “school in the dust”.
not enough and the Reverend Maren negotiated a lease on more land. Part of the agreement was that, considering the backgrounds of learners, the school offer practical skills as well. And so the technical aspect of the school’s curriculum was born. Over the years, they have offered subjects such as Mechanical Technology, Engineering, Graphics, Design and Agriculture. The reverend was a resourceful man, intent on building a mission that would provide quality education for the local community. Despite the rapid expansion of areas such as Lenasia to the west, Eikenhof in the east and Freedom Park to the north, the school remains rural by virtue of its location – open veld and farmland, and some small industry. Still, it has grown significantly in its two decades of existence. These developments have brought changes to the school’s demographics. Today its learners are mostly from informal settlements and new RDP developments,
In the true South African style of juxtaposing light and dark, the school is cultivating in seemingly infertile soil
*** Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School is not the average school. Though the profile of its learners, the communities it serves and the long list of challenges it faces are very much typical of South Africa, it is somehow different. The school first began as an offshoot of Olifantsvlei Primary School in 1996. The Reverend Moses Maren had recently left what he believed to be a calling. When he arrived in this piece of flat, open veld, he found the Reverend Ramosime teaching the children of local farmworkers out of a cowshed. Together they worked on growing a bigger vision. The Reverend Maren was able to secure funding to grow the primary school through private donations and business sponsorship. Over the years they managed to grow Olifantsvlei Primary up to Grade 7. The high school came naturally, arising from the fact that as children progressed there was a need for a secondary phase. In those days there were no high schools in the area, so learners were forced to look for schools in Soweto – or they dropped out of school entirely. Moses Maren began in just four classrooms at Olifantsvlei. But soon this was
with a small percentage coming from surrounding farms. These communities face a range of social issues, such as a lack of resources, poverty, unemployment and crime. With learner numbers at around 1 116 and only 37 teaching staff, there is a strain on both human and material resources. However, the support of the private sector continues to help the school negotiate these constraints. The infrastructure upgrades in recent years alone have helped bring classroom sizes down. In addition, government-supported transport and feeding schemes have also eased the burden on learners’ families. In the true South African style of juxtaposing light and dark, the school is cultivating in seemingly infertile soil. In 2010, Adopt-a-School Foundation visited Moses Maren to get a better understanding of the school’s needs. It had been involved in Olifantsvlei Primary, the feeder school of Moses Maren. After gleaning a deeper understanding of the school’s reality, Adopt-a-School set out to find corporate sponsorship. The Shanduka Group, the adopter of Olifanstvlei Primary School, sponsored the building of four classrooms for Moses Maren in an effort to reduce overcrowding. In 2012, the Foundation secured the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) as the adopting partner. Since then, this relationship has resulted in the building of nine much-needed classrooms, one being a modern, well-equipped science lab. At the same time, Adopt-a-School has facilitated camps for learners and exposed them to initiatives such as the Cell C Take a Girl Child to Work Day, various mentorship programmes and motivational workshops. In addition, Adopt-a-School has made use of its large network to get other companies to sponsor much-needed resources.
Diamond in the rough
Grade 12 learner takes to the floor. Her round face is soft, bright and amenable. More striking than this, though, is the tangible confidence that she exudes.
Although she is relatively short, her confidence gives her a sense of increased height. Because of who she is and what she has achieved during her school career, there are many who have high hopes for her. But while this weight might be too much for some, it is incidental for Thembi Diamond. She is driven by a much stronger force: her own will. “Accomplishment starts with the decisions that are made.” She has been selected to deliver a speech at the matric lunch. The choice was an obvious one, as she has a passion for public speaking and is at ease when doing so. Her words are directed at the class of 2014, in particular the top learner who spoke just moments ago. It is a powerful message about fear as the biggest obstacle to success in life, and that it can be overcome. She speaks to the power of individual choice, determination and courage.
Thembi blossomed very early on at school. In Grade 3 she came top of the class in a numeracy competition; there have been many more awards since then. When asked if this is natural talent, she pauses. “I worked hard!” she says. But despite her seemingly abundant energy, drive and determination, as well as a good measure of natural talent, Thembi is also a product of her surroundings. It seems she was always destined for greatness, but the opportunities that have been presented to her mean that she has had a head start. Grade 6 was a turning point for her, and for Olifantsvlei. During the course
‘Accomplishment starts with the decisions that are made’
It is difficult to believe that Thembi’s surname is coincidental. To the many who know her, she is just that, a diamond. Born in the small Free State town of Heilbron, she was four years old when she was sent to live with her grandmother in Johannesburg. Her parents followed some time later, when the old woman passed away. The middle child and only girl, Thembi has strong ties to Moses Maren and her former primary school, the neighbouring Olifantsvlei. Both schools have shaped her. In addition, Thembi’s mother has served on the School Governing Body of Moses Maren and teaches Grade R at Olifantsvlei Primary School.
of 2009, volunteer architecture students from the University of Innsbruck in Austria built the Grade R block. The same year, the school received a new Science laboratory, library and computer labs with the support of Adopt-a-School Foundation. “Everything changed,” she explains, “especially in the sciences. Before, we used to struggle with experiments, but the new lab gave us all we needed. The next year, in Grade 7, I got awards for the best student in Natural and Social Sciences, English, and the best overall performance. I don’t think I would have been able to do all this without the new labs and the library.” When she made the transition to high school Thembi’s mother instructed her not to lose her head, telling her that nothing had to change. With this advice still fresh in her ears, she joined the debating team, the Representative Council of Learners and Bems & Gems, a peer-to-peer counselling initiative. A major milestone was being selected to be mentored as part of a Cell C Institute of Mentorship programme. Being assigned former ambassador and businesswoman Cheryl Carolus as a mentor has given her exposure, and allowed Thembi to grow in different and unexpected ways. By consistently exploiting Page 50
various opportunities to gain experience and exposure, Thembi has slowly filled her toolbox. Each opportunity has opened her to learnings about herself and the world. Another major factor in her development has been her support networks at school and at home. For example, her brother dropped out in matric and has struggled ever since. With hindsight he sat his sister down, hoping to share his mistakes so that she might avoid the same lessons. The dedication of teachers at Moses Maren has also helped her succeed. She tells stories of weekends being dedicated to extra lessons, of how her Maths results improved after a concerned teacher called her in to discuss her challenges – the true power of this intervention being that it came from a teacher who was not even her Maths teacher. Perhaps the most important individual in Thembi’s life is her mother. A pillar of strength, Catherine Diamond speaks as if her daughter is her best friend and own shining star. “There has never been one like her,” explains Diamond. Who knows what tomorrow holds for Thembi, but she knows that one has to start at the bottom if one wants to end at the top. The road is still long, but she is very well equipped. Remember, don’t stop when you are tired. Stop when you are done. ***
Where does your love of education come from? I believe that it is a weapon you can use to change where you come from.
Does this drive you, to make that change?
What really drives me is that my mother did everything so that my brother could finish school, but he dropped out. I was also taking education lightly, just going to school because I had no choice. But my brother sat with me and told me to learn from his mistakes. My mother is depending on me to do my best. I also have a younger sibling, and I want to be an example to him and take care of him so my mother can retire early.
What motivated you to be a part of extra-mural activities such as peer counselling?
I don’t know, but I have passion inside of me. I think it is easier to change things if you talk about what is inside of you, so I wanted to help my peers by being there for them. At least I can say that I helped; I didn’t just sit back and watch. I could have, but I chose to do something towards preventing negative things from happening.
It sounds like you are quite a focused, serious young woman. Have you experienced any negativity from your peers? I have not experienced it directly but sometimes, when I sat in class, no one would want to sit next to me, or they would pass by as if I was invisible. Especially after the Cell C mentorship programme. I was given a tablet and people were critical, asking why everything is about me. It bothered me at first and I told my father. He said that people will try and get to you, try to get you down, but if you know what you are working for, nothing can stop you. So now I don’t care. I know what I am aiming for. I remember being at an event with Adopt-a-School Foundation, and the words of Mr Cyril Ramaphosa when he quoted the late Mr Mandela. That it always seems impossible until it is done. This really motivated me. It might seem impossible for a school like Moses Maren to achieve a 99% pass [rate], but when it is done then everyone can believe it is possible. The word “impossible”, when you break it down and add an apostrophe, is “I’m possible”.
If you could speak to the youth of South Africa, what would you say to them?
Just be the change you want to see in the world. Your attitude determines your outtitude. As the youth we always come up with excuses. I can’t study, the neighbours are making noise. I can’t study, I don’t understand the teacher. I can’t study, my mother doesn’t help me. We always use excuses, but the minute we put our excuses aside and focus on the future, we can get there. The opportunities are there. We as the youth always complain. We complain that we don’t have money for airtime to get data for research, but we have money for Facebook. We don’t think about the future, we worry about now. We don’t care. We have to change our mindsets.
You have had a lot of exposure through awards and camps, and so on. Do you think your achievements so far are a product of all these things you are talking about?
Yes, and the good support system I have in my family. I believe I couldn’t have done it without them. Maybe I could have, but what really matters is what is in here [she puts her hand over her heart]. Because your parents can talk and talk but, in the end, it is what you decide that counts. At the end of the day you go to bed and you are alone. And you think about all the choices you have made, and how you are going to be affected by them.
‘Let’s show them a rainbow’
"Gijima, gijima! (Run, run!)" Three girls run around a small tree and, with heavy feet, head back towards her. The slow pace quickens as she shouts another warning. "Five … Six … Seven …"
There is a mixture of seriousness and play in her voice. In the whole situation, in fact. To her right, the large palisade gate is unlocked to allow another group of latecomers in. Four boys swallow smiles and lower their gaze as they approach her. "And you? The second time this week? Come, froggy jumps."
They look at her with long faces, disbelief even, despite knowing the ritual. Slowly, they slide their backpacks off their shoulders, place them against the wall, squat and then start hopping for 20 metres. Another group arrives. “Look at you! You don’t know how to dress yourself, even in Grade 11? Tuck your shirt in. And you, Nhlanhla, that tie is not for Moses Maren – remove it. And these things on your wrists, I didn’t know that was part of our uniform.” Principal Ella Matlejoane spends 20 minutes, just after the first bell has rung, patrolling the school gate. Here she intercepts late arrivals, punishing them with physical exercises and reprimanding them, before sending them to class. The scene is repeated daily. In this short time she gets a sense of who to keep an eye on. In a very basic way, it is a test of the health of the school. She is also able to affirm her position as the captain of the ship. This is one of the occasions she is able to send a message about her expectations of those in her school. This is crucial, because the moment she shows weakness is the moment she loses control. But the hard exterior also conceals her softer side. She makes her presence as principal known through this tough exterior, as the person ultimately
accountable for the health of the collective, yet this is juxtaposed with a caring, tenderness for the individual. It is a motherly touch. Nhlanhla was a star pupil. Now, due to difficult circumstances at home and some poor peer-pressure decisions, he has somewhat lost his way. His story is just one among 1 115 in the bigger tale of teenage youth grappling with a range of societal challenges. Two days after being reprimanded for being tardy and intentionally ignoring the school dress code, he is summoned to the principal’s office. The muffled knock on the door suggests he is fully aware that he must face the music. This is confirmed by the timid tone in his body language as he appears from behind the door. Matlejoane tilts her head forward, so that she can take him in over the rim of her glasses. He stands in front of her, stripped of the other day’s bravado. She does not speak many words, but her eyes say plenty. Reaching into a cardboard box against the back wall, she produces a new tie still in its plastic cover. “These are our colours. I don’t want to see you with that other nonsense again!” As he turns to exit the office he grins to himself, lifted by the reassurance that she has not given up on him, even though he is still struggling in himself. He leaves seeming a little taller, more confident, than when he walked in. ***
“You become a jack of all trades,” she says with a knowing that radiates from behind experienced eyes. “I’m a pastor – you have to pray for them; a policewoman – you have to investigate who stole this one’s phone; a counsellor – you must listen to their problems; even a mother, when they just need some tenderness.” She leans back in her chair. It’s as if her whole body sighs. “I worry about that boy. He has such potential, but something has happened to him and I pray that he can recover.” She says this as if she knows there is only so much she can do, as if her ability for caring seems grossly outweighed by her ability to make a difference. After all,
this young man is one in a thousand. His is not even the most concerning story she has had to deal with. Matlejoane does not dwell on the point for long. Selfpity is not one of her indulgences, and she has a job to do. “I always tell my colleagues,” says Ella Matlejoane, somewhat philosophically, “that I don’t want my fear to come true. That I get robbed in my home by a former Moses Maren learner because I failed to give him the education that he needed to make something of his life. I don’t ever want that.” “They come from a grey area, so when they come here they see grey. Let’s show them a rainbow,” she says. “There are far more colours to the world. I want them to see this.” On 16 June 1976, when young people from across Soweto stood up against a decree that required them to learn in Afrikaans, Matlejoane was in Standard 7. More than a single decree, the youth were protesting the government’s entire Bantu Education policy, which was backed up by a state designed to keep them oppressed, destined for menial labour and limited opportunities. That day the youth lit a match that would set fire to the township and later spread across the country. That day, the youth made their voices heard and re-energised a struggle that had started to turn cold. The Young Lions, as this generation would come to be known, set events in motion that would eventually lead to the end of apartheid itself.
Fifteen years old, Matlejoane was the first-born of a “supportive and loving” family. Her parents, concerned for her safety and education, sent her to Johannesburg’s East Rand to continue her schooling. After completing matric, like many young women of the time, she enrolled at Soweto College in 1980 to do a Primary Teaching Diploma. Despite the turbulence in the country, she got on with life, qualifying as a teacher, getting married and starting a family. But after two years of teaching, she decided to leave because “small children were driving me mad”. So she moved into the hair care industry. Among her achievements, she helped to establish the Black Like Me brand. But the long hours and time away from home and her three children became too much, and she decided to return to teaching. She registered at Vista University for a BCom Education in 1992, and went on to do a postgraduate diploma at Stellenbosch University. In 1996 she received a phone call from a family friend who was establishing a secondary school in an area outside Soweto. Though Matlejoane could probably have found a more attractive position elsewhere, she joined seven other teachers to start Moses Maren. In many ways, this was also the start of the journey of her life. “We were all hands-on,” she recalls. “I remember one of my colleagues could drive a truck, so we all climbed on the back and drove into Lenasia to look for
furniture for the school. Another time I drove with Reverend Maren in his very old Toyota to go and fetch a photocopying machine from somewhere. It went step by step. We had to find things ourselves to get the school going. We literally built this school from the ground up!”
Committee that something changed. “Part of our duty,” she explains, “was doing home visits, familiarising ourselves with the situations of our learners and collecting data. We put a lot of attention on this. Spending time understanding the details of the lives of these learners was a wake-up call. Having grown up in a loving family with both parents, hearing some of these stories brought me to tears.” A decision had to be made. She could continue to do her job, delivering the prescribed syllabus, leaving her work in the classroom and making peace with this troubling reality. Or she could do more. This is something every teacher at Moses Maren has to face. “There is something I tell teachers who are preparing to start work here,” Matlejoane explains. “I tell them that this is a unique school. Here, you go beyond! As much as there are lines that need to be drawn between a teacher and learner, some of these kids, like the orphans, don’t have that closeness and
‘I tell them that this is a unique school. Here, you go beyond! As much as there are lines that need to be drawn between a teacher and learner, some of these kids, like the orphans, don’t have that closeness and compassion at home’
Matlejoane grew as a person as her career at Moses Maren developed. First, as secretary of the first School Governing Body, then as head of department for Commerce and later, in 2006, when she was made principal. There are moments in an individual’s working life that make such an impression they can even alter the person’s direction. It was while working on the School-Based Support
compassion at home. Some are attention-seekers here at school because they are robbed of that love at home. So our relationships have boundaries, but we have to give them that extra bit of attention and love that they need. There is no rubbish bin for children!” She tells the story of a family of particularly bright children, the son being so academically strong he obtained three distinctions in matric. Their mother was from Lesotho and so their births had never been registered. When she passed away in the months before the young man wrote his finals, they were without a support system. Not knowing what to do, the son left his mother’s body at home and went to school. That day he just sat in class, a ghost. After a teacher enquired as to the reason why, a group of teachers quickly rallied around him. They went to his home to help to make the funeral arrangements and started a collection to cover the costs. “You just have to jump in and brighten the corner where you are,” she says. Matlejoane has instituted many changes of her own since taking over as principal. One initiative that was started recently is a change in the school’s pass rate. Learners are told throughout the year that less than 50% is a fail, even though the national standard for end-of-year examinations is 30%. “That is how we improve our marks. You cannot pass with 30% and think that you know enough! I ask these learners if they would be happy being operated on by a doctor who has only achieved 30%.” Though her approach may make her unpopular in some quarters, it makes sense when one considers that she is captain of a ship that is sailing against the rising tide of social issues. In many ways, schools such as Moses Maren are at the frontline of South Africa’s future. If they drop the ball or fail the youth, the storm of consequences will be felt in years to come. And so the crew perseveres, even in the knowledge that the statistics often speak against them.
You have been in the education system both before and after 1994. How have things changed?
What does Moses Maren mean to you personally?
What are your needs?
The school, to me, means making a difference to this community. We are serving a disadvantaged community. Our kids come from informal settlements and difficult conditions, and we need to make a difference in their lives, not disadvantage them further.
What we are really struggling with is the weight of issues our kids bring to school. The psychological and emotional issues really limit our ability to teach and their ability to learn. We are here, primarily, to educate and deliver on the syllabus, and not deal with family backgrounds. Is someone being bullied, did they have enough to eat, do they have low self-esteem? These things take away from what we do. I cannot ignore them, but it does disrupt learning for the whole class. As teachers, we also have our own baggage and issues to deal with. If we had more support from social services, we could refer different matters to them and have them dealt with by people trained to help. It would be great to have the resources to look at conditions in the homes, sort out grants and get these children the documents they need. This support is not there. I’m servicing children. Not 10, or 100 – I’m servicing 1 115!
One key difference for me was the way we were trained back then. In college we were taught how to discipline the class, how to interact with learners and how to prepare. There is a college way and a university way, and I find that those with degrees are lacking some of the basics. The difference, I think, was the intensity of the training. For practical training we went to school every year and for longer periods of time. University is not the same. This is critical, because where else do teachers get these skills?
What is the result of these changes?
We have lost the code. Our professionalism is gone. You look at the way we dress, for example. You are a role model for these learners. They look up to you, so you need to conduct yourself properly. So, I think the respect for this profession has taken a knock. Learners, too, have a justifiable and unjustifiable lack of respect. Respect is earned, not demanded. Before, we forced it on them, now we have to earn it. Before, I would flog the daylights out of you, whether I was a good teacher or not. Now I have to change tactic. To earn respect is a skill and it requires hard work.
‘Learners, too, have a justifiable and unjustifiable lack of respect. Respect is earned, not demanded. Before, we forced it on them, now we have to earn it’
What are your challenges?
We have learners who are orphans, and they don’t know discipline nor do they know parental love. They are lacking in so many ways. So if we are not there to support them, it is a disservice and we are adding to the problems of our society. You see the way some of them vandalise the school. This is because of idle minds. I want a team that will give their best. They must understand how important it is to be there for these children.
Do you think there is a role for more companies and organisations to take learners outside of their environments and give them exposure beyond their existing worldview? Absolutely! Let me make an example of the South African Police Service. There were days when they took 60 learners at a time to different prisons. We identified a whole range of learners to partake and they came back and some said that this is not a life they want to lead. They got a fright. Even some of the would-be criminals made a change and hit the books. This had them talking and sharing with their peers. Some even told us who should be selected in future. That is what I want – mind-changing, attitude-changing experiences. They are exposed to many things at home, but what they need is to see the world beyond the two-roomed RDP house that they think is life. Imagine, some of them don’t even know the Johannesburg CBD, the tall buildings and confusing streets. And it is just over those hills. With resources and funds it would be easy. The learners don’t pay fees so we can’t charge them for trips. But if companies can open their doors to learners, that would be something. For example, when I was HoD of Commerce I used to take my learners to visit a factory in Benoni when I was teaching production. We would also go to the Reserve Bank. This cost us nothing but transport, and the impact is that they now saw theory in practice and it deepened their understanding. When we were still a fee-paying school, we used to have excursions to places like Sterkfontein Caves. With a lack of resources, it becomes difficult to expose them. So it remains theory, theory, theory, and not see, touch and feel.
If you had the opportunity to address the country about our young people, what would you want us to know?
My first point would be directed to parents. They need to stop abdicating their responsibilities. They need to listen to and communicate with their children. Primary education starts at home. They need to support their children in their decisions and guide them at the same time. Because what I see is a lost generation. Children are expected to make their own decisions without any guidance. Our kids are being given responsibilities when they are far too young. South African communities need to understand that these children are still their responsibility, not just the schools’. Yes, we have a big role to play, but they also need to step up. If they do this, if they play their part, then our work as teachers will also be more effective. It takes a village, but the village is not there. We also have this pull-her-down syndrome. If someone is working on their success, we like to sabotage them rather than learn from them. In South Africa we
really don’t appreciate what we have. For example, these kids have so many free things; all they have to do is study. They don’t pay fees, yet they come to school and make trouble. Before, there was no food and learners were fainting from hunger. So I arranged for meals during the day – and for some this is the only food they get – but the cutlery has disappeared and they hide plates all over the school grounds. What is that? Previously they had to pay R2 for their daily transport, so I wrote a letter to the department. Now it is free. Was that a mistake? It seems that the more they have for free, the less they appreciate it, and the less they use it to their advantage.
What will be the impact if this trend continues?
Moral decay. You have children becoming parents. You have a girl in Grade 9 having her second child. Why is that? You hear frightening stories that girls are sleeping around to have babies to get a grant. It is pure desperation and it is destructive. We have kids here at Moses Maren whose own children are in primary school at Olifantsvlei. They leave here in the afternoon, and go and fetch them on the way home. This child is at school, with all of those pressures, but she has bigger pressures weighing on her, like how does she feed this child, how does she provide for its future? She has no ambitions of her own. She does not dream of going to university or furthering herself. She hopes only to get that matric so that she can get a job as a domestic worker, and earn enough money to clothe and feed herself and her child. If the parents don’t step in and have those family values and principles in place at home, if they keep abdicating their responsibilities and have that live-andlet-live attitude, we will go nowhere. If that is the case, then the cycle of poverty will never leave these communities. It will perpetuate itself generation after generation, until kingdom come.
What is your dream for Moses Maren?
If I could have learners who aspire to be somebody and are supported by their community, their school and their government, that would be it for me. Because then we would have achieved. Then we will have given them quality education. I don’t want quantity. They must pass with good marks so that they can get bursaries and other such opportunities that are available. If we can achieve 100% pass rate and all of them get exemptions – that would be the game-changer!
‘I’m after changing souls’ ‘What is the purpose of these Acts?’ A number of hands shoot up. “Why were these Acts introduced in South Africa?” Eager fingers click in the hope of drawing his attention. Smiles stretch across excited faces as they struggle to contain the answer. Each wants a chance to weigh in on the subject of labour law and human resources being discussed, particularly the Acts and institutions designed to protect workers. “No, my boy, don’t guess. You must know it! Even if I wake you up at five in the morning, you must be able to tell me.” There are fewer than 15 of them in the room, but the class is abuzz. Some of the young men are on the edge of their seats. Every one of them is engaged. “They asked this question in last year’s exam, the seven pillars of BBBEE. If you know it, it is free marks.” His eyes dart around the room, looking past the outstretched arms and expectant faces. Instead he calls out the names of those who are not offering an answer, challenging the ones not sure enough to try. Unlike many other classrooms, the walls of this one are practically bare. The desks are packed so tightly, there is not much room. The green of the chalkboard competes against the multiple layers of white chalk that nearly obscure it. The learning happens through dialogue.
‘While studying,’ he says, ‘I decided that I needed to give back to my community, and it was important for me to do it at this school’ ***
This Commerce teacher’s style is conversational and interactive. His round face is open. It wears a broad, inviting smile that makes him seem friendly and approachable. There is an obvious confidence in his manner, which is significant considering he is 28 years old and has only been teaching since 2012. This fact is made more significant when considering that his subject pass mark was 55% the year he started, climbing to and staying at over 90% for the next three years. Perhaps it is because Victor Sithebe once sat in these same desks, wearing the same uniform. It was his experience of Moses Maren that made it the obvious choice for him after completing his teaching qualification.
“I remember my first day,” he explains. “Some of the staff said, ‘Welcome back to the family.’ When I was introduced to the staff they said this is not a learner any more, he is our colleague. It was just such a great experience.” This introduction was confirmation of the choices he had made that led him to this point, particularly since “family is part of our culture here at Moses Maren”. The school quickly became Sithebe’s home, both literally and figuratively, when,
Sithebe soon discovered a love of education, and in Grades 10 to 12 he was among the top learners. He pauses for a second when asked if this was the result of natural talent, shakes his head, and explains that it was combination of hard work and the fertile school environment. After matriculating in 2005 he found a job as a teller at Standard Bank. It was not long before he was promoted to enquiries, and soon after that to a team leader. Despite the fact that working in a bank had been a goal of his, he only lasted two years in the corporate world. It was time to pursue his dream. While the competitive salaries and scope for growth in the corporate world was tempting, it was not tempting enough. Sithebe completed his studies through the University of Pretoria and, after graduating, called principal Ella Matlejoane and told her he was “ready to come and teach”. “While studying,” he says, “I decided that I needed to give back to my community, and it was important for me to do it at this school.” Sithebe represents a new generation of teachers. Having grown up in a changing society, they are more a product of the new South Africa than the old, and so are well equipped to understand the language of today’s youth. And while the
‘I want to see myself changing someone’s life every day. That is what I want for my life right now’
in 2002, his family decided to send him to Gauteng, two years after his mother was killed by lightning. He lived in the mission hostel across the road from the school. The next five years would significantly impact his life. “This is an awesome place. It was still really a farm school in those days. Many of the new classrooms had not been built yet and there was not much other infrastructure, but the teachers were really dedicated.”
Your teaching style is very interactive. It is kind of my personality. I used to just stand there and talk and talk, and they would stare back at me. I realised I needed to engage and involve them more.
It seems as if you make a point of calling on those who are quiet or shy to answer. Yes, I try to dig. Even if someone doesn’t want to talk, they end up talking. That way my learners feel free to try, and it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes. So I think the style I am using works, because it helps me to know if they really understand. If I see that a learner is having difficulty, it is easy for me to find out what is going wrong.
What do you think about South Africa’s future?
challenges are many, he is where he wants to be. And in many ways, this is where South Africa needs him. ***
At school, did you have a dream? Yes, definitely. I still relate this to my learners now. I always said that what you say is what you will become. In Grade 10 I told my friends that I want to pass matric and go and work in a bank. And that happened. Then, while I was working, I said that I wanted to go and teach. So, I studied towards that. I also said that I wanted to come back here, at Moses Maren. Everything I said that I would do, I have made happen.
Why this path?
It’s like I want to see myself changing someone’s life every day. That is what I want for my life right now. I know there are a lot of different careers that I can pursue, but for now this is my passion. I am not after money; I am after changing souls.
I think we have a big task ahead. I wish that all teachers could really engage and involve themselves in these learners’ lives. What I see young people doing outside of school, the drinking and drugs, those negative behaviours, I foresee danger if we don’t put more effort into changing their lives. The youth of today really need us, as parents and as teachers. For example, there is a boy in Grade 11 and all of my colleagues complain about him. When I got him in my class this year, I was miserable for the first month. But I went back to my values and asked myself why I chose this career. So I called him in and talked to him. He is not transformed and there are still those things he does in class that are disruptive, but I am now at his level. I understand where he is coming from. God never created us the same, so we need to hold onto that and know that we have to treat different people differently. This boy and I have an understanding now. He does his work and enjoys my class. If I had always called him out and punished him, I would have lost him. I think we also need to go down to their level and understand what is behind this behaviour. Most of these kids come from disadvantaged backgrounds and I have come to realise that some don’t have support and attention at home. Some of them use school as the place to look for that attention. So we, as their guardians at school, need to change our perspective. If a learner behaves badly, I will solve nothing by chasing them out of my class. I need to ask myself what would make them behave that way. I have to know the individual and their background, if I am going to be able to tackle their behaviour. I qualified to be an teacher, but you end up being a parent, a big brother and a social worker. You must fulfil many different roles.
‘I love them like they are mine’
he heat of the sun beats down on the school compound. It is worse in the metal shell of the refurbished shipping container that sits strategically between the office block and classroom buildings. Inside it, another kind of heat competes with the one outside. It is amplified by this small, packed space, but then so are the aromas of the food being prepared. Three of them sit together at a table. Spread across it are red speckled beans from a 10kg plastic bag. They drag their fingers through the mass of beans, removing small stones or bad beans. The conversation ebbs and flows, punctuated by occasional laughter, as well as expressive gestures and exclamations when the topic is of a serious nature. In the back corner, two other women lift lids and stir the bubbling contents of 50-litre pots. These women, all mothers, cook with the kind of attention they give to the feeding of their own, except the efforts of their labour will fill more than 1 000 stomachs. For some, this will be their only food for the day. As the lines develop, hungry young bodies stand patiently before being dished mounds of pap and beans on colourful plastic plates. ***
hold of her, but it is undoubtedly a mixture of past pain, the loss of a sibling and the present weight of providing for four children in uncertain times. When Mhlongo applied to be a volunteer nearly a year ago, it was in part to get out of the house and be productive again. What she did not know at the time is that the position came with a small stipend that has helped to ease the burden at home, while also giving her a sense of being in control of her destiny. Her year’s contract expired at the end of April 2015, so that other parents could be afforded the same opportunity. Mhlongo seems to smile as easily as she cries, the markings of a woman who has tasted both the best and worst of life. And when she does smile, it seems to complete her. Everything about her big frame, soft face and gentle voice is motherly. It is the same with her colleagues, the generation of women who are holding families and communities together because there is no alternative. They must take care of today, against all odds, in the hope that their children will have a brighter tomorrow. It is clear from the manner in which these women become
These women, all mothers, cook with the kind of attention they give to the feeding of their own ...
Ntombifuthi Mhlongo is a volunteer cook at Moses Maren, as part of the government-driven school feeding scheme. The unemployed mother of two and resident of Lehae jumped at the opportunity nearly a year ago when she heard about the positions being advertised. It was a chance for her to give something back to the school. “I am a single parent,” she explains, “so I decided to come here and support my children. Some of these kids are orphans, others’ parents are not working and there are some that are living alone. Some are really struggling.” Her eldest daughter finished matric in 2014 and her youngest is in Grade 8. The challenge of raising children on one’s own is hard enough, but Mhlongo had to take on the added responsibility of her sister’s children after she passed away in 2009. “I know how difficult it is to raise children.” As she talks, the emotion becomes fresh again and her words struggle to compete with the tears. She does not give voice to the heaviness that has taken
invested in many more children’s lives. “Sometimes we ask the principal for food parcels, which we take to their homes,” she says, speaking about the particularly vulnerable learners. The caring has transcended the concerns of their own homes, while the opportunity to serve has engendered a greater sense of parenthood by exposing the women to the harsh realities of some of the other children of their communities. Mhlongo beams when asked how it feels to prepare food for so many hungry mouths. “Happy! I love these children. They are naughty, but I love them like they are mine. They talk to us like we are their mothers: ‘Mama, we don’t want this, make this.’ I tell them that we have to cook healthy food – no oil, little salt, no meat – according to the district. But you know children, they always try.” She laughs uncontrollably, from the belly, before putting her hand over her mouth as if to contain it.
When one light goes out, another is lit
wanele Dladla is a serious young man. He is hard to read. One moment his face is soft, gentle and free of any signs of worry. The next it changes, suggesting a heaviness that seems to show from behind more than just his eyes. Then, in an instant, he appears to grow in years, giving him the appearance of being far older and more mature than his real age. Each of these sides of the complex young man are a glimpse into his world. As he speaks, it is clear that he is his own toughest taskmaster, always demanding more from himself. His name, interestingly, means “enough”. It was given to him by his mother, and recalls a time in his family’s past that was not easy. “Before I was born, my family was very disadvantaged,” he explains. “They struggled even just to put food on the table. But after I was born, my mother said ‘enough’. She went against my father and made the decision to go out and work, so that she could look after me and improve our situation. She did not want me to have the experience of my brothers. It was like she said it was enough of that situation.” The youngest of four siblings, Kwanele started school early. He is currently in Grade 11, despite being only 15, meaning there is a two-year age difference between him and his peers. When asked why this happened, he shrugs and says he does not know. What is more curious is that the introspective young man’s thoughts about the world are very mature, even for the average 17-year-old. When his father tragically passed away in 2010, Kwanele was only in Grade 6. He was present at the time and this experience affected him profoundly. There are many milestones in life, but this was undoubtedly the most significant in his short years. As one light went out in this world, it seems that another began to burn inside him. A big part of this shift was a different
way of looking at things, especially education. “At first I did not enjoy it, because as children we don’t like school. But losing my father changed the whole way I look at the world. Before, I might have even thought that if I don’t finish school my father would keep on supporting me. When I lost him, I knew that I am the only one who can make it for myself.” While Kwanele has done much of the hard work himself, he says the support of teachers at Olifantsvlei Primary and Moses Maren have been key ingredients to his growth. He describes them as “family” who allowed him to express himself, and still were willing to help. He tells the story of a
‘I think everyone wants to be someone in life and for me to be that someone, I have to go to school’
friend who had a serious problem with his eye, and how two of the younger teachers paid for him to see a private doctor. “It shows that they do not just see us as learners, but as their young brothers,” he says. “They give more than just what we need in the classroom. They do not only build you in terms of academic work, but they also build your character. Because, without discipline, you will never make it in life.” In many ways this is reflective of the school’s vision and mission statements, and its commitment to developing the whole individual. And it seems to be paying dividends, particularly for Kwanele, whose subjects reflect a love of maths and science. In September 2014 he was chosen to be a part of a Maths and Physical Science short course at the University of Johannesburg. But due to financial constraints, he was not able to attend. He regrets missing out on the opportunity, mostly because it may have been a vehicle to securing a bursary. However, he has not been left empty-handed. The fact that he was selected
is motivation to work hard, so that he can study either Electrical or Chemical Engineering in the future. “My choice of these degrees is based on my love of maths and science,” he explains as a cheeky smile lights up his face. “Maybe one day I will work for Eskom and help to fix all of the current problems!” Despite an obvious passion for all things maths and science, subjects requiring precision and attention to detail, there is an artistic side to Kwanele. While in primary school he wrote an essay for Adopt-a-School Foundation’s annual essay competition, and from here started to discover an ability for writing. This side of his character is softer, caring and flexible. “I do not view writing as a way to make money,” he says. “I see it as a tool to help others. To help them realise what it is they want in life. Let us say that I write a book one day, the money that I get from that would go back to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” Science, it seems, is the vehicle to build a future, while writing is the one that will help Kwanele share his life lessons and build the futures of others. The creative part of him appears to be informed by his own experience of pain and a non-conformist desire to see people look beyond the expectations of others, to find their own unique voices. The Regrets of My Thoughts is the title of the book he hopes to one day write. “I had a good friend who I would always motivate to study hard. But because he tried so hard to look cool, it entered his mind that he should be like others, do like them, dress like them, fight, etc. Now he is addicted to nyaope. He also stays in Lehae, but he is going nowhere in life. So, I think that his thoughts murdered his success.” ***
What do you love about school? Success. School makes you successful and it lets you be counted in front of other people. I think everyone wants to be someone in life and for me to be that someone, I have to go to school. If I have a plan, academically, there is something to work for. Even if I don’t succeed socially, I can fall back on my education.
What is your dream?
My dream is to see my family out of Lehae. To at least try and uplift them after all that we have been through, and to have my mother say, “You have done well.” Things have been very difficult at home. The challenges in Lehae are many. Recently there has been a gang committing murders. There is also too much drug abuse and drinking. Peer pressure is also likely to influence your ambitions negatively.
If you could speak to the youth of South Africa, what would you say to them? It is easy to gain something that is not valuable. But it is hard to gain something that is valuable. In most cases, something that is not valuable does not last, while things that are valuable do. For instance, it is easy to be cool, while it is hard not to be cool and focus on your studies. You can drop out as someone who is cool and once it is done, you can never turn back the clock. If you look at my community you will see a high percentage of young people who have left school. If you look at them, you wouldn’t say that they are just out of school by the way that they behave. Some have two or more children, some are involved in drugs. This is not something I want for my community. Instead, I want them to rise. We say that South Africa has risen, but for me we have not risen yet if this is the situation. I would tell them, you are your own success. The person in the mirror is the reflection of who you are going to be in life. It depends on how you see yourself. I like to say that ambitions are determined by our vision, by how we visualise ourselves. If you have the vision of being successful, then your behaviour will be directed towards that. A lot of people just want to impress others. For example, look at some young girls, the way they dress and wear make-up here at school. If you go to their homes you will find someone very different, a good person. But they want to impress others by any means, and they end up forgetting about themselves.
Peer pressure is always there among young people, but if the community environment is difficult it is likely to have a greater influence?
Depending on how you value yourself. It can be easy to succumb to this influence. But this is something I don’t buy into. The things that I have faced in life helped me to rise above this. I want to be a role model one day. After I have accomplished things in life, I want people to be able to look up to me and also say to themselves that they can achieve. To say if he can do that, I can do more. There is a saying that goes, if you want to go to the moon, but fall along the way, rather fall on the stars and say you are halfway there.
The story of not judging a book by its cover…
hey have just moved from Protea South, Soweto. It is the promise of a better life. The family of five leaves behind them the shack and informal settlement that has been home for many years. The move is about starting a new life, resettling in a newly developing township where they have just been given a stand. The family is excited, mostly because they are unfamiliar with Vlakfontein, which loosely translated means “fountain on the flats”. The growing township, despite its name, lies on a slope that rises towards a series of ridges to the south. Looking north, the land flattens as it meets the Klip River, before rising again towards Eldorado Park and Soweto. Vlakfontein does not have the same energy and buzz as Soweto. This suits Koketso Baloyi just fine, though; she likes it that way. The bookworm’s life is split between home, school, and the many worlds open to her inside the pages of the fantasy and adventure novels she loves. Between the covers of these books she slips easily into different worlds, a traveller. A quiet person, not much invested in the outside world, this recent move does not mean much to her daily life, except for the prospect of a new school. She is strong academically, so that is not the main concern – it is more the unanswered questions. Is it a good school? What are the teachers and pupils like? How will she go about finding her place? Despite this though, she has bragged about her new school to her friends. Its fancy name, Moses Maren Mission Technical Secondary School, conjures up all sorts of images in her head. The anticipation and excitement builds until registration day, her first visit to the school. Accompanied by her mother, the taxi ride from her new home is one filled with nerves. But the story that has been building about the school in her mind is enough to help settle this. The trip is short, though, as taxis do not travel the full distance to the school. Instead, they must get off at the busy intersection of the Golden Highway and the R554. Joining the long procession of learners and
parents, they make the rest of the one-kilometre trip on foot. On either side of the road is flat, open veld with tall grass and scattered trees. Despite being close to Lenasia, Eldorado Park, and Soweto, it is easy to believe that this is somewhere rural. Finally, they reach the school. The thick grasses recede and are replaced by hard, reddish soil, walked bare over time by thousands of feet. They make their way to the entrance of what looks like some kind of compound. People of every age pack the grounds. Shock sets in as they pass through the first of many gates. “After all of my bragging and expectations,” she thinks to herself, “it’s just a school in the dust!” She carries a heaviness with her that day, bordering on disappointment. All the fabricated stories and mental images are shattered, betrayed by reality. But as the months pass, she will learn not to judge the book by its cover. She should know better, this bookworm. ***
‘Achieving something beautiful should not be the exception, it should be the norm! People should get so used to dreaming and achieving that it becomes the norm, so when someone is mediocre they stand out …’
Koketso Baloyi’s school career seems to have followed a trajectory that goes against popular perceptions of the state of education in South Africa’s public schools. She spent the first nine years in environments that, despite being under-resourced, were characterised by teaching staff committed to making the most of what was available and prepared to go the extra mile in opening up further opportunities for growth and development. This made a very deep and lasting impression on the 20-year-old. So much so, that it has shaped and directed the course of her life. Koketso’s enrolment in
Moses Maren was the beginning. A move that would lead to the planting and nurturing of a bigger seed. Koketso’s initial impression of the school was very much mistaken. The discovery of what really awaited her inside the “school in the dust” would both humble and inspire her: “What you see on the outside is very different from what you find on the inside. What we lack in resources we made up in … I don’t want to call it love, because it is much bigger than that. It’s the attitude that radiates from the teachers, the values they try and instil in us. The teachers come there for something more than teaching – they’ve got something about them that makes up for all the resources that we lack … “It’s humbling. It makes your conscience kick in and question why you are there, where you might be going wrong, how you could better yourself. That is rare, to find someone just going the extra mile for you.”
and resources, but also helped facilitate a change in the attitude and culture of the learners and school as a whole. Having the necessary, material tools for learning is one thing, but filling these gaps has the potential to also shift the way that people view education. “When your school lacks the basics, people find it easier to believe that mediocre work is acceptable. So when you have new developments like this, it makes you want to up your game because now you are getting to the level of the ‘intimidating’ [former model C and private] schools. It takes away that story you told yourself: ‘My school is in the dust, I don’t have what I need to succeed.’ Now that your excuse is gone, mediocre work becomes unacceptable … It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.” Koketso switches between past and present tense when talking about the school, which suggests that, even after three years, it continues to be very much a part of her present reality. The affinity, the affection even, is obvious. More evident is the impact this has had on her life. With six As and a C for maths, making her the top learner at Moses Maren in 2012, Koketso ensured her place at Wits University, where she is studying towards a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree. These results were enough to secure her a four-year bursary. The lessons learnt during her final years of schooling were key to helping her make the transition to university. Hardship, in Koketso’s case, was the necessary fuel for personal growth and cultivating an approach to work. Her experiences have helped her balance the pressures of her course with socialising, the daily commute and responsibilities at home. The outcome is that the young student has little tolerance for laziness and excuses, or the kind of “thinking small” that, she says, is characteristic of some of the youth from her area. “It was disappointing to see the dreams of some of my classmates at school.” The soft-spoken bookworm gets fire in her eyes and a seriousness in her voice when talking about this. She goes on to express strong views about the state of South Africa, education, the youth, and the future. Opinions and insights that are almost prophetic. To illustrate the problems with the bigger picture, she gives an example of her uncle who lives with the family. A similar age to her, he completed his matric in 2014. “When I asked him what he wants in 2015, he said a job. He thinks I am wasting my time studying,” she explains, before drawing bigger parallels with the majority of her school peers. “From my year, only two of us are at university, all the rest wanted to get jobs. One friend of mine has a job in a retail store and it is not fulfilling him. All he ever said in high school was that he didn’t want to study and delay his life. Now he is stuck in this job because he has nothing behind him. And the rest? Sitting at home. Desperate for jobs. Dissatisfied with life. Stuck!”
Koketso switches between past and present tense when talking about the school, which suggests that, even after three years, it continues to be very much a part of her present reality. The affinity, the affection even, is obvious. More evident is the impact this has had on her life
Her explanation takes on a philosophical tone, as if her thoughts are intent on mining the gem that is her former school’s secret. “If you have been to Moses Maren you will see there is not much to motivate someone to get up in the morning for that, but they do ... They made a point of understanding the backgrounds we came from, so when they teach they understand the issues we are dealing with, they know how to approach us. Even with the troublesome learners, they still showed love … They don’t have to say it, but you can see they wanted better for us … They believed in us as individuals who did not need to rely on anything other than ourselves.” The school’s particular recipe for education instilled in Koketso a love for both learning and teaching, and played a major role in putting her on her current path. What is particularly remarkable is that the communities served by Moses Maren are dogged by the spectrum of socio-economic issues and challenges that face less well-off communities across South Africa: child-headed households, high unemployment, fractured families and communities, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, youth apathy, crime, the whole gamut, are woven into the school’s daily reality. But dedicated teachers alone are not enough to sway the odds. This is where the involvement of private donors and organisations has, literally, built the school from the ground up. Adopt-a-School is one such organisation and its contribution, says Koketso, has not only provided the necessary infrastructure
You call yourself a bookworm? Reading is what I do. I could never stop.
And you have a taste for fantasy? It takes me away. There are a lot of things that happen in the world that we take at face value, but with fantasy you go deeper and really get to see what an author thinks, how they would like to see the world. It makes you want to make your own world. This helps you to think big and look beyond reality. These fantasy books generally have a happy ending. But it is not the happily-ever-after one where you are saved by Prince Charming, they have to create it through hard work. That’s quite cool.
Do you think inside these fictional stories there are lessons of life?
Definitely. In reality, if you are from the township the assumption is that you will get married in the township, have kids in the township, work in the township, then grow old, die, and get buried in the township, but there is a much bigger world outside of what you know and what you think you know. People are gifted in different ways. Some are creative, others are academic, and so on. Each person needs to use their particular gift to shape their world, rather than look at it on face value. In fantasy, the author makes up a reality that seems beyond possible. It is usually about the impossible. But if you look at people who have made it in life, they didn’t start out that way and often these people made their way using their abilities in sports, or business, or academics, whatever. Most of the time these people have dared to look beyond the reality that they were faced with.
Your school story seems different. If one picks up a newspaper and reads about the education system in South Africa today, it appears to be a mess!
That is what they make it seem like, but it’s really up to the individual. Most people go to school because that is what you have to do at your age. But if you think about it a bit more, someone has also woken up to come and teach you. We always hear about teachers complaining, but they still do it. Seeing the effort that others go to just for me – I don’t know if it’s just my conscience talking – that makes me want to meet them halfway. This attitude is entirely up to you and many just do it because they have to. Others just look at it as getting a matric certificate. That is thinking small.
So this is looking at the prize and not the process of getting there? This is the product of thinking small. We watch TV, movies and the news, where we see rich people and say that is what we want. But we don’t think about the journey to get there. Then there is dissatisfaction when it does not come easily. I have learnt that reality is harsher when you are out of school and you did not plan your way. The problem is that it becomes more difficult for people to change after they have experienced the hardships that come from poor choices and disappointment, the frustration that comes with seeing that you are not where you wanted to be.
Why the decision to choose Accounting Science?
It was not one of my own. When I got to Moses Maren in Grade 10 and needed to choose subjects, I wanted to do Science, but the class was full so they put me into Commerce instead. I didn’t really understand why I was there. But my Commerce teacher was amazing; she helped me find a passion for accounting. You could see how much she enjoyed it and how dedicated she was. I love her for this to this very day! Then when I got to Grade 12 and had to start thinking about varsity, I realised I have a passion for teaching. This comes from my Accounting teacher. She is the coolest person in my life! She is young and smart, and she could be doing a lot of other things with her life, but she is teaching because she loves it. Looking at a lot of the teachers at Moses Maren I realised that what they put in me was a love of education. And I want to be that kind of person who could do that for other children. Coming from that background – from the township where your school is in the dust and you don’t have resources – kids don’t dream … I realise that, where I am from, that is what a lot of kids need. They don’t dream, they don’t have a vision, they think that getting a matric certificate is where it ends. But finishing school is not where life begins and they don’t see that to get a good job, to make your life, you need to have things like a good education. The only dreams I heard my classmates talk about at school was wanting to finish school, get a job, get a car. But there are those who have finished school before me but still don’t have a car, and who are not living the way they dreamed they would because they never thought beyond that matric certificate. I want to help instil in kids that value of dreaming and thinking big, and I believe that teaching is the platform. But when I put teaching down on my university application, my dad said “no”. Seeing the situation in teaching, all the issues, the strikes, the low salaries, he said he wanted something better for me. I tried to explain to him that it’s not about the money, I just want someone else to have the ability to make a better life, and I think that I could be a useful tool for that. My dad did not like this; he wanted something different for me. Then my results came and it gave him leverage. He was like, you don’t go and do teaching with Page 72
results like that. I told him it is about waking up and loving what I do. He had the final say. So, I am doing Accounting. I don’t hate it, but I have decided to do this degree as my own leverage. I will go back and do teaching eventually, and with my degree in hand I will be able to show these kids what is possible.
Despite your father’s wishes, you are certain you are going back to teaching?
I am going back. That is where I want to be. I will practise accounting for a few years, get myself established and then go back to teaching.
There is almost a pay-it-forward theme about your life now? Page 73
I want to have a family, children. Someone did something for me and I want the same for my children. A lot of children don’t get that. Having been so blessed, I want to do the same for someone else’s child. Those who helped build me have children of their own and they could have just chosen to invest in them, but no, I am the product of their dedication, love and passion. I have a responsibility to make my contribution.
If you could speak to the youth of South Africa, what would you say?
I hope this doesn’t sound clichéd, but anything, absolutely anything, is possible if you put your mind to it. If you want support it is there, it just depends on the kind of individual you are. I don’t believe in the Lone Ranger approach to life; there is always someone. Everything and everyone you have is a potential tool to
help you move forward. It is just not acceptable to get stuck looking only at what you have, and not at how this can help move you forward. Life is full of complaints. Even rich people have complaints, and yet you hear young people say they dream about being rich. I would like people to start thinking about how they plan to get there, not just getting lost on the destination, because that is the key. When you are there, it will be even more satisfying because you worked for it. My parents did not have a lot, but they gave me a lot of love. At school also, the teachers gave me their love. My family, the community. I have used this to get me to where I am. One day I will share this, tangibly, with others because to keep it would be selfish. “Anything is possible” is not a dream – it is really, really possible.
What is your hope for South Africa’s future?
It is really hard to see something positive about the South African education system, because people don’t make the effort to really understand what is going on. For me, it is about getting people to see education to be more than just about books. It is about getting the future to be more than just about certificates. For example, there was the whole textbook issue in Limpopo, but a lot of people I study with at Wits (University) are from there. So, education is not knowledge. Knowledge is something you acquire as it is given to you, but education is actually taking that knowledge and implementing it in a way that it never leaves you. If you are equipped with an education, that is the future right there. Then we will see people dreaming bigger and aspiring to do more with their lives. This all comes from an individual’s attitude. We don’t want a future where people only dream of just finishing matric or getting a certificate. Then there won’t be any value put on any profession in the world. We are taught the school curriculum, but there is very little learning beyond that. In my family I am probably the first to go to varsity. And when you come home to the township you get praised as the big shot, get seen as the clever child, the special one. But it really isn’t about being smart. There shouldn’t be those distinctions. Achieving something beautiful should not be the exception, it should be the norm! People should get so used to dreaming and achieving that it becomes the norm, so when someone is mediocre they stand out …
of curiosity and surprise. Conversations happen in suburban accents as they are directed into school grounds remarkably different to the ones they are used to. Their hosts look on. Most have never engaged with young people from such backgrounds, the “intimidating schools”, let alone debated against them. Their school is certainly not famous for debating. Nervous glances are exchanged. Predictions are made. There is no way they can succeed. It is a foregone conclusion. Their teachers recognise the sense of dread, and intervene. They call their novice debating teams together. “Don’t look at vehicles they arrived in or the clothing they are wearing. That is not what matters.” “But ma’am,” interrupts one learner, “listen to their accents. What if our English is not good enough?” “Yes, what if we can’t get our points across?” adds another. “You guys have worked so hard for this,” she says with a knowing smile. “Just go do it, have fun, and don’t compete. Your best is all you have to offer and the result is yet to come.” The competition goes ahead. Finally, it is the seniors’ turn. Both teams have presented their arguments around the topic of road safety. She is the last to speak. Nerves have taken hold of her entire body. Stepping forward to the podium, she looks around the room. A few pairs of familiar eyes look back in support.
‘I am the product of their dedication, love and passion. I have a responsibility to make my contribution’
*** The shiny minibuses slow down, their tyres kicking up puffs of reddish dust as they come to a stop. Large sliding doors, emblazoned with attractive school names, open and young bodies spill out. Dressed in colourful blazers, crisp uniforms and newly polished shoes, they scan their surroundings with a mixture
She begins. Harnessing a flicker of confidence, her mind travels back into her memories: “You have spent all this time reading. Debating is the platform to get it out. You learnt the language, the words and manners of speaking, and this is the chance to get this knowledge out of your head, to show off.” She finds her voice. The staff and pupils of Moses Maren erupt into frenzied applause as the outcome is announced. The senior team places well, while the juniors win and are through to the next round, the district competition. They eventually make the finals. Not bad for a school from the dust!
akang Enele lies awake. The images of the previous week continue to haunt him; they have stolen his peace.
Two young boys and an 11-year-old girl. He has watched them making the streets of Rustenburg their home. Hard decisions that will set them on a path from which they may never return. This is a story he has been part of many times before, but this time he is torn. “Are you going underground?” he asks himself without speaking. “Or do you want to go and really do something with these kids?” The thought of this young girl using her body as currency for survival repulses him. More so is the knowledge that his colleagues on the mines could be her customers. At 23, he has only a year of in-service training left before qualifying as an artisan mechanical engineer. From here he will get work, a good salary, begin his career. There is a lot to lose if he strays from this path. But then a much bigger thought drops in like a bomb. It frightens him. “And if I don’t change myself, could I also become a client of this child?” And so, lying in his bed, he makes a life-changing decision that morning in 2002. He knows he wants to be an engineer. The question is: an engineer of what – machines, or people? Enele was born in Rustenburg in 1979 and grew up in Gopane, a rural village in the North West about 10km from the Botswana border. The third child of four, he comes from a religious family. He was a shy child but was active in public speaking, singing and sports. Enele’s reserved nature and preference for being hands-on was linked to dyslexia, a condition that was not understood at the time. When he was in Grade 1 he was struck down by such a vicious bout of food poisoning that it left him with permanent damage. For an entire year he was unable to walk. Worse was the constant pain. This experience changed his life. As a result, Enele did not enjoy school. “You are sick and teachers can’t reach you because of this dyslexia,” he says, “This
made it so, so tough to learn … I used to wonder why I was different.” His father was a nurse in Zeerust Hospital at the time and had grown friendly with a Dr Van Rensburg , who took Enele on. Over the years he monitored the boy’s progress. In time the boundaries between profession and the personal were blurred, and the doctor welcomed him into the family. Enele spent many years as part of an Afrikaans farming community. He was introduced to Dr Koos du Toit and Wilmien Olivier, farmers near Swartruggens, who had started a camp for disadvantaged church groups in the
He knows he wants to be an engineer. The question is: an engineer of what – machines, or people?
late 1970s. The vision for Shalom camp was to provide an environment where young people from diverse backgrounds could gather as Youth for Christ, and engage one another in their similarities. With the support of the Oliviers, people he regards as his second parents, and Du Toit, his worldview expanded and he was encouraged to question and form his own opinions. In 1995 Du Toit arranged for Enele to transfer to the Magaliesburg Group of Schools in Doornkloof, Krugersdorp. But when he was assessed the suggestion was that the 16-year-old return to Grade 7. Reluctantly, he agreed, and this marked the turning point in his education. With proper attention he began to achieve in Maths and Science. It also eased the feelings of inadequacy associated with his dyslexia as he saw that the problem was not with him, but with the methods of teaching. In 1997 he left Krugersdorp for Hoërskool Zeerust. While not as diverse as Magaliesburg, he quickly made many friends and became an active school leader. “It was a great school. The country was busy with transformation and, as much as there was a struggle in the Afrikaans community, there was a good welcome from the kids. They embraced us. They saw us as peers … We learnt a lot from each other. We built bridges.”
After matriculating in 1999, Enele moved to an FET college in Rustenburg, to study Mechanical Engineering as an artisan. After two years of theory he started his in-service training at Impala Mines in 2002. Apart from the challenges of working underground, he was struck by the sense of desperation in the city. A fresh turning point came when he noticed two boys who were sleeping next to a Nando’s in Rustenburg. He had to act. After approaching Youth for Christ (YFC), a worldwide Christian movement working with young people, he began volunteering over weekends and during holidays at a shelter and drop-in centre for children. This work opened his eyes to the realities of the children who were living on the streets. Enele had reached a fork in his own road. With only one year remaining on his in-service training in 2002, he chose to leave the comfort of his internship, and the significant stipend attached, to volunteer full-time at the shelter for R800 a month. If he was serious about creating change, it had to start with change in himself. “I realised I loved this,” he says about the decision to leave a potential career to work with young people in need. He stayed at the YFC shelter as a youth worker, and helped to grow and intensify its efforts through a prevention programme, identifying new arrivals and those at risk, as well as looking at strategies to build relationships and trust. During this time, he also facilitated life skills programmes in schools, something that led to him being appointed as a schools project manager in a partnership programme between YFC and loveLife.
‘Let school be a place that kids don’t want to leave at the end of the day’
“I was counselling kids where teachers were saying that they were naughty, but when I talked to them you realised that they were not performing because of issues at home, so their behaviour was them expressing this. These kids were bringing their issues to school. For some, their lives were a mess.” In one school, he recalls, he was facilitating to a group in which he noticed a girl he had seen prostituting herself on the street the night before. And here he was, talking on the subject of sexuality. In response to some of these challenges, particularly with girls and young women, he started a Girl’s Talk club as a platform to deal with these issues. The admissions by some in the group were heart-breaking. The principal at President Mangope Technical High School in Tlhabane recognised Enele’s work and asked him to become a housemaster in one of the hostels. The co-ed school had over 1 000 learners from across the North West and Gauteng, and was bordering on dysfunctional. Every year there were incidents of alcohol abuse and rape.
He quickly realised that the context needed remedy as much as the individual. Eventually, through sustained investment in the learners, there was a shift in the culture of the school as young people were made aware of their role in creating change. After doing a presentation on how to engage young people at the annual general meeting of the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation, he was called for an interview and then appointed as the foundation’s NPO support centre officer. In mid-2009 he saw the post of community co-ordinator, advertised by Adopta-School Foundation. The timing was perfect, as the Foundation was in the process of expanding on its infrastructure focus to developing the Whole School Development (WSD) concept into a working model. And so Enele became the second person in the team that would eventually become Social and Skills Development. He was able to use his experience to help in establishing the framework for WSD, as well as piloting it. Since then he has worked as a programme manager in 46 schools across South Africa, on both long- and short-term interventions. Enele says working for the Foundation has opened his eyes to the extent of the challenges in schools. “Infrastructure cannot change the soul and DNA of a school,” Enele explains. “If the DNA is wrong, if the cells are infected, it will be sick. It is like a virus, HIV. You need antibiotics. We have to flush the system so that it can be healthy again … The soul of a school is not in the buildings, it’s in the people.” When Enele speaks about education, he speaks about so much more than learning towards a matric. It is not about shaping learners, but developing human beings. Development, from his perspective, is about working with people, towards them discovering the tools that enable them to take charge in life. And the school is an obvious place to start. “When I started at Adopt-a-School,” he says, “I was told that our chairman [Cyril Ramaphosa] said we should turn schools into centres of community. And it makes sense: let school be a place that kids don’t want to leave at the end of the day.”
Head of social and skills development
t is Christmas Day, and Banyana Mohajane and her six siblings are working in the fields, weeding in the long row of healthy vegetables. As the summer sun climbs higher in the sky, its heat becoming progressively heavier, their young bodies begin to tire. But their mood is particularly joyful. Many months of labouring on the farm paid off when they opened their presents: Christmas clothes and new school shoes, the uniforms that their mother has sewn. Come January, they will march into school with pride. From along the Tshwane River they hear the approach of excited, youthful voices. As the small group comes into view, they begin their familiar chorus: “Dipodi mabeleng ga dije di a thlagola.” The children on the bank are from their community; some are classmates. They are on the way to swim and play, and they use this opportunity to mock those who are hard at work. The chant is repeated until they disappear into the bush, “Goats on the farm don’t eat crops, they remove the weeds.” This did not bother Mohajane; she would be paid, and bought a new school uniform and clothes for the work done. These experiences built a strong character and personality, and her father had explained the importance of working: “You are a shareholder, and need to contribute to the success of the farm.” But her parents did not only make them work hard – they encouraged their children to study, to have a better life. Mohajane was a strong student. In high school, in Bosplaas, Mohajane was elected to the Learners’ Representative Council. She proved to be a skilled intermediary between her peers and teachers, and in recognition of this she was encouraged to pursue a career in law. But when she matriculated in 1984, the 17-year-old’s results fell
short of a university exemption. Her father wanted her to study further and suggested she go back to school to improve her symbols, which she did in 1986. In 1988, she enrolled for a BEd at Vista University, specialising in Geography and History. In her first year she managed a distinction in History. By her third year she was excelling, and two distinctions in her final exams earned her a
‘I decided to prove myself to the learners,’ she remembers. ‘I told them that, “I am not going to raise my hand; at your age, you know why you are here. I will teach those who want to learn and if you co-operate, you will get your matric”’
scholarship for her final year. After graduation, Mohajane’s father helped her get her first teaching job, at Semetsa Secondary School in rural Bapong, near Rustenburg. Despite its rural location, the school was well built and well resourced, with a library and working Science lab. Teaching Geography to the Standard 9 and 10s was difficult: some learners would simply walk out of her classroom, and one was the same age as her mother. Remembering the lessons from the farm, she tried a different approach. “I decided to prove myself to the learners,” she remembers. “I told them that, ‘I am not going to raise my hand; at your age, you know why you are here. I will teach those who want to learn and if you co-operate, you will get your matric.’” Having settled and found her space, she started the second year with a new strategy. Mohajane aimed to complete the year’s syllabus by July. From there she did revision for a month, set her own tests, and discussed exam management. Then she dedicated her time to the four learners she felt had the potential to achieve distinctions. Page 78
News of those four distinctions spread around the village, and the following year Mohajane saw much greater interest in learning. At the end of 1993, aged 26 and only three years into her career, she was promoted to head of department for Social Sciences. In 1998 Mohajane, married by now and desperate to be closer to her family, decided it was time to go home. She applied to and was interviewed by five schools in Hammanskraal. But when she was offered the deputy principal’s post at Motshegofadiwa Primary School, her husband discouraged her from taking it. “The first thing that welcomed you was the unpleasant smell of the pit toilets
Motshegofadiwa’s turnaround: a very important man was coming to see the pump. When Cyril Ramaphosa arrived at the school Mohajane showed him the system, explaining its impact, and then took the opportunity to show him the state of the rest of the school. He was in a hurry and reluctant, but she persisted. Ramaphosa was so moved, he promised to return. Almost a year later he returned to the school with his PA, Donné Nicol [now the head of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation]. He told Mohajane that when Nicol was there, it meant something was going to happen. They challenged her with hard questions about obvious gaps, things that were in the school’s power to change. In response she called a meeting with the school community and started a programme of cleaning the school, planting flowers as part of an environmental club, as well as raising funds to fence the school. When she communicated the progress to Adopt-a-School, it took on Motshegofadiwa as an infrastructure development project. With the parents volunteering their skills and time, and the Foundation supplying the resources, the school was upgraded. After a decade as deputy principal, Mohajane was looking for a new challenge and applied for a position at the Foundation. In 2009 she was appointed as community co-ordinator. The timing was good, as Adopt-a-School was looking to expand its focus to address the social, skills and leadership needs of schools. At the time the concept of Whole School Development (WSD) had been established but it was now Mohajane’s role to determine how to realise it. “I came with the understanding of what it was like to run a school. They had also done projects in my school so I knew where the gaps were, things like training for teachers and proper use of infrastructure like libraries and labs.” She had already piloted WSD at Motshegofadiwa, so now it was a matter of drawing up a plan that could be tested and refined. The realisation that the cycle had to start with strategic planning and leadership development was an important breakthrough. “You have to start the cycle somewhere,” she says, “and leadership is an important one. This is about the values, commitment and accountability needed to create sustainable change. These factors are lacking in many schools. It is also about motivating educators to change their attitude. It is about restoring the dignity of the profession.” Mohajane is quick to say that public education in the country is not in crisis. Echoing many colleagues, she suggests that the situation will only improve if all South Africans see it as their responsibility to make a contribution. “Working in the education and development space is a calling. Parents and communities have entrusted us with their children. So it is a call, to remind us of what we have in our hands, it is the future of the next generation. This is a huge responsibility. It is in our hands to build or destroy …”
‘This is about the values, commitment and accountability needed to create sustainable change ... It is also about motivating educators to change their attitude. It is about restoring the dignity of the profession’ that were full to the brim, but still being used. There was a classroom with a crack in the wall that you could see through. And the snakes! There was no drinking water, no gardens and not even a single flower … Worst of all was the lack of discipline. “Surprisingly, everyone was used to the environment and they did not see anything wrong. They had lost hope, as they experienced a lot of promises but received no help. They had accepted their fate and were complacent. I refused to be part of the hopeless and refused to adapt.” When she was introduced to the teachers and parents, some questioned both her age and ability. Once again, though, she went back to the values learnt on the farm. The first thing Mohajane did was begin to address the apathy that was so pervasive in the school community, and restore the school’s dignity. As deputy principal she set about establishing a forum for parents, where she shared her vision and encouraged their involvement, and she also engaged the school governing body and teaching staff. The turning point was meeting the director of Roundabout Outdoor, Trevor Field, who showed her the Roundabout PlayPump, which harnesses the energy of children at play to pump water from boreholes into storage tanks. Mohajane liked Field and saw the potential of the pump to take care of Motshegofadiwa’s water needs. After eight months of collaborating, Field donated a system to the school as a demonstration model and pilot, which Mohajane would showcase to potential clients. And the children now had a space to play, and there was water to start a vegetable garden. But it was a phone call from Field one day that would lead to the next step in
Vukubone Secondary School A school in transition
n the late 1830s Stuurman Ngema established himself as an ally of the Voortrekkers, and intermediary between them and the kings of the Zulu and Swazi nations.
Ngema was promised land by President MW Pretorius and Commandant-General Paul Kruger if he fulfilled his duties, which he did. In 1869 he was given a government farm in Wakkerstroom. Some sources suggest that this was the first time the South African Republic gave land and title deeds to a black person. However, as if setting a precedent, the title deeds were never transferred into his name. When the British took over the Transvaal after the South African War in 1902, they decided to honour the initial promise and by 1904 the land had been given to the Ngemas by King Edward VII – again, however, not fully and with conditions. Nonetheless, the implication of these conditions were significant in that they would eventually protect Stuurman’s descendants from the Natives Land Act in 1913. With that, KwaNgema was born. Ten years later, in 1912, Pixley ka Seme, South Africa’s first black lawyer and founding member of the South African Native National Congress (now the African National Congress), recognised the need for unity in the economic sphere as one necessary condition for the advancement of the oppressed. With this awareness, Seme helped found the Native Farmers Association of Africa Limited. Its main purpose was to purchase, lease or amalgamate land on which black people could
Some sources suggest that this was the first time the South African Republic gave land and title deeds to a black person
settle. The farms Daggakraal, Driepan and Driefontein were the first to be bought. This was the beginning of another experiment in black land ownership. Again, sources suggest that efforts of Seme were so successful that they were the spark for the infamous Natives Land Act of 1913, legislation that radically changed the face of South Africa. In a short time the communities of KwaNgema and Driefontein became thriving agricultural settlements, attracting Zulu, Swazi and Sotho migrants looking to escape the harsh conditions on surrounding farms and mission stations. Both also began experiments in different kinds of social and economic organisation.
In KwaNgema a council, called the Umdeni, decided on communal matters, with each household sending a representative who would consult with an elected leader. In neighbouring Driefontein a model of democracy was practised through the Driefontein Board, established in 1954, with elected members being responsible for dealing with all matters affecting the community. But this would not last. In 1965 both Driefontein and KwaNgema were
The battle against forced removal continued into the 1980s despite both communitiesâ€™ numerous efforts, largely frustrated by the governmentâ€™s calculated campaign of infiltration, disruption and division
declared “black spots” by the National Party government. The inhabitants of the two settlements were notified that they would be split, based on ethnicity, between the KaNgwane and KwaZulu homelands. The battle against forced removal continued into the 1980s despite both communities’ numerous efforts, largely frustrated by the government’s calculated campaign of infiltration, disruption and division. It was only in 1985 that the unthinkable happened, when the resettlement orders were reversed and freehold titles were secured. However, politics, particularly the politics of division, had entrenched itself, as community cohesion had been dealt a blow from which it would not recover. Driefontein and KwaNgema are broadly reflective of South Africa, battling issues such as unemployment, poverty, HIV/AIDS, child-headed households and lack of opportunities for the youth. One of the biggest issues facing the area has been the exodus of working-age adults in search of work. This is the context in which Vukubone Secondary School came into being. Established in 1988, it is relatively small, with 700 learners and 35 staff. From its establishment, learners were predominantly male and many were of similar age to their teachers. As it was common for boys to be kept at home to herd cattle, many of these children only started school in their early teens. This resulted in numerous challenges, and learners were known to toyi-toyi when unhappy or demanding the school observe a pass-one-pass-all system. Contributing to the difficult schooling environment was declining support for the school and education in general, as well as difficulties in attracting and keeping quality teachers. Given these challenges, Vukubone’s numbers have fluctuated over the years. So, too, have its results. In 1994 the matric pass rate was 5%. By 2000 this had improved to 72%, with the school being the most improved in its district. The gains continued and in 2006, after a period of sharp declines, results increased by 50%. Vukubone went from 40% to 85% in the two years from 2012. Buoyed by the recent improvements, the school set itself a target of 90% in 2015. In 2008 Vukubone was on the point of being declared dysfunctional. The school’s infrastructure was in a state of decay. Many classrooms had no windows or doors, and parts of the roof were rusted to the point of collapse. This was also reflected in the state of the spirit in the school. The adoption of Vukubone by Adopt-a-School Foundation and Kangra Coal in 2009 most likely saved the school from closure. Bakang Enele recalls the challenges of getting started in the school, saying: “The soul was not there.” An initial observation was how learners were cleaning the chalk board dusters
on the walls of the school, giving it the appearance of an environment of neglect, a metaphor for the overall state of the school. One of his earliest interventions was to assemble a group of learners to wash the walls, with Enele being the first to roll up his sleeves. It was meant to be a lesson in valuing one’s place of learning. Vukubone received a complete renovation that included the building of a science lab and, more recently, a library. The Foundation has also conducted a number of workshops with teachers and the school leadership, as well as selected learners. Despite this, however, historical trends continue to challenge the school. In 2013 there were 148 learners in Grade 8, the oldest being 22, almost double the recommended age, with many more born between 1993 and 1996. Schools such as Vukubone are likely to experience problems more acutely than others. On a daily basis they must deal with a concentration of all the social issues of the communities they are serving. Learners bring any number of difficulties with them, things beyond the scope of school management and curriculum delivery. In many cases this can overwhelm to the point of dysfunction. But while Vukubone does struggle, the drive and energy to create lasting change is there. Its motto, Faith and Courage, reflect two key energies needed for success in life; a positive belief in what the future holds, as well as unwavering dedication to making this happen. Perhaps this motto is a reflection of the history of the school’s communities. This is Vukubone’s heritage.
Learners bring any number of difficulties with them, things beyond the scope of school management and curriculum delivery
The bell has rung and classes have started. While many eager, young learners sit facing their teachers inside classrooms, outside another game has begun. One teacher makes his way along the length of a classroom block. At the other end a group of young boys quicken their pace to a run. Both parties can see one another. Both know that this is disruptive. He shouts at them, ordering them to get into their classes. They wear wide smiles of defiance as they duck around the corner. Such is their boldness that they do not even attempt to hide their faces or conceal their identities. Other teachers join in, an acknowledgement that the problem is far bigger than one person is able to deal with. And so a pointless game of cat-and-mouse has begun. There will be no result except, perhaps, for resignation. The game amuses one party and frustrates the other. Most learners hide in or behind the boys’ ablutions. Two skirt the length of
the classroom block, ducking just below window level. They raise their heads as they pass each classroom, checking to see where the teachers are. Inside, younger learners look at them from their desks. Some smile. Others stare plain-faced, maybe aware of the effects of this disruption. At the back of the school, a group of the boys make their way to the boundary fence. They walk at a slow pace, in single file along the worn footpath between tall grass. Reaching the fence, they then climb through a small hole in it. Their destination is the shop just beyond. Inside, one speaks in Zulu, including a rude remark directed at the Somali behind the counter, knowing he cannot understand. With chips, biscuits and suckers in hand, they emerge into the sun. One has a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth. They stand casually in the street, dressed in full uniform, and in full view of the school. Like the others, they make no attempt to hide. The whole game is an exercise in futility, where the stakes are much higher beyond the immediate concerns of missed classes and open defiance. Each time this happens it deals a blow to discipline and respect, the soul of the school. It
creates friction and frustration between teachers and learners. As soon as it begins, it is over. Teachers and learners return to class, late. Particularly concerning is the mix of boys and young men involved in the game. It suggests that the older, less interested, even apathetic, learners are having an influence on those who still have a chance to make something of their schooling career. And while the scale of this is not immediately obvious, it has the potential to entrench patterns of behaviour that will be replicated, ones that are already shaping the course of those who participate, beyond their ability to know. Challenging authority is as old as time; the testing of the boundaries of acceptable and not. There is nothing inherently problematic about this, but when something that is without real malice becomes outright defiance, then trust and co-operation are the victims, upsetting the social order. And generations turn against one another. Page 84
Busisiwe Ndlangamandla No negotiations
he MC calls her name. She stands up from her seat and walks toward the stage. Climbing the steps to the podium she looks out over the sea of assembled people, more than 500 in total. Among them are business leaders, CEOs, politicians and others of great influence in their respective fields. Their eyes and attention are on her. She begins her speech. The words leave her mouth with ease. They do not trip over nervousness or anxiety. In fact, considering the size and importance of the event, she is surprisingly calm. But then self-confidence has been something of a constant in her life. When she is finished, the 14-year-old learner from Vukubone Secondary School returns to her seat. The evening progresses, then comes to a close. She returns to her hotel room, accompanied by her teachers. The following day she travels home to Driefontein. Looking back on her moment in the spotlight three years ago, Busisiwe Ndlangamandla is calm, almost too calm, when talking about delivering a speech at Adopt-a-School Foundation’s annual Back to School Party. But while she may not have been overwhelmed by the experience, its significance has not been lost on her. “It was a great experience. Amazing! An opportunity of a lifetime. It was unexpected, but it ended up being one of the special moments in my life.” Now in Grade 11 and 17 years old, Busisiwe is still overflowing with confidence. Her face is soft, like her voice. Both are emphasised by the brightness of her eyes. At first glance she might even be easy to miss. Quiet, a little shy even. And yet, when she is engaged, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a lot of depth to this young soul. And the more she talks, the more she seems to unfold. Switching between innocence and wisdom, playful and serious, the young woman speaks as though she has many years’ experience from which to draw. Busisiwe is unique as an individual, as well as in circumstance. Unlike many with whom she goes to school, she has an ingrained love of school that enjoys the strongest support of her parents at home.
“Without education,” she declares with confidence, “there is no brighter future!” And, she says, it starts with oneself. But the support of others is key. Without hesitation she names her parents as her role models. From her father comes the understanding that life is tough, but that compromise is not an option. From her mother comes the gifts of gentleness and caring. Balance. “My dad does not have a matric – both of them don’t, actually – but what he has taught me is that I shouldn’t give up, no matter what. That life is not about having fun all the time, that it has many obstacles that we have to face, but giving up is not an option.”
‘It was a great experience. Amazing! An opportunity of a lifetime. It was unexpected, but it ended up being one of the special moments in my life’
This may have something to do with the fact that Busisiwe’s father moved the family to Driefontein from Orange Farm, Gauteng, after he was shot in 2003. “The move to high school was kind of difficult,” Busisiwe explains. “New teachers. New people. Having to make new friends. It was difficult because I was not a kid who liked being around too many other people, because most told me that I had a boring attitude.” Boring? “I’m not fun!” comes the immediate reply. “I’m just too serious about life … I’m passionate about school. I love studying. I enjoy being at school, being a learner. I enjoy leading other people. I just enjoy school!” Her declaration is admirable. In a perfect world it would be the norm for young people. But it puts Busisiwe at odds with many of her peers. When asked about the challenges facing young people in her community, she rattles off a chilling list of issues, as if they were rehearsed and waiting on the tip of her tongue. “Drug abuse. Drinking. Smoking. Sex. Peer pressure. People who don’t like or care about school. Self-love.” Page 86
Too many young people, says Busisiwe, allow themselves to be negatively influenced because of a lack of self-esteem and confidence. Part of this is a perceived need to be accepted by others. “I stay positive by enjoying being me. I don’t like impressing other people. I just live my life because I want to, not because I want to motivate or influence others. I love myself for who I am, so I don’t need to change myself to be loved by everyone else. If you don’t love me, that’s fine. I will stay away from you and you stay away from me.” Whether consciously or not, Busisiwe has put herself on a path that goes against this grain. She has not only thrown herself into her work, while also staying true to herself, but she has taken on leadership positions and made the most of the available opportunities to grow as an individual. After finishing school, Busisiwe plans to study psychology. It reflects her desire to be a part of changing the reality around her. “I want to study psychology. I just love being around other people, sharing my experiences, and being able to help others, not because it is my job, but because I am passionate about it and love it.”
Perhaps in years to come, this young woman will be sharing her recipe for selfesteem and confidence while guiding others toward unlocking and harnessing their deeper selves. ***
It sounds like you are a good student. I am top of the class. My love of education and hard work is helping me succeed.
It is obvious that many of your peers are not as interested in school. What is it like be in an environment where those around you lack the same commitment to learning?
It is kind of difficult. Somehow I just cope with it. I do tell others that life is not
It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you are going. And this starts in you as an individual. I have been a member of the Learner Representative Council for the past four years. Mostly our responsibility is to our classmates, because we are their representatives. It taught me that no matter the position you have, how high up you are, you need people to get where you are and where you want to be. So we have to respect others and their opinions if we want to work together. It taught me how to be positive. I have attended all of the leadership camps focused on us individuals, and others on groups. In groups we were taught to work together, respect one another’s opinions, how to keep each other motivated. Individually, we were taught that no matter what life throws at you, you don’t have to give up because you are able to overcome anything.
What is your dream?
My biggest dream is to make my parents happy and proud of me. That would be real success.
If you had an opportunity to speak to the youth of South Africa, what would you say to them?
They should learn to appreciate what they have. Love themselves for who they are. Never give up, no matter how hard the situation.
fun without education. First of all, it is hard to find work without matric. That is a reality. Being in matric and passing well is a stepping stone to a brighter future.
Peer pressure is a theme that comes up a lot in schools. Is there peer pressure at Vukubone?
There is. Most people are being pressurised by their friends to drink alcohol, start smoking, have sex, because they think that if you are not doing these things you are not fun or cool. Some people end up doing these things not because they like them or want to do them, but because they are pressurised. Sometimes a person can make you see things the way they see them without you noticing it. Sometimes people are not even really aware that it is happening. I think that for a person to get to where they want to be, they have to think for themselves. A person would not bring another into this life without a purpose.
‘I stay positive by enjoying being me. I don’t like impressing other people. I just live my life because I want to, not because I want to motivate or influence others. I love myself for who I am, so I don’t need to change myself to be loved by everyone else. If you don’t love me, that’s fine. I will stay away from you and you stay away from me’ Page 88
Chodwell Noah Verenga Bridging the gap
espite being occasionally overwhelmed by the environment at Vukubone, Chodwell Noah Verenga operates from the belief that when the student is ready, the teacher must avail.
On the counter in front of the class is a range of plastic and glass containers filled with liquids and powders, all labelled with names such as acetic acid, zinc granules, sodium carbonate and sulphuric acid. They scrutinise each item while waiting for further instructions. Earlier, the teacher laid out three work stations after designing the same number of experiments. They begin. “Yoh!” exclaims one learner as he recoils at the sight of a small plume of white
‘I want to close the gap between the black person and science. I want to equip young black men and women so that they can venture into science’ gas. Just as quickly he leans in again to examine the bubbling reaction that continues in the glass test tube. In a matter of seconds the air starts to smell like rotten eggs. Noses turn up in response. But in the faces of these learners one can see the fascination grow. Their expressions are nothing short of delight as science is, literally, alive. The young Physical Sciences teacher moves around the room throughout, assisting and giving advice. On his face, too, is an expression of joy. Science is his big love. He asks questions of the class, eliciting explanations of the processes at work, and even intervening in the experiments when the learners seem hesitant or even scared. The acid-based reactions test is a practical he particularly enjoys. “This is hydrochloric acid; it can seriously burn you. You must always respect these chemicals when you are using them.” In this moment he is a bridge between the world of science theory and its Page 89
practical application. And this is exactly where he wants to be. Unfortunately, it is obvious that these learners are too infrequently exposed to such things. It shows in the way they interact with the equipment and chemicals, as if they are unsure. It is also clear that some of the chemicals are in short supply or have expired. However, as soon as the final experiment is concluded, the handful of learners request another. “Sir, sir, let’s do another one!” Smiling, he looks down at the available chemicals before moving to the cupboards at the back of the room. Within five minutes he has handed out the materials and given instructions. Soon after, the acid is beginning to work on the pieces of zinc in the bottom of the tube, bubbling furiously while dissolving them into a gas that smells. “I want to close the gap between the black person and science,” declares Verenga. “I want to equip young, black men and women so that they can venture into science, specifically physics and chemistry.” Verenga is one of many teachers from Zimbabwe currently employed in South African schools for their scarce skills in maths and sciences. This is in the face of declining numbers of qualified and quality teachers locally, significant considering the Department of Education’s drive in recent years to generate interest and improve results in maths and science. It is not that such teachers are not available in South Africa; the biggest challenge is keeping them in township and rural schools, where they are in greatest need. Vukubone, despite its vision of specialising in maths and science, has plenty of experience with this. Added to this is a shortage of allocated teaching posts, meaning that the school has had to take the lead in finding teachers such as Verenga, offering him a post, as well as paying his salary from the SGB’s allocated budget. It was never Verenga’s plan to teach. From school he went straight to university to do a BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry. From there he set his sights on the private sector, and so went to work at the Zimbabwe Dairy Board. But after two months he found the work monotonous and unchallenging, and so resigned after seeing an advert in a Harare newspaper calling for Maths and Science teachers. “I thought to myself, why can’t I go there and make a difference?”
After teaching at Ellis Robins Boys High School in Harare for two years, Verenga started investigating Master’s programmes at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Pretoria. “I love reading and learning, so if I go on to get a Master’s and then a PhD I will consider myself as having really achieved something in my life. Some of this comes from seeing my father being limited in his life, so I want to go all the way!” The culture in Zimbabwe is, he explains, “to value education. We are following the words of South Africa’s own Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, that ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. I truly believe, as he says, that it is something that can allow the daughter of a
peasant farmer to become a doctor or the son of a mineworker to become an engineer. “This is the only reliable tool you can use to escape poverty. So when you hear words like this coming from such a powerful man, what do you do? You don’t sleep, you study! It gives you that motivation. My father always told me, ‘Look at me as an electrician without any degree. Try and be better than me ...’ “So this is something that has to come from within you. If you don’t want it, no one can force you. If you believe in yourself, that you can do it, you will do it.” That being said, the acceptance of a post at Vukubone is a move that continues to test him.
“If you are new here, hey, these learners might try and crucify you!” he explains, “My first days here were hell! You arrive in class not knowing anyone, they are talking a language you don’t understand, it was tough … Everything is new: the culture, the language, the syllabus.” But he asserts that, despite the many differences and challenges, “I am trying to give myself fully to this institution”. The apathy of a large number of learners, more than anything, is what seems to bother Verenga. It is hurtful to a man whose dream is to be a bridge, as he says, between the world of the African child and the world of science. After all, science has brought so much to his life already. But these small things, though they weigh on a teacher, are not enough to take the wind out of Verenga’s sails. In spite of things such as this, he makes himself accessible in the evenings and over weekends. As he learnt in Zimbabwe, if the student is ready, the teacher must avail themselves. ***
How has your experience been adjusting to the learners at Vukubone? Closing the gap with these kids is tough. Maybe it is because we are in a rural area they lack that drive. I grew up with the drive of wanting to change myself, becoming a better person. These learners, most of them at least, they don’t even care. I was here on Sunday to give them optional extra lessons, and I had only 18 out of 44 arrive. I sacrifice my time so that they can understand the syllabus, because a lot of these things require time. I come early morning, afternoons, weekends, hoping that they can understand, but 80 to 90% do not care. Can you believe that on the weekends some even complain that they get hungry and I should feed them? I am trying very hard, but there are only a few who really want to pass and do well. While I am here I want to see these kids pass. If I leave, it would be great to have someone tell me in years to come that they are now pursuing medicine, engineering or other science-related subjects because of what I have exposed them to here in class.
You mentioned that your father pushed and supported you in your education ...
Yes! You see, most of these people lack that guidance, especially in the area of science. I had the advantage with the support of my father and his background as an electrician, which allowed him to help me. Most of these kids don’t have this; they are staying alone or with their grandparents. That is why I am trying to give myself to this institution. I am available 24/7. I don’t have a wife, my family is far
from here. If they want assistance, anytime, they can do a session with me. On weekends I am here from 9am until 2pm. This is the quality of teaching we expect in Zimbabwe. The culture in education is to go over and above. When I was at school teachers were willing to assist, be it in sport or class subjects. All it took was you showing interest. There are two of us Zimbabweans here and we are not worried about the time it takes to teach our subjects, we are worried about results … When it comes to exam time we are stressed. You ask yourself if you have done enough: will my learners pass? You can take a donkey to the river to drink. You can beat it, you can even kill it, but if it does not want to drink, it never will. So this is something that has to come from within you. If you don’t want it, no one can force you. If you believe in yourself, that you can do it, you will do it.
In addition to this drive, surely the resources are necessary too, especially in the sciences?
This lab is a very good thing. You know, just knowing that we have a lab in the school makes science interesting. It is easier to teach Science with experiments
‘I love reading and learning, so if I go on to get a Master’s and then a PhD I will consider myself as having really achieved something in my life. Some of this comes from seeing my father being limited in his life, so I want to go all the way!’
and it also makes it exciting. My only wish is that I could look at the whole syllabus, start designing experiments for each module, and then draw up a list of the equipment and chemicals needed to do them so that they can be purchased. The lab is here, but there is a lot that is missing. The first constraint is the resources to purchase everything needed to do experiments, and secondly the syllabus does not encourage or even require us to practically demonstrate theory on a regular basis. There are many topics that I could, on my own initiative, design experiments for, but I am limited. You saw these kids today during the experiments, how excited they were to watch the theory happening. I designed three experiments, and what happened? They asked me for a fourth.
Fana Moses Mhlanga
Without love you cannot grow
he years in Driefontein have both tested and rewarded a man who is now tired from having to navigate the present effects of the long history and politics of this community, as well as a school that is fragmented. “We must not forget our core business …” The voice comes out sounding raspy, but with resolve. “Ours is to teach. Yours is to learn.” Addressing the small group of assembled learners, he stands alone. The school appears empty. It is a Monday and a good number of the 700 learners have just left in buses to an expo in another town as part of National Science Week. The majority of the remaining learners have used this as an excuse to have a day off. The glaring absence makes his words even more poignant. “Our hope is that your future is a bright one, but that depends mostly on you. Who knows, maybe the future president is standing here today?” His words are realistic and full of optimism. A mix of advice and lecture. For nearly three decades he has stood here, observing waves of learners arrive fresh and enthusiastic, only to leave and face the challenges of the world. “You are intelligent beings, capable of greatness. But without hard work you cannot get there … I have been here for the past 26 years. Some of your parents are my former learners. Listen to me when I speak, because I have seen it all.” But then he shifts, softens. “We love you as teachers; I hope you love us, too. Because without love, you cannot grow.” As deputy principal, Fana Mhlanga is the longest-serving member of staff. The English teacher arrived in Driefontein as a fresh-faced young man in 1990, accompanied by his father. The pair came together to find accommodation. Till today, some of the elders in the community remind him of the day. The Driefontein of those days was different to today. The 1980s was a time of great uncertainty for the locals of the area. Successive governments had made numerous attempts to remove people from an area, considered a “black spot”. There were numerous attempts against this. Lives were even lost. The community was increasingly politicised over many years. Divided. Suspicious. At school, Mhlanga had to contend with learners who were well above the
average age. Some, particularly the young men, were the same age as him. Agriculture was the lifeblood of the area at the time and so boys were expected to look after cattle, which meant that they only started school around 14 years old. This, in addition to their hostility to the outside world, meant that teachers had to tread carefully in trying to reach those in their charge. It was a challenge. Then came the 1990s, a period that shook and politicised much of South African society. At Vukubone, the learners were quick to toyi-toyi or make unreasonable demands on the school. Mhlanga remembers being scared. He did, however, appreciate the support of the parents who pushed their children to learn, just as
‘To tell you the truth, I still love teaching. I go to class with oomph, but I am tired’
his own father had done, as well as disciplining disruptive behaviour at home. Despite the challenges, Mhlanga was not deterred. The impacts have been many, and they are acutely felt at school. The lack of parental support appears to be the biggest single issue. In response, many teachers have come to play a parental role for learners in real need. The line between professionalism and humanity are easily blurred. This fact touches too close to home for Mhlanga. Personally, he has sacrificed much in his service of the Vukubone community, particularly when it comes to his own family. The father of five has spent many weeks and months away from home over the years. One failed marriage and some of his children acting out patterns of problematic or negative behaviour, are largely due to his absence. It is clear this cruel irony weighs heavily on him. The school is a concentration of every aspect of a community. Daily, it must accommodate learners who bring with them the collective issues and challenges, failures, the hopes, aspirations and successes of that particular society. This means a school is recipient of a community’s very best and very worst, as well as every shade of grey in between. The truth is that teaching has taken a heavy toll on a man who is ready for retirement, even though there are still years of service left. Page 94
“I can feel the strain of 26 years taking its toll on me. Right now my hands are aching. I am on painkillers. At times my foot pains me. This job has taken a lot out of me. In life and health, you never know. I am no longer well. I am no longer the same guy whose father brought me here to look for a room. “I met an elderly lady the other day who was telling her friend she remembers this young guy who came with his father to Driefontein. My father is long gone … To tell you the truth, I still love teaching. I go to class with oomph, but I am tired …” ***
You say that you enjoy reading. Do you remember a time or moment when you realised this? I have been a reader as long as I can remember. I tell these learners the story of my adolescence, when I used to play games and do things like bunk school, running away from home, but I would never miss the library. Every afternoon I was in the library, such that my English teacher was always surprised by how I knew all the answers when it came to literature. This is where I excelled, because of reading every afternoon. I have seen, in our new library, some of the books of my youth, the Hardy Boys series for example. I started with the first book in the series and ended up reading two a week until I completed them.
And what has reading brought to your life?
It has helped me a lot because I have ended up with a vast knowledge of things beyond South Africa. I have learnt about nations, cultures and religions, the world. It has enlightened me.
So what does the new library mean to you?
It means a lot to me. I cannot wait to take my learners there for a whole period and expose them to all those books, read with them, inculcate that love for reading. If we can achieve this then they will also read on their own. It is really a good resource for us. When I went into the library the other day to have a look, it was quite something for me. I saw many of the books from my childhood. So I was excited to go back to class and tell my learners what I saw, in the hope they will also get the same enjoyment of books as I did.
Do we need to do more as a country to expose young people to reading and, as you say, foster this culture of education? Page 95
It depends on us as educators. Everything is here. Adopt-a-School has given us a library. The previous one was not really a library, as it was also an office for educators. What is needed is that teacher who will put that spirit of reading in them. When you are in class, reading a story, you have to excite them, you must make it alive, that they feel they are part of a story. When you are talking about someone tip-toeing, you have to show them, you have to use your voice, change your tone. You can’t force people to read; it is upon the person. But it is the love of the teacher that creates passion for reading in learners. That is what I believe.
You refer a lot to your own life when addressing learners?
Yes. At assembly this morning I was relating how my father was away from us for many years, and so I grew up with my mother and grandmother. I know that some of these learners are without one or both parents because they have passed, or are working elsewhere. I told them this because I want them to know that despite the problems they are facing in life, they are not the only ones, that this background does not have to define your future, and the only thing that will help change this is education. Many of these youngsters, when they look at a teacher, they think that your life has been a bed of roses.
And what changes have you observed at Vukubone during your 26 years? When I first came here, many of the learners were much older [than the current ones]. Some were even my age. If I compare the ones of today with their parents – because I taught the parents of some of these learners – they are not eager, they are not as disciplined. But at the same time I put this with the parents as well, because many of these adults are away in the cities and expecting the grandparents to raise and discipline their children. In the past the learners were also enlightened in terms of the struggle to get here today. Those that were born after 1994, hayi, they don’t want to learn. If I talk to them about June 1976 and how learners like them died for education, they seem not to care. It hurts those of us who experienced this past and know where we are coming from. If they knew this history, then maybe they would take their studies more seriously. The parents of the olden days were different. They pushed their children to school because they never had the opportunity. Some had to herd cattle, others were forced to work on farms, so they knew that an opportunity to get education was a privilege. Then people seemed to move off the farms and out of rural areas into locations, where they learnt bad things. Now school does not seem to be that valuable any
more. Maybe also the fact that going to school nowadays is not a challenge means there is little motivation to push?
Your answer seems to be directed mostly at the changes in this community.
When I arrived here it was just farms, and people were really living the rural life. But as the years went it seems as if most people moved off to towns and Joburg. They have come back with influences. You know, rural people really have that respect. I remember a period where the boys were fighting each other in gangs. In the heat of things they would even go to the house of the person they were looking for, but all it took was for an elder to remind them that it is against our culture to do such things and it was over. Things are not like that any more. That discipline is no longer there.
How do you deal with these challenges as a teacher? Your role is to educate, run the school, to produce results, but you are also having to confront the community’s issues as well.
This is really tough. You see, for the learner to learn and the teacher to teach freely, the parents should be there. Let’s say that a learner is absent for two weeks and you make enquiries, that learner will come and say their gogo is sick so they have to remain at home. It does not help the school, it doesn’t help the teacher. We are unable to find solutions much of the time. I remember a previous principal who would rely on me a lot, because of my knowledge of the area, to verify the different stories of learners. Some of these kids, when told to report here with their parents, would go to the shebeen and fetch someone to stand in as their parent.
And how has the role of teachers in society changed during your time in education?
In the past, educators were looked up to by the community, they were role models. For instance, some parents used to tell their children that “when you grow up, I want you to be like Mr Mhlanga”. Learners used to adjust their behaviour when teachers were around, even outside of school hours. This no longer happens. Young people today don’t care about who is looking. Another thing, parents really used to value teachers. I remember in the past, when new teachers arrived families would bring you chickens or other foodstuff to welcome you to the community. In those days I used to visit homes a lot. I knew that it was necessary for me to go into the community to listen to their
problems. But it is not the same any more. Today, the parents have so many other problems, while some are even part of the problem. There is one young girl who told me that her mother got married and moved to Gauteng, leaving her with her grandmother. As time went on the old woman died and now she is living alone … A lot of people have moved into Driefontein because of the mine. Now a young girl like this gets exposed to young men, she ends up doing things she does not like just to survive. These are the kinds of lives our learners are living. Sometimes we are able to help, but people like social workers are often hard to find. It becomes difficult and even painful to see this is what our kids are facing, especially because it is beyond you as a teacher to intervene.
If one looks at Vukubone’s performance over the past 10 years, it is the picture of repeat fluctuations. Why is this?
In 2006 we topped the district with 94% in Grade 12. Before that we were not performing well, so people were surprised. By then we had good educators and our parents were involved. We were working as one, we all knew why we were here, and we did it. But as time went on, we lost that support of our parents. Around 2009 burglary was rife. If a door was broken and we replaced it, within one week it was gone. The community was not helping us. It was clear who had taken it, because people could see that yesterday there was no door in that house. There was another time that we bought 30 computers and every single one was stolen. It continued until about three years ago. We believed that those involved were past learners who dropped out … One night the watchman caught a group of them. They were all drunk, and they ran around the school breaking windows and vandalising things. As a school we had to use our funds to replace these things.
What is your dream for Vukubone?
Eish! I dream of Vukubone becoming a great school. I have seen some past learners who have really done something with their lives. It really makes me happy. There was one learner who came up to me in town. She showed me something, telling me, “If it wasn’t because of you teaching us and telling us about the importance of education, I would not have this.” I then realised she was showing me the keys to a car. She told me how she was a teacher. This is what I want for my learners.
Mandla Nelson Yende
Putting the interests of learners first
e is calm when speaking, and articulate. It is clear he is adept at deliberation, in engaging multiple, even conflicting, points towards trying to find consensus. It is as if he has plenty of experience in situations that require discretion and diplomacy. Or perhaps it is because, one way or another, politics is in his blood. He is a Yende, one of the clans that has long been settled in Driefontein. They are among the families that have, for nearly 80 years, endured the onslaught of the
Today he is the chairperson. It is his investment in his nephew’s future. “I have always enjoyed working with the community,” he explains, “and helping them to understand what is happening in the school. I was also involved in the community, mainly from the political side, but I wanted to make a difference in the school for my children.” This declaration is at odds with a bigger narrative in the school, the one that suggests the parents and community are generally disinvested from their children’s education. Yende does not deny that parental involvement is the SGB’s biggest obstacle, but he seems more interested in working towards something than complaining about their challenges. Overall, Yende is positive about developments in Driefontein and Vukubone. “We have seen new schools, a community library, a multi-purpose community centre with a hall, mini-clinic, and drop-in centre where elders and children get meals for free, as well as many others …” In recent years the school received a major infrastructure overhaul, something that was long overdue. Many classrooms had no doors or windows, and the roofs were rusted to the point of collapse. Vukubone’s adoption also led to the building of a Science lab, and the conversion of two classrooms into a furnished library. The missing piece of the puzzle, according to Yende and the community, is the inclusion of technical subjects into Vukubone’s curriculum. This is part of the recognition that there are limited opportunities in Driefontein and its surrounds. The sense is that having a matric certificate alone does not open many doors for young people. The SGB’s vision for Vukubone is for their children to leave school with useable technical skills, such as electrical and mechanical. The belief is that this will open them to more opportunities and greater self-reliance.
‘I have always enjoyed working with the community,’ he explains, ‘and helping them to understand what is happening in the school. I was also involved in the community, mainly from the political side, but I wanted to make a difference in the school for my children’ competing political, economic and ideological agendas of the day, the looming threat of eviction, infiltration and divisions in the community. The Yendes, in years past, enjoyed some support in Driefontein as a remnant of traditional leadership, but they were often against popular opinion. It was a tension between ethnic traditionalists and those individual landowners who saw themselves as being answerable only to themselves. Growing up, Mandla Yende says, he belonged to a political party that was opposed to that of the Yende induna. Today, though, local politics is of a very different sort and, while involved, he prefers to serve his community. One of the ways he has shown this is through his involvement in the Vukubone School Governing Body (SGB) since 2003. His motivation to join the SGB came when his eldest nephew – the child of his brother that passed – started at the school.
What changes have you noticed in the community of Driefontein in the last 20 years? A lot has changed in our community. When we came up with the vision for the school we looked at things like the high unemployment, which meant that parents could not send their children to tertiary (institutions). At least now people are working, though the challenge is that most are working outside Driefontein and even the province. Very few have managed to find jobs at the mine. Another thing is that a lot of people from Driefontein who are graduates end up working outside here, and so are not benefiting Driefontein at large.
And what changes have you noticed at Vukubone in the years that you have been involved with the school? The main changes came after the intervention of Adopt-a-School. Before, the schoolâ€™s vision was to become a technical school. We did apply for technical learning areas with the Department of Education, and they granted us permission provided we had the resources. For a start, the Gert Sibande District Municipality donated 20 computers so that we start with Computer Applications Technology and Information Technology. Then, together with the late principal, we wrote a letter to Adopt-a-School to ask for funding, and they adopted us with Kangra Coal. You can see the difference. They built us a Science laboratory and did a complete renovation. Our school is an old one. It was built in 1988 and it had not been renovated since. More recently, they have helped us with a library filled with
books and a television. Another thing is that after the intervention of Adopt-aSchool, we were not performing well, but the workshops they did with us helped us to change this.
What are your specific needs as the SGB?
Because we have that vision of having the school become technical, one thing is the buildings for Electrical and Civil Engineering, as well as the equipment for these subjects. Another thing is that we need assistance with employing educators for those scarce-skill subjects that we need to improve as a school. We also have the challenge of our kitchen not being in a good condition. If we had a two-roomed building, then we would be able to store the food in one and cook in the other. The current building does not even allow us to leave the cooking equipment inside it at night because things can easily be stolen, so we have to lock it in the teachers’ office.
Do you have a dream for Vukubone? If we can achieve, in consecutive years, a pass rate in Grade 12 of 90%, then my dream will have come true. I remember speaking to the past principal some time back and he told me, “Chairperson, no matter what, you need to put the interests of the learners first.” That is why we started the intervention programmes where we have employed educators who are specialists in certain areas, and those who are willing to help our learners in the evenings and on weekends. I want these kids to be successful in their lifetime, and education is key. We want to encourage learners to do their best. We really need to instil the importance of education in their minds, because when you are young you just go to school, you don’t have that vision yet in your mind. Our job is to help them realise that education is very much important. Page 100
Helena Dolny Founding Board member “T
he ‘what-ifs’ in my life,” she writes, “have been huge.” The sentence invokes questions of history, identity and belonging, plans and reality. The stuff of life.
“What if I’d gone straight from school to university?” Helena Dolny continues. “What if I hadn’t decided that a boat ticket from Cape Town to Southampton was a better option than a flight from Lusaka to London? What if I hadn’t been on a train journey when reading Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton’s novel set in apartheid South Africa? What if Ruth First, anti-apartheid activist and former colleague, hadn’t been assassinated by a letter bomb one afternoon just as I was about to leave my office on my way to hers? What if I had started walking to her office two minutes earlier?” In chapter one – What Drives Ms Dolny – of her book Banking on Change, Dolny raises questions around the pivotal moments in life that change its course. Rather than give answers she weaves the strands of many stories into one, her own. The book is an account of her life leading to her appointment as managing director of the Land Bank, the task of transforming the institution, an instrument in the apartheid machinery, and her subsequent departure amid unfounded controversy. It is a story of coming to grips with the profound complexity that is change: personal, collective and systemic. Born in Accrington, a small town in England’s industrial north, Dolny was the middle child and only daughter of a Polish father and Czech mother who had both been in displaced persons’ camps in West Germany after the Second World War. They met in England, after being offered free passage for those willing to work in the country’s mines and weaving mills. Growing up in a marginal Eastern European immigrant community, in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood that was divided by class and religion, contributed to Dolny’s feelings of being “foreign” in the country of her birth. And yet her early experiences taught her to value diversity. In 1972, after finishing school, Dolny decided to take a gap year. She was a bright student and sailed through her education. After passing her 11+, which classified her as above average, she earned a grant. Her plan was to study
English Literature and Philosophy. After joining the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation she was posted at the mission-founded Lwitikila Girls’ Secondary School, in Zambia’s rural Mpika province. “So there I am on a mission station in the middle of the bush and I am learning about Angela Davis, I’m learning about the Vietnam War, I am learning about Bob Dylan,” says Dolny with a grin. “I think in that year I learnt more than I had ever learnt at school. I was in a rural backwater and it was my education for life!” The experience changed her profoundly. It was her unintended graduation to adulthood. There was so much in that year that challenged the world as she knew it. It culminated in a decision to travel to South Africa, to fly to Johannesburg, take a train to Durban, hitchhike the Garden Route, and sail back to England from Cape Town. After everything, Dolny felt the need for a slower
The experience changed her profoundly. It was her unintended graduation to adulthood transition back home while she made decisions about the future. While Zambia had facilitated the opening up of her world, South Africa would leave her “shellshocked” by exposing her to the institutionalised racism of its closed world. Departing, she never wanted to visit the country again. In 1973 Dolny registered for a BSc in Agricultural Economics at the University of Reading. The change was fuelled by the desire to study something practical. There were also the beginning thoughts of a future return to Southern Africa. She also became active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Committee for the Freedom of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. Dolny also met and married a South African, and in 1976 the couple moved to Mozambique, where she started her career as a development economist in agriculture. Her focus was on rural co-operatives, planning and design, with the aim of empowering rural farmers to be masters of their own destiny. Years later she joined the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane
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University in Maputo, where she was exposed to people such as Ruth First. It was a time characterised by dynamism – a pervasive sense of possibility and endless potential. Dolny is driven by a strong desire to contribute towards meaningful change. This is partly fuelled by the experience of her father. A workplace injury together with the limitations of his working environment – narrow business interests and a system designed to extract the basics of labour, rather than fully develop and realise the talents and abilities of people – nearly broke him. “I promised myself that if ever I was given the opportunity, what would matter to me would be to make sure the conditions existed for people to develop to the best of their potential. I always felt as though it’s something that I owed to my father – to make sure that people, if they wanted, might have the chance that he didn’t … I made a pledge to myself to try to avoid the abuse of any authority entrusted to me.” In 1983, a year after the death of First, her colleague and mentor, Dolny resolved to join the ANC. Until now her focus had been development, but she felt an increasing pull towards activism. Three years later, a relationship blossoming with First’s widower, Joe Slovo, she made the decision to move with her future husband to Lusaka. It was a difficult time and she did not expect Slovo to live long, fearing he would be assassinated. She recalls sleeping in tracksuits, with bags packed and running shoes by the bed. In 1987 Dolny started her PhD while working in the ANC research department. Her interest was land markets and what would happen with land reform policy, post-apartheid. The choice was fortuitous. By the time Dolny completed her studies in 1993, she and Slovo had returned to South Africa. She also had three years’ working as a founding member of the post-1990 ANC Land Commission. In 1995 she was a member of the Presidential Commission on Rural Finance. A defining life moment began with her appointment to the Land Bank in 1997. Dolny was at the top of her game. She quickly learnt that the business side of transformation was easier than people change, that the key was in relationships. Despite the challenges there were many successes. The furore around her departure, involving multiple false allegations, had a profound personal cost. In 2000, despite having been cleared of all accusations, she found herself unemployable and, yet again, at a junction. From 2000 to 2005 she worked for FNB and Standard Bank. It was a period of transition. A friend sent Dolny an article about coaching in support of transformation. Nearing 50, Dolny asked herself hard questions that set her on a new path.
“Why can’t you change your career? Why can’t you be a support to people undertaking transformation, to those being promoted and who need support to be successful?” And so Dolny transitioned from the world of systemic change to a focus on individual and organisational change. It was tough shifting from being the doer to the supporter, but coaching felt right. It has been her life for over a decade. Having worked everywhere, from rural bomas to corporate boardrooms, Dolny’s varied career has given her unique insights. Dolny’s late husband and Cyril Ramaphosa had been very close, and she stayed in touch over the years. When the idea of Adopt-a-School Foundation was becoming a reality, Ramaphosa asked her to join as a Board member. For much of her working life Dolny had focused on rural areas and she had experience working with NGOs, as well as with strategy, programme design and budgeting – it was a good fit. She says her main contribution has been on the Foundation’s inner workings: staffing policies, the logistics of running such an organisation, as well as the team and team-work dynamics. She has also coached various staff members. “I think it’s scary!” she says, expressing concern about the state of South African education and society. There is a lengthy pause while she searches for an adequate explanation. “I think it’s really complex because it is not just about the quality of teaching; it also has to do with a disintegration of the social fabric and social values. This is not helped by the levels of unemployment … Do you need employment and improved social relationships in order for an investment in an education system to bear fruit? Those questions are just too big for me.” Dolny is an active Board member. Her skills complement those of other Board members, who are education specialists. Her refugee parents had gifted her with their belief in the importance of education, and made sacrifices to ensure their children would get the best they could afford. Helena Dolny brings that same belief to her contribution of time to Adopt-a-School. For her it’s a privilege to be an Adopt-a-School Board member. She’s inspired by the concept, the commitment and, most of all, the people who make it happen. “I think the people at Adopt-a-School are amazing, I see them running ragged … I would have expected to see more burn out, but they have done really well and I think that is because people get so much satisfaction from what they do. It fuels them.”
‘I promised myself that if ever I was given the opportunity, what would matter to me would be to make sure the conditions existed for people to develop to the best of their potential’
Head of infrasturcture development P aul Ramusetheli sits, deep in thought. At 14 years old, he has already developed an appetite for analysing complicated technical drawings. Now he busies himself sketching his own structures. A set of detailed house plans, created by his own hand, lie on the table next to him.
For many years he has been studying the plans brought home by his father, a water treatment plant manager at Albasini Dam in Limpopo. More recently his older brother, a Civil Engineering teacher at a local technical high school, has started to bring work home, further encouraging this interest. The young boy, though only in Standard 7, knows that this is what he wants to do. “I guess civil engineering is a family thing,” he says, reflecting on his youth. Born in Phadzima, a small village between Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou, Ramusetheli was a strong student, particularly in Maths and Science, often placing first in his class. In high school his achievements meant he was among the top learners in the whole of Venda, opening up opportunities to attend Anglo American-sponsored winter schools in Durban, as well as extra lessons at the University of Bophuthatswana. His primary school, Tondani, was characterised by inadequate infrastructure. Overcrowding and small classrooms meant that lessons often happened outside, under trees. In 1988, when he moved to Vhulaudzi Secondary School, the situation improved, but the lack of facilities, such as laboratories for practical experiments, were limitations. But Ramusetheli’s hunger for learning drove him in spite of this reality. In the Phadzima of his youth, there was an emphasis on discipline in the community that carried through into the schools. Teachers, he recalls, were dedicated in their work, something that created an enabling environment despite the lack of resources. “We grew up in a time where discipline was the first priority,” he says. “One had to conduct oneself properly at school. Our teachers were family-oriented people; they were there to support and guide you. Some were influential in my development, in my career.” But it was really at home that his passion for learning was sparked and sustained. The second-last of seven children, Ramusetheli was exposed to the
values of family and sharing from early on. Having three older brothers who were teachers meant that education was also high on the list of priorities. Ramusetheli matriculated in 1994, a year of great change in South Africa. The following year he enrolled at the Vaal University of Technology. There was no question regarding his choice of diploma. Though funds were an issue, he was supported in his first year by the Kagiso Trust, before his results earned him a bursary from Group Five. With this support he did his in-service training with the global construction, materials and infrastructure investment group. It also meant he was guaranteed a job after graduation. In 1997 Ramusetheli’s engineering career began in earnest when he was deployed to the Arabie Bulk Water Project, now Boshielo Dam, a water treatment project on the Olifants River near Marble Hall. He paid his dues on site alongside the general workers, pushing wheelbarrows, mixing cement and laying bricks. Having cut his teeth, he was assigned to an engineer before eventually being given his own section. Soon after that he was running his own projects for the company, many of them in water treatment and reticulation, as part of the
Ramusetheli’s hunger for learning drove him in spite of this reality
nationwide infrastructure development push aimed at bringing services to the people. Over the next seven years he progressed and eventually left the company at the level of site engineer. In 2002 Ramusetheli married and had his first child. The following year he received a call from the Costain Group PLC, requesting an interview. At their meeting he was headhunted by the British construction and civil engineering firm, and relocated to Manchester as a project manager. The next three years accelerated Ramusetheli’s professional growth. Working on large-scale projects, things like sewerage, water treatment and roads, with highly skilled people, made a big impression on him. “I loved working in this environment,” he says, “because the level of professionalism was very high. There was little that separated us as engineers and the trades. People were very competent, which made it a dynamic environment to work in. It was the period where I grew up as an engineer.” During that time he also had the opportunity to add to his skills, completing Page 104
a number of short courses on health and safety, managing sites in construction and setting out of civil structures, through the universities of Warwick and Birmingham. But the difference in climate and culture, as well as the distance from home, led to the family deciding to return to South Africa in 2006. The same year Ramusetheli registered for his BTech degree in Construction Management and Civil Engineering with the Tshwane University of Technology. The timing was fortuitous. South Africa was energised by the upcoming FIFA 2010 World Cup South Africa. The construction industry, in particular, was experiencing a period of boom. Ramusetheli joined Bombardier, a Canadian multinational aerospace and transportation company, as a project manager doing civil engineering coordination in the team responsible for designing the trains and track work on the Gautrain. After completing his contract, he took up a similar position with UK-
Adopt-a-School methodology means smaller projects but bigger responsibilities based management, engineering and development consultancy Mott MacDonald, which was part of a joint venture designing the terminals and track work for the Coega Industrial Development Zone outside Port Elizabeth. Working on projects of this nature tested Ramusetheli. In these five years he matured as an engineer. But more than a decade of travel, and frequently being based away from family and home, were taking their toll. In December 2011 he was offered a position as head of infrastructure by Adopt-a-School Foundation. “When I got the call to ask if I wanted to come to AAS,” he says with a smile, “I asked myself, ‘Who the hell is that?’ Then I heard ‘Shanduka’ and I started to piece it together.” The new job was unlike anything he had done before. From an engineering perspective the size and nature of the infrastructure projects paled in comparison to what he was used to. But, like many of those in his department, the work of Adopt-a-School opened him up to new opportunities for learning and personal growth. Ramusetheli had to familiarise himself with the particular needs and dynamics of the public education sector, as well as with the Foundation’s unique non-profit, community-centred approach to construction. “Every community is different. It has different personalities, different cultures,” he says of this model. “You never find communities that are the same, so each project has its own dynamic. This is something that is part of the work we do.” Added to this has been the steep learning curve when it came to balancing the different needs and expectations of the broad range of stakeholders. The Foundation’s constituents are ones not traditionally involved in the building process, so dealing with people not familiar with construction became a much bigger part of his daily reality. “What I see as the most important thing is stakeholder management, the people
side of the work … This is all about creating strong relationships with the schools, the funders, your service providers, your suppliers, as well as your colleagues. Without good relationships with those around you, things become a challenge … My job is to manage challenges and to resolve issues and problems. Every day is something new.” And so Ramusetheli’s current role represents an entirely new era of growth. The engineer, confident in his technical and project management abilities, has been pushed to develop in the areas of governance, people management and leadership. Engineering steel, brick and mortar is relatively easy when the right measures are in place. Engineering people is something far more complex and unpredictable. “It is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “We have to customise every time to suit the particular environment.” Each project is managed by a steering committee made up of the school’s leadership, members of the School Governing Body and community, and Foundation project managers, formed at the outset. This ensures greater understanding and transparency throughout the process, as well as ownership and accountability. Adopt-a-School methodology means smaller projects but bigger responsibilities. Despite the pressures Ramusetheli, for the first time in his career, engages with the people who are the beneficiaries of his work. In just over four-and-a-half years, Ramusetheli has worked in around 200 schools, visiting 90 percent of these. Building this way also has a significant impact on project costs. One of Ramusetheli’s project managers recalls a meeting with other implementing agents where he realised that Adopt-a-School is well below the market, despite delivering the same quality. In one instance another service provider had budgeted R1.2billion to build 10 schools, whereas the Foundation could deliver 40 at the same cost. On a current project in KwaZulu-Natal, Adopt-a-School was able to work with half the estimated budget. In 2013 Ramusetheli registered with UNISA for a Master of Business Leadership course. He graduated on 8 June 2016. It is yet another milestone in his personal development, with the coursework adding to his understanding of operations and the role of effective leadership. It is the marrying of his technical abilities with organisational management and the softer people skills. Ramusetheli’s career has come full circle. From learning under trees in primary school he has gone on to work for multinationals on global-scale engineering projects. Today he oversees all of Adopt-a-School’s infrastructure work, the goal being to create a physical environment for children across South Africa to learn in the most conducive way. Sometimes this means building so that lessons no longer happen under trees. He laughs when asked about the hidden logic of his personal journey. “I think that the whole process was preparation for this. My career had to go through all of these steps in order for me to get here. Working on big projects, both here and overseas, helped build confidence in my technical skills. Joining Adopt-a-School exposed me to things that grew me in other areas. I am now confident to direct and lead projects in every aspect.”
Modilati Secondary School A breath of fresh air in the place of stinking water
n the early 1600s the Southern amaNdebele, a breakaway clan from the Hlubi people of KwaZuluNatal, moved north, eventually settling at KwaMnyamana on the Tshwane (Apies) River near the Bon Accord Dam. During the Mfecane, the expansion of the Zulu empire between 1820 and 1832, a former general of King Shaka, Mzilikazi, moved his army into this area, occupying much of it at the expense of the original inhabitants. Mzilikazi made present-day Tshwane his home, building two military kraals on the Tshwane River. In 1836 the Voortrekkers arrived. Years of conflict and war followed, something that also changed the human landscape in the years preceding the establishment in 1855 of the town that would eventually become South Africaâ€™s capital. After the Second World War Pedi and Tsonga soldiers returning from Europe were given land in Boekenhoutskloof in reward for their military service. These families settled there and built a new life. They welcomed others over the years, eventually becoming a diverse community who lived and organised themselves, mostly, according to the customs of their cultures. Being close to good water sources and grazing meant that the community prospered as farmers, and were able to raise significant herds of livestock. The story goes that the area was earmarked for a military base by the apartheid government in the late 1960s. And so, as day turned to night one evening in 1965, dozens of army trucks arrived without warning. In a matter of hours the community of Boekenhoutskloof was uprooted by forced removal and dumped in the veld, in an area of Hammanskraal known as Stinkwater. Paulos Mthethwa was 18 years old at the time. Speaking to the media in 2014 as a descendant of the Ndebele King, Tshwane, and applicant in the controversial land claim for Pretoria, Mthethwa recalled returning from work to find his home in ruins as bulldozers ripped through the settlement. He was instructed by the army to take a bus to Hammanskraal, where he found his family, confused and in shock, huddled inside a tent in the bush. His sister, who had refused to leave, was one of many who had been beaten before being arrested and taken to Pretoria Central Prison.
And so the community of Stinkwater was born by an act of force. It was both turbulent and traumatic. In the morning they awoke as strangers in their new home. When the local inhabitants of the villages of Mogogelo and Suurman started their day, they found the newcomers occupying their grazing area. The uninvited quickly felt unwelcome. And although their being here was illegitimate in the eyes of the locals, particularly as they were of a different ethnicity, they were tolerated because it was the government that had resettled them. But, in time, conflict was the inevitable outcome. More devastating was the fact that the communityâ€™s economy was also
destroyed the night they were moved. Their large herds were left behind and so families set about moving them to Stinkwater. But the water supply was inadequate. People were forced to dig next to the dry rivers for water, which they then used themselves or sold in the village. It soon became obvious that there was not enough for both human and animal needs, and so people were compelled to sell the animals that were their livelihood. With their livelihoods all but gone, people became desperate. With this came the rise in social ills such as crime. Added to this was the fact that the community did not have the proper documentation to be able to work in the city. The lack of proper infrastructure such as water, roads, and schools also began to take its toll. Children had to travel as far as Mabopane to attend school, waking before 5am each day to reach there on time. On 6 December 1977, Stinkwater and the surrounding areas officially become part of independent homeland of Bophuthatswana. Again the community became a minority and outsider. Despite the majority being Xitsonga speakers, something that continues to this day,
â€Ś the community of Stinkwater was born by an act of force. It was both turbulent and traumatic
they now found themselves living in a Batswana-dominated country. In the late 1970s the Stinkwater community began the process of requesting a school from the homeland government. When it was eventually opened in 1980, they chose the name Modilati for their school. The name had deep symbolism and, perhaps, a wish for the troubled community’s future. The modilati were the warriors who traditionally fought rival tribes and clans over grazing rights, or who would retrieve stolen cattle. For the community of Stinkwater, principal Sonnyboy Mpofu explains, Modilati “would be one that would go and collect what they have lost, the dignity and respect, and so create a better life for this community”. In many ways this has been the case. Thirty-five years later, much remains the same in Stinkwater. The nearly 100 000 residents have been largely neglected, with services and infrastructure such as housing, electricity, water and roads lacking. Unemployment, crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and other social ills remain a challenge. And yet, as if an island in this sea of problems, Modilati is the best-performing school in the Tshwane North district. It seems to defy general trends in the area, and in the South African public education system in general. A large school with 1 326 learners, Modilati offers Grades 6 to 12 and a brand of education that follows its own unique recipe. The fact that Modilati does not put its focus purely on results might explain why it is the top-performing school in its district. Instead, the school’s emphasis, in the words of Mpofu, is to “prepare our kids to be self-reliant”. Modilati’s focus is broader, considering the total development of the individual in preparation for life. And yet a quick look at the Grade 12 results from the second term reflects the high standard that is the result of this goal. Despite 2015 being the first year that Modilati wrote matric, the top 15 learners in Grade 12 averaged between 62% and 85%, with the first- and second-placed learners’ highest marks being 97%. More impressive than its results is Modilati’s culture around learning. This includes parents and the broader school community, who are actively involved in decision making and the running of the school. Many of the school’s committees are headed by parents. The importance given to education is evidenced by parents being present to prepare meals when learners and teachers work over the weekends and during holidays. The involvement of parents is key to a healthy and conducive learning environment, another fact that sets Modilati apart. While the trend across the country is for schools to complain about a lack of parental support, it is part of the school’s fabric. Another factor that makes the school effective is proper policies that are formalised into working systems. This is not a tick-box exercise at Modilati but rather something that is part of its working DNA. Despite a small administrative
team, the school runs a tight ship through a centralised Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSM) centre, proper recordkeeping and up-to-date financials. In some ways Modilati runs more like a business in terms of these operational efficiencies. So as not to lose sight of enjoyment in learning, the school also places value on celebrating success and rewarding hard work. The Best Achievers Awards happen every quarter, when learner and teacher performance is acknowledged. Such is the standard that the school expanded the awards from the top 15 learners in each grade to 20, because class averages were so high. Added to this there is a belief that education is a constant process, so staff and even SGB members are encouraged to improve on their qualifications so they can better deliver in their roles. One way of doing this has been to support further study and even award bursaries where possible. Another is to allocate time in the computer lab and on the smart boards for parents and teachers, so that they are exposed to the technologies that are aiding the learning of their children. Given this fertile context, it is easy to see why Modilati alumni have gone on to achieve in areas such as civil engineering, medicine, music, academia and sports. Among these are Cornelius Tanana Monama, currently head of communication and spokesperson for the national Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, a music lecturer at UNISA, a doctor and two former learners who have returned to the school as teachers. There is also the story of marathon runner Bafana Dube, who was from a disadvantaged family headed by a single mother. He struggled academically while at Modilati, never showing a strong ability for learning in the classroom. Instead teachers chose to focus on developing his talents by arranging for him to compete in local marathons. Helping Dube harness his potential has resulted in him competing in Burundi, Botswana, South Korea and France. He has also been adopted by the Pretoria Sports Academy, where he trains with athletes such as Caster Semenya. Today Dube coaches at the school and in the community during his spare time, ploughing back into Stinkwater. Dube has also, through his running, been able to change his situation at home by, among other things, building a house for his mother. Another example is the girls' rugby team that was started at the request of Grade 11 learner Ofentse Mjojeli in 2013. Modilati is the only school in the Tshwane North District to offer rugby for girls. In two years interest in the sport has grown, with three players being selected for the Blue Bulls U16 squad. The club has also seconded a coach during the season to train players at the school and develop the game.
... Modilati ‘would be one that would go and collect what they have lost, the dignity and respect, and so create a better life for this community’
In 2009 Modilati’s Koketso Mbewe won the South African Post Office national letter-writing competition. The cash prize that was awarded to the school was the catalyst for further fundraising, and the building of a multi-purpose hall and two additional classrooms. This block was named in honour of Mbewe and her achievement, and is a jewel in Modilati’s crown. The school leadership also decided that a portion of the prize should go to Mbewe’s family, a womenheaded household, to ease their financial burdens. At Modilati the focus is on education as a holistic enterprise, something that is bigger than the curriculum and classroom. It is an investment in the full range of the individual’s talents, their personal lives, as well as the social life of the community. One of the keys to the success of the school is the constant exposure of learners to a range of influences and activities. Principal Mpofu says that this broader focus reflects the school’s philosophy of education, which is “teaching for social goals”. In the face of various social ills, loss of values, and the breakdown of families and community, schools are well positioned to play a role in positively impacting on society. And so Modilati sees its mandate as extending beyond the classroom and boundary fence.
The school is also fundraising for a multi-purpose centre and sports facility. With the help of the lottery, Modilati is ready to look at construction. The motivation behind this is the awareness that Stinkwater does not have facilities that adequately cater for sport and recreation. During athletics season, for example, Stinkwater schools have to travel to a nearby private school where they rent for the day, something that strains limited budgets. The vision is to offer the same at Modilati at half the cost. A long-standing relationship with Adopt-a-School Foundation that began in 2002 has also helped Modilati move towards its goals. Their ongoing engagement has resulted in the building of a computer centre and two extra classrooms and the conversion of a classroom into a Science lab. Modilati is the first in the area to have such a facility. The Foundation has also facilitated eyesight testing for learners, support for vulnerable learners and workshops for teachers, as well as hosting numerous motivational workshops and volunteer projects at the school. These smaller interventions have added up to make a big impact in terms of lightening the load. Stinkwater is not an easy place. This fact means that Modilati stands out in even starker contrast to its surroundings. The school is by no means immune from the issues affecting its community; the difference is that the school refuses to become hostage to them. So what is Modilati’s secret? When asked, principal Mpofu smiles. His answer is so simple it seems complicated. “The secret is creating space for everybody.” The start of this, Mpofu explains, is a sense of belonging. The belief in the importance of belonging is both profound and logical. When each individual feels they belong, the result is an environment of mutual trust and ownership, something that cultivates a willingness to take responsibility, make a contribution and account for oneself. And so Modilati runs on the effort of each individual rather than the power and authority of a few. It is clear across the school community – from general and admin assistants, learners, parents, SGB members, teachers and the school leadership – that every individual knows what is expected of them and is empowered to deliver on it. Modilati’s example is a powerful message about the huge potential that exists in South Africa’s public schools. With strong leadership, vision, values, a culture of learning and community of purpose, as well as access to resources, any school can become a centre of the community and a resource to create meaningful change, no matter the social and economic challenges of the particular local environment. As a model, Modilati appears to be a concept that is proven and one that should be studied, understood and, if possible, replicated.
Modilati runs on the effort of each individual rather than the power and authority of a few Modilati is also open to sharing lessons learnt, and even eager to see other schools benefit from its model. Principal Mpofu is regularly invited to share best practices with other schools, and even coach his peers. The hope is that other schools can replicate these achievements and so create a ripple effect in the public education system. Another contributing factor in Modilati’s continued success is that the school has a proactive approach to its own development, with creativity and innovation being the keys to unlocking solutions to the various needs. The school’s leadership actively engages with the private sector when it comes to raising funds or securing resources. Relationships outside the traditional Department of Education, school and community matrix, means adding another pillar to the education framework. It is about seeing the gaps, literally. To address the growing needs Modilati’s innovation has included building a kitchen, teachers’ offices and the LTSM centre in the spaces between existing buildings, the result being increased space at reduced cost. One future plan is to build an Internet café on the school premises that will be run, in part, by learners after hours, at weekends and during holidays. This is about addressing the lack of such a resource in Stinkwater, while also giving learners work experience and creating another fundraising tool for the school. Page 111
Edith Maphula Modiba Let the right people guide
t Modilati, Edith Maphula Modiba is known as someone who can be trusted with personal things, and she is consulted by many learners. She feels very strongly about the social issues affecting the youth, particularly the loneliness and anger she says many are dealing with. “You cannot just grow up and say, ‘Now I am a man, I am a woman,’” she says addressing the class of young people that hang on her every word. “There are also responsibilities.” Life is hard, she explains, not all fun and games. The room is packed with those at a juncture in their lives, the meeting point of childhood and adulthood.
that everything you do has consequences, and be disciplined internally in how you handle yourself, and in how you accept discipline by others.” Some of the more confident learners raise their hands to ask questions. It is clear that the content of this discussion resonates with them. She concludes the lesson with a statement of affection that is cut through with warning. “I think that teenagers are the most beautiful creatures on Earth … But because you are beautiful, people will want something from you.” In reality, Modiba could be the grandmother of every child in this room. She was born and raised in a time long before the introduction of subjects such as Life Orentation (LO). In fact, talk of things such as sex, sexual health, rape and abuse had no place in the schools of her past. Many of these topics were even taboo. But she has grown to love tackling such issues. When Modiba finished school she knew she wanted to become a social worker. Born in Alexandra, she moved to Diepkloof in Soweto and later to Middelfontein, Syferkuil, and Pankop, all in Limpopo, after the death of her mother. In these places she did her schooling. Education was something she really enjoyed. In Standard 6 she achieved a first-class pass. In 1976, after matriculating, Modiba went to college in Makapanstad to do her primary teacher’s certificate. It was a turbulent time in South Africa, but Modiba persevered in spite of the various circumstances, mostly because “even when it is tough, you must survive”. She represents a generation that was born and shaped inside a society that was very different to now, a way of life and looking at the world that has changed. As a teacher, Modiba specialised in Geography, History, Afrikaans and English, but it was Afrikaans she enjoyed the most. “I was the best teacher in Afrikaans!” she boasts, “Praat Afrikaans met my, dan sal jy hoor. My studente was die beste in die hele Stinkwater.” (Speak Afrikaans with me, then you will hear. My students were the best in the whole of Stinkwater.) Most of the people in the area speak Shangaan, but my students mastered the language. They (my colleagues) often asked me how I got this right.” In 1990 Modiba secured a post at Modilati, a small school then, offering only Standards 5, 6, and 7. In the years since she has observed many changes. The biggest one for her was when Afrikaans fell away and she decided to switch to LO. In this new subject she found her second calling.
There is an obvious fondness for those in her charge. She is a teacher, but her manner in this moment is more like that of a mother “You have to find your own identity, your own personality.” This is not so much a sermon, though it is clear she wants them to grasp her message. She pauses, scanning the room from over the rims of her glasses. There is an obvious fondness for those in her charge. She is a teacher, but her manner in this moment is more like that of a mother. Her face, especially her broad chin and pronounced cheeks, is soft, her skin smooth and glowing. It is her eyes and the few grey hairs that trickle out from her scalp into a ponytail, like lightning against a dark sky, that hint at her years. Her words are tender, even though her voice has become somewhat raspy with age. As the class continues she deviates from the topic of the day, spends more time talking about the kinds of challenges that lie ahead, how these young people’s futures will be shaped by the choices they make in the present, and how they will have to face consequences either way. Her advice: “Respect yourself, then others, choose friends wisely, work to become a productive member of society, make good decisions in every area of life, know
Though the content was foreign to her, uncomfortable even, in the beginning, she enjoyed it. In some ways she had been teaching LO before its introduction, in the way she challenged general ignorance around issues such as rape, abuse and HIV when speaking to young people. A subject about life and living, her love of people and ethic of service had found a formal outlet. “As Life Orientation teachers we have to teach them practical skills,” she explains, “like respect and discipline. If we don’t do that, then what kind of a nation are we going to have? Our kids need to learn how to deal with life.” Significantly, she has been teaching longer than some of her colleagues have been alive. Modiba represents an old world. Her youth, with its mixture of strict standards and ways of being, instruction in how the individual should fit into and operate in society, the lessons in caring, have given her the tools to navigate her current role. A blend of hard and soft. This is what she shares today, lessons for life that require going deeper than syllabus and textbook. “I am very strict. I am not afraid to correct someone when they are doing something wrong. Some teachers tell me I am too tough, but you know what, the learners prefer me.” Because of this, she explains, “when they have problems, they come to me”. Today Modiba is a teacher, a mother figure and, as was her dream, a social worker. On a daily basis she is approached by learners seeking guidance and advice. She tells many stories of young people with nowhere else to turn, children facing adult realities without proper support. The challenges of today’s youth, she says, are greater than when she grew up. Because of this, she laments the fact that there are limited services in the broader community directed at dealing with the host of social issues. “These kids have problems,” she explains. “They have a lot of problems. Some are full of anger. They are angry … That is why Life Orientation is not a subject, it is a calling. It is bigger than the syllabus.” A mother of five, Modiba knows what it means to play an integral role in a child’s life. As beneficiaries of her input, guidance and values, her own children have gone on to succeed in the fields of engineering, accounting and economics. This is undoubtedly the result of a combination of nurturing support and a healthy dose of tough love. The day of Modiba’s birth, the heavens opened. She was given the middle name Maphula, phula meaning “rain”. Traditionally, this is considered a blessing. It rained again on her wedding day, perhaps suggesting that she is supported by higher powers. This certainly seems to be the case in her work, and in particular her efforts at helping individuals to find orientation in life. ***
You mentioned that your first choice of career after school was social work. Why? Right now, there is a child with me, she is HIV-positive. I taught her in Grade 8 last year, but then did not see her for some time. Then when we were
invigilating exams, I saw that she had changed, her face was different, she was looking really sick. First I brought her some food because she said that her mother had passed and she was staying with a sister who was also at school. I called her to my office and told her I was going to take her to the doctor. I said that she must be prepared for what they are going to tell her, but that she must be positive because now she could get help. We went on foot to the clinic. When we were with the doctor he asked me if I am her mother. I told him, ‘No, but I am the mother because she is under me right now.’ The doctor tested her. When she came back to school in the afternoon she called me from outside the class. We went to the office. She cried. They had told her the news. She cried and cried. I left her to cry. Then she went quiet. I asked her if she was angry with me because I was the one that made her do this. She said, ‘No, ma’am, you are the one that helped me.’ When they checked, her CD4 count was very low. And though she was now on medication, she was still weak. I remember not long after she was even admitted to hospital. I went to visit her. But now she is coming right. Every day she comes to visit me, and I put some food aside for her to take home after school. I am happy to see that she is getting better. You can see the body is not so weak any more. So, that is why I wanted to do social work: I feel that people are next to my heart.
Life Orientation is not always taken very seriously in schools, but it is one of the the most relevant subjects as it deals with the kinds of things that people face daily.
It needs the right people to teach it. In some schools they don’t have qualified teachers for the subject, so they just look at those who have fewer periods and they become the Life Orientation teachers. This is wrong! Life Orientation should not be treated this way. If you teach this subject you must be able to guide these learners, to help them. If they have a problem, they must be able to come to you. I have to teach during the school periods. Then during break you sometimes see learners hanging around your door. Or maybe I see a child who doesn’t look right, so I call them to me. When you ask these kids about home, then comes the story. These kids will tell you things you never knew. There is no specific time for such things. Sometimes there is not even enough time to address all the issues. To me, these kids today are dealing with bigger problems. When I was young we did not even know of such things as they are faced with now. Things like teenage pregnancy were very rare. I had my first child when I was in my twenties, while today they have them as teenagers. Those babies need love and care, but the parents are very young and they cannot properly share such things with their kids. That is why we are having problematic children today, because they are the product of parents who were also children.
If you had the chance to talk to the nation, what would you want people to know about the reality in our schools? Sometimes people talk out of ignorance; they donâ€™t know. We need to look at the roots of our problems, not just criticise. Most people do not understand our needs and challenges in education. Even in government, you find people leading who are irrelevant, those without any background in education. If you do such things it is obvious you will have a problem. People need to come and sit in class and see what we are dealing with. For example, in some of our classes the desks are to the door; there are too many kids in the same class, which makes it difficult for all.
Let the right people guide! If we have leaders with an education background, they will understand the language of the system. We are also borrowing from other countries. Before we borrow, we must fix our own things. Another thing is that the media sometimes exaggerates the reality, which creates false beliefs about what is happening in education.
What do you think your last day at school will be like?
It is already time! I am old now, but I do worry that if I leave, who will replace me, and will that person have the same passion? Imagine if I was gone already â€“ that little girl could have died!
Lebogang Delight Phosa The youth must rise
he lightning and thunder crack the air like giant whips in the sky. The wind and rain stampede over the Earth as the summer Highveld storm passes over. At the edge of the village, inside a small house, she lies on her bed. The roof above rattles and hums, providing a soundtrack to the downpour. There is no electricity, but the lightning outside switches on and off, on and off. Sleep is elusive. It is not so much the forces battering her home as the weather in her mind that stirs. Like the force of rain, wind and lightning, her thoughts travel to many places, striking at memories and emotions. The words start to take form.
matter how many challenges you have faced, anything is possible.” This is a mantra she internalised. Today she lives and breathes it, such that it seems to radiate from every pore. Anyone who spends time with Lebogang will easily understand the symbolism of her two first names. The 18-year-old is delightful; Lebogang means “be thankful”. Much of the time her round face is bright and open, her wide smile pushing cheeks up into pronounced balls, and parted lips opening, like curtains, on a radiant smile. Lebogang is an example of what is possible with a can-do attitude. When her family moved to Stinkwater in 2008, after the loss of their father, Lebogang and her brother found that the local schools were full and so missed an entire year. But in Grade 5 at Namo Primary School the following year, she was recognised as the best learner in Mathematics. In Grade 7, Lebogang was the top achiever in the whole school. The weight of the difficulties at home was lightened by her experience of school, and the support and generosity of the staff at Namo. Lebogang and her brother Thato received help with food parcels, uniforms and other necessities. It was both a recognition and acknowledgement of their special qualities, the determination and commitment of the siblings. The early years in Stinkwater were tough times, but they were also good times. It was a period when, Lebogang explains, “we started to realise our dreams”. After moving to Modilati, Lebogang continued to grow both academically and personally. In 2014 she was the top achiever in Grade 10. Her abilities in Maths and Science also saw her being selected to be part of an Investec-sponsored programme. For Lebogang, school has been a positive experience, a place where she has found support and where her talents are nurtured, and she has thrived. A pair of South African flags are immediately visible when entering Modilati. They have pride of place in front of a classroom block named Adopt-a-School Centre. When Lebogang started at the school the flag poles were there, but they were not being utilised. One day she allowed her thoughts to question why and so she approached the then deputy principal, asking if he knew anything about the ritual. He did not. And so Lebogang put on her scientific hat and conducted her own research.
‘I started to realise that in life, no matter where you come from, no matter how many challenges you have faced, anything is possible’
Rain Problem: I can’t sleep/because the house makes noise/I can’t dream/because I’m always thinking/When I wake up in the morning it is still raining/When I take a bath, the water is so cold/I can’t boil the water/because there is no electricity/I am late for school/I can’t run because it is slippery outside ... /It is raining/It is natural/You can’t run away … The storm of that night some years ago was the trigger for Lebogang Delight Phosa’s first-ever poem. The life-giving thundershower stirred thoughts and feelings about the reality of home, the loss of her breadwinner father, moving between homes in Polokwane, Thembisa and Stinkwater, her unemployed mother, the lack of electricity and running water in the house, her family’s financial and material reality. But in grappling with such heaviness, Lebogang has found both strength and release. “I started to realise that, in life,” she says, “no matter where you come from, no
When she presented her findings to the school leadership she was appointed flag-hoister and told to assemble a team. Two flags were bought and for the past three years they have been raised and lowered each school day. As team leader, Lebogang also educated her peers about the meaning and protocol of flag hoisting, but after a time her team’s interest, and participation, faded. Undeterred, she continues. “It means I am proudly South African. I really think that hoisting the flag is a motivation to people who do not believe in themselves, it is a sign that South Africa must rise. I think it shows that we as the youth must rise, we must stand up for what we are doing.” Lebogang was also recently selected to be a member of Junior Tukkies, a partnership programme between schools in Tshwane North and the University of Pretoria. The programme is designed to expose learners to the institution and the world of tertiary education. For Lebogang the highlight was being able to visit the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, where she got a taste of her intended career. A visit to her house shows Lebogang’s passion for animals in practice. Snowy the cat and Speedy the dog rush out and greet her excitedly when she returns from school. She goes into the house and comes out with cups of food, before topping up their water. Pieces of aloe float in the water bowls, a traditional treatment for intestinal worms. Having learnt about its properties in a Science class, she also explains how she uses potassium permanganate to control ticks and other skin problems. The only possible limitation to the realisation of Lebogang’s dream are the considerable finances needed for a seven-year degree. But then she does not get bogged down by details. Instead, she talks about life after graduation. “I will focus on rural areas and help people understand how to look after their animals, because many of them are not treated well. I am really concerned about their wellbeing. I want to raise the issue of treatment of animals, especially young animals, because it causes them frustration and stress … We need to take care of animals because they also take care of us.” Despite enduring many thunderstorms, Lebogang, like her flags, keeps rising. Success is about looking forward and not backwards, she explains, swapping her scientific hat for the poet’s metaphor. Hers is a journey of changing mirrors into windows. “Mirrors reflect what is at the back, so they can remind you of the past, and pain, while windows look forward to what is outside and can show you a bright future …” ***
You have an interesting middle name?
It is a reflection, the other part of me. It is my reflection. The name chose me when my mother decided to give it to me. And my name, Lebogang, means “be grateful”; it is an instruction or reminder. They must be grateful to have me! Even though I am also grateful to have them.
You mentioned that your attitude is that “anything is possible despite your situation”. Where does this attitude come from? I have to give all the credit to my mother. She raised us to know that no matter what we get in life, we must be grateful, we must be thankful. You must not look at other people’s things, you must be grateful for what you have because charity begins at home. What we have is what we can afford. She told us not to compare ourselves to others. So she really inspired me a lot, even though she is an unemployed widow. She has gone through the wars.
You speak very highly of Namo Primary School?
The school was very special. The principal was very powerful, very supportive. Even the teachers used to help us. The school was really good at understanding social issues. They used to give us food packages and even help out with uniforms. I still visit the clerk there. We got so much support from her. She is part of our family. Maybe she realised the potential in us. In Grade 8 I lived with another teacher, Ma’am Moketa, for almost the whole year. I can still go to her when I have problems.
And what has your experience of Modilati been like?
At Modilati I realised that I am part of something special, especially seeing all the people coming to talk to and motivate us. Being in high school has been quite challenging because of our poor background. We do not have electricity at home, so listening to classmates talk about soapies and other things on TV was tough. I comforted myself and told myself there will come a time to watch those things. I also see it as an advantage, though, as I have time to focus on my studies and other important things. I am used to living in the dark city. I find Modilati very interesting because we are exposed to a lot of things. For example, the technology allows us to do research and the school also helps us socially with things, like the meals during the day. So things are easy, as long as we do our work.
And what does school mean to you personally?
School means everything! It is life, the beginning of life. I have noticed that there are so many people who did not get the chance to get educated and that
Adopt-a-School To other children adoption is like a game. Where you take a doll and carry it Then throw it away after several minutes. But to me, adoption is not a game It will always make you feel at home It allows you to have multiple choices in life. It gives access to the non-accessible. Adopt-a-School What a future paver, who understands the culture. I salute you Adopt-a-School You are a foundation that strives for the best Which is my motto. You have created a shelter for the homeless You have created an identity for the unknowns You have brought a smile of hope to my face If you were a person, I would call you my parents Because you played the role That my mother and father play. Thank you Adopt-a-School! THANK YOU Rain Problem I can’t sleep because the house makes noise. I can’t dream because I’m always thinking. When I wake up in the morning it is still raining. When I take a bath, the water is so cold. I can’t boil the water because there is no electricity. I am late for school. I can’t run because it is slippery outside. I walk until l have reached my destination. Inside the classroom there is darkness. I can’t see anything because of the dark , but I have used to live with it. It is raining. It is natural. You can’t run away from it but now I love it, because it is everything for me. It is the rain problem. By Lebogang Delight Phosa (16) Page 121
sometimes they wish they did have that chance, while we have the opportunity but do not grab it with both hands. Even though I don’t think both hands is enough – you must also use your legs! I really think that life begins when you go to school. I have seen improvements in my life, and in the lives of my sister’s and brother’s children, because of school.
What does it mean to you to raise the flag every day?
The principal always says that when we enter the gate we must leave our rules behind and follow the ones of the school. So I think that when the flag is going up we, as the youth, must also rise in our schoolwork, and when it goes down in the afternoon then you can continue with your things.
What is your dream for your life?
I will name five things. First, I will make sure I achieve my goal of studying veterinary science and finishing that. The second thing is to change the situation at home, because it is quite difficult to live in poverty. Thirdly, I want to change people around us, motivate them and offer some help to those who need it in the community. I also want to help the schools where we come from. I would also like to drive my own Toyota Fortuner, but I don’t know yet what colour it will be.
Is there a story from all your school years that really stands out in your mind? There was a story on the TV programme called Against All Odds. It was about a boy who did not have arms and yet he managed to pass matric with flying colours, six distinctions in the difficult subjects. What I liked about him was he did not allow the school to give him extra time because of his situation; he wanted to be treated like a normal child. It inspired me to see someone achieving something like that, whereas those of us who are not disabled are failing to do things like that.
If you had the opportunity, as a young woman, to speak to the youth of South Africa, what would you say?
I think they must live, learn, and listen. Also, that poverty is like the other part of the stairs that you have to climb to reach your dreams. They must not lose hope; the situation which is at home is not their situation, it is the home situation. They must take life as it is – they must not blame others for their reality, they must accept who they are and appreciate the little things that others do for them. Live life to the fullest, but be careful of peer pressure.
Building the future on the foundations of tradition M
oses Hololo is more than a worker, and his position is not simply a job. He is a man driven by a strong work ethic, and a value set that he lives and breathes in his daily life. These are a good fit with the vision and spirit of Modilati.
The first thoughts that enter Hololoâ€™s mind when he rises each morning around 5am is what needs to be achieved that day. Arriving at school by 6am, his first priority is to open the classrooms. This, he explains, is because he does not like seeing learners wander aimlessly around the grounds before class. This done, he moves around with purpose, attending to things that need his attention. And so, as the school day starts to come to life, Hololo is already hard at work. Hololo is not a worker. This is not a job. He is a member of a team, a community, and so his work is his unique contribution to a bigger whole. It is an expression of himself as a person. Being in an environment where he is valued gives meaning to everything Hololo does, and with this comes a feeling of pride, ownership, belonging. Modilati stands out in its surroundings. It is clean and well maintained. The few patches of grass in a central courtyard glow a vibrant green in stark contrast to Stinkwaterâ€™s winter brown. Nobody, neither the principal nor school leadership, walk on it, as if it were something sacred. One has to look hard to find litter, and there is not a broken window or door in sight. Everything appears to be in working order, and if not, there is likely a plan in place to remedy it. The school seems to smile, as if delighted by the knowledge that it is well cared for. When asked why he takes so much pride in what he does, Hololo makes reference to the past. The Stinkwater of his youth, he says, was characterised by a community that was stable, cohesive and run through by a sense of collective investment in the greater wellbeing. Values, he explains, were the foundation of this. He recalls the mabangalala (vigilantes), one aspect of this communal life.
Modilati stands out in its surroundings. It is clean and well maintained. The few patches of grass in a central courtyard glow a vibrant green in stark contrast to Stinkwaterâ€™s winter brown. Nobody, not the principal or school leadership, walk on it, as if it were something sacred
“There were some old people who would look out for young people who were on the streets at night or coming home late. If you were wandering around without reason, they would grab you and send you home. These people were like security.” The strict rules and consistent investment in guidance and direction fostered a healthy respect in Hololo for this way of life. It was about checking behaviour that was negative or disruptive so that it did not escalate, addressing something before it was able to impact on the greater good. Hololo thrived inside this world. Having moved to Stinkwater in 1967, his whole life has been shaped by this place. Returning his thoughts to the present, he lets out a sigh. The Stinkwater of today is changing. “Every person does as they please,” he says. “If a child is given the right to do what he wants, this actually closes the door on that child. When that child grows up they become the kind of person that cannot do the right thing. This is breaking our world.”
At the core of his concerns are the loss of community. What has become of the village? At the core of his concerns are the loss of community, the breakdown of family, of parents abdicating their responsibilities and children who seem beyond control. The traditional wisdom states that it takes a village to raise a child. Hololo is asking, what has become of the village? “Before, we used to walk with the laws we learnt at home. Our families taught us right and wrong. The community watched us to see if we had learnt. And if you were on the wrong path, they put you back right very quickly … For example, I am very ashamed if I am late for work, but children today don’t feel ashamed to be late for school. Why? Because they don’t have that thing in them.” The sense of something being lost clearly pains the father of five. And yet, against what seems is a wave of indifference, Hololo, like those who groomed him, lives by example. In 2003 he started at Modilati as a general assistant. From the outset he also became involved in the running of the school, serving on the School Governing Body for 10 years. Modilati, it seems, made sense to him in the way it represents the kinds of values he feels are the necessary ingredients to a good life. He enjoys being a part of a school community that practises a collective-oriented way of being, where the individual is made aware they are only as strong as the group, where the group knows it is only because of each individual.
What was it like to grow up in Stinkwater? Stinkwater in those days was good. The people looked out for one another. The community was together. In those days we were under the chief, and he would deal with any problems. If people were found guilty during a case, he called parents or family of those making problems. He would give people warnings and tell people to change their behaviour. If that person continued to do this, he could even tell people to leave the area. The traditional system was strong. You knew which was the right path to walk. If you chose the wrong path, there were problems. We were very disciplined in those days. Things have changed. I think it has to do with the laws of today. The new system has given so many rights to our children and now they do more than their parents. They also don’t like to listen. If you want to discipline your children, they threaten you with the law. I think it is this that has made them lose their way. Nowadays it is like we are punishing our children with all this freedom. When they grow up, start work and have families, they don’t know how to handle themselves.
The school grounds at Modilati seem to be in better condition than at some other schools. Why is that? I am a man who thinks. When I am at work, I know why I am here and what I need to do. When I arrive I go around and look for things that are not right; I do not stand around waiting for someone to tell me what to do. I use my brain! Today, I saw the grass was getting too long and I wanted to cut it but there was no petrol, so I asked for money for five litres and I went to buy it. Look now, the grass is looking good again. I arrive at six in the morning and I am often the last to leave. Visitors always comment on how clean our school is. The principal doesn’t need to chase me to clean because we have important guests; it must just be clean all the time. When we go to meetings at other schools I always walk around to look at their grounds. They don’t look as nice as ours. In the next three years you will see a big change at Modilati. Every year, when we have our meetings, we make a list of what we want to see happen in that year. If you come next year, you will see the difference already. This is not a school where we fold our arms and sit back because everything is in order. We have plans. We are going places!
Mpho Maswanganyi Debating change
eventeen-year-old Mpho Maswanganyi becomes visibly angry when asked about the state of her country. She laments the lack of leadership, destructive politics and the many social issues that affect South Africa. In particular, the Grade 12 learner struggles with the issues facing the youth, things such as peer pressure. In 2014 she succumbed to its allure, and has had to work hard to get herself and her studies back on track. Her body tenses with frustration. The words come out staccato, the thoughts disjointed. Her intellect and emotions miss each other. She knows, but she keeps saying she doesn’t. But despite the apparent turmoil, her mental wanderings have an impressive depth and breadth.
She has all the questions, but she is frustrated by not having the answers. It is a picture of complexity, a young woman grappling with herself and the world around her
“South Africa has so many problems that are bigger than the country!” She has a love of history, but studying it makes her “so mad”. Her knowledge of the past, it seems, gives her insights into the problems of the present. But the present, she says, is not what it should be. As she talks there is something of a plea in her words. “Often, when things happen we blame apartheid, but it is not about that. People are so doomed about our history that they can’t just say it is certain people who are running this country wrong. It is our own leaders now that are taking us down, today! And us, the people, we just expect everything.”
There are so many things that trouble her. Politics, economics, society, her perception about the health of the country’s youth, the fact that people don’t read. She laments all of them with intensity. Her frustration is palpable. It hangs thick in the air. “I don’t see the country going forward, I don’t see the country going backward. The country is just standing still. We’re stuck!” She sees what is wrong with her country, her community, her friends, herself. She feels strongly about all of this. She is driven to be a part of change. She has all the questions, but she is frustrated by not having the answers. It is a picture of complexity, a young woman grappling with herself and the world around her. If you had to look at Mpho Maswanganyi standing in a crowd, you might miss her. But spend time with the 17-year-old with the strong social conscience, and it is impossible not to notice her. Mpho engages the wider world from between the pages of books. Reading, perhaps, is the only thing that makes sense. Such was her thirst for reading while growing up that she would finish her homework at school, before going home to a book. Some days she would read until it was time to sleep. And with reading, Mpho also began to find a voice in writing. “I write what I like!” It is not immediately clear if this declaration is meant to invoke the sentiment of Steve Biko’s own book, but there is enough power behind her words to suggest defiance. And as Mpho relished the world of words, she also began to thrive in public speaking and debates. But reading remains her first love. And it is something she wishes her peers would do more of. “Reading can help kids create a dream and a goal of where they want to be in life, how they will get there, and in what space of time.” She is concerned that young people around her are being lost because of a lack of direction, led astray by peer pressure and wanting to fit in. There are, she says, enough examples of negative behaviour, but where are the positive ones, the role models? In 2014 she, too, was tempted by the flexibility of being carefree. She began to hang out with friends in a park. It was fun and exciting. Then one weekend they went to a party. It was the first time she tasted alcohol. Things got out of control. Page 126
The group decided to come clean and reported the incident to the principal. They were disciplined accordingly, but the damage was already done. Mpho’s focus on socialising meant that she was no longer top of the class. Her distinctions dropped to level 4s and 5s. Some of her friends continued the partying, despite a warning, and two were forced to go back to Grade 11 in 2015. Her fingers burnt, Mpho knew that the path of careless fun and excitement was not for her. A turning point was being selected for the CellC Take a Girl Child to Work mentorship programme. She was partnered with Ntombifuthi Temperance
Mpho plans to study law … ‘I want to argue for change, not just to argue’
Mtoba, the country’s first black chartered accountant, president of Business Unity South Africa, chairperson of Deloitte Southern Africa and member of the National Anti-Corruption Forum. More than her success in her work life, what resonates with Mpho is the fact that Mtoba, like her, is from a large family and a difficult background.
And while she has only met her mentor once, they talk on the phone once a week and exchange messages daily. It is difficult to comprehend what this access and exposure means to someone like Mpho. Living with a single parent, her father having passed away, and as the fourth child of eight, she feels pressure at home as well as out in the world. But having a mentor only fuels her desire to succeed, to carve out her own space, where she can stand on her own. Mpho plans to study law. The reason, she says, is because of a love of debate and arguing. It is likely that her very strong sense of justice is a motivation as well. And while she is unsure of how she will pay her fees, Mpho maintains that if you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life. It is unclear if the avid historian is aware that many of the great leaders of the past 100 years started out in law. Leadership, or the perceived lack of it, is the thing that she believes is crippling South Africa. Maybe this is where she will make her contribution. If her closing remarks are anything to go by, perhaps we would do well to watch this space. “I want to argue for change, not just to argue.” ***
That is why people do not believe in the leaders and politics any more. Every time they come in, they make the same promises – house, jobs, water, electricity – but when they have a chance to do something good, they do the opposite! Using the past as an excuse for what is happening now is unacceptable. It is not all about the past. I don’t know what I can do to flush their minds and make them see that you cannot run the country this way. And people, too, we have to stop expecting everything, (and) do things for ourselves!
Are you saying that there are not so many people you can look up to in this community?
Yoh! This community is full of drugs, violence, people who … I don’t know. It’s like they don’t have dreams or their goals are only short-term. I don’t know. That is why I don’t spend time with them. Most teenagers have babies, the young guys are doing bad things. I want to build a library for this community. Maybe that will give them the chance to see more in life.
Are there no libraries in the area?
What do you get from reading? New words, new ideas. It gives me the determination to write my own stories. I have tried to write my own short stories before. One was called The Dusty Township. Basically they are stories from my life and my community, people getting lost in life, drugs, violence. When I am sad or angry with a person, I would rather write it down than fight with that person. It is relieving.
Your subject choices are more towards the humanities than sciences. What influenced this? I guess I was driven by history. I really enjoy history. I want to know what happened in the past, why it happened, how can we change it. I am also interested in politics, but it is a dirty business so I don’t want to go into that. If I had a chance to meet the president, this country would be going in a different direction! There are a lot of things that need to change. I follow politics in the newspapers but it makes me angry, this constant fighting in Parliament. I wish I could be there; I am sure I could make more sense than most of them there. The problem with our politicians is that they are selfish. They are just selfish.
There is one in Themba, but that is very far. I know there is supposed to be a mobile library in the area, but I don’t think it is working properly. I used to read in the library here but I have run out of material. I read the whole library! Normally I ask around and borrow books. When I was given this tablet I used to go to the iStore to read the books there; the only problem is I could only read previews because I don’t have an account, so I never finish a story. I get a taste, but not the full experience.
If you had a chance to speak to young people in South Africa, what would you say to them?
Like I said, the youth of this country are pretty messed up. What would I say? There are so many things. I don’t know. Guys, calm down! Live and let live. Do something with your lives, something solid that you can fall back on. Don’t just think about partying, the fun life. This thing of being dependant on others, the sugar daddies. Girls, stop that. Guys, the drugs and alcohol, come on, it’s not good, especially when you want to recover but you are addicted. There are so many things … And read, please. Read!
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Taking the blue bull by the horns
weet 16 is a tradition, having originated in America, meant to symbolise a girl’s coming of age, her transition to womanhood. This is often expressed physically through elaborate hairstyles, make-up, and clothes, all of which are meant to convey womanliness and femininity. For 16-year-old Ofentse Mjojeli, it is an oval ball and studded boots, the game of rugby, that have helped her express her unique identity while also giving meaning and direction to her life. At first sight, Ofentse does not appear to be suited to the game. Her slim build, long braided hair, and otherwise soft features are at odds with the images of rugby’s physicality and aggression. But when she gets onto the dusty pitch that is Modilati’s multi-purpose ground, dressed in her Blue Bulls training T-shirt and yellow boots, something changes. Within minutes, she receives a pass then charges down the touchline to score a try. Proficient in athletics and gymnastics, and a fast runner, Ofentse took up rugby in Grade 7. At the end of her first season she was awarded with a medal for best player. The following year she moved to Modilati and was disappointed to learn that the school did not offer rugby. Rather than quit her new-found sport, she approached the deputy principal, who agreed to help her build a team. Today, the squad from Modilati is the only girls’ rugby team in the whole of Tshwane North. Three years later, and despite training on a grassless pitch with little to no equipment, girls’ rugby has steadily grown at the school. So much so that Ofentse and two others were selected to play for the Blue Bulls 23-member U16 squad from an initial 40. The club transports the learners to Loftus Versfeld Stadium, where they train with their teammates from other schools. In addition, they are also given tickets to watch live games at Loftus. More importantly, Modilati has been allocated a dedicated Blue Bulls coach who visits once a week to help train the school’s growing squad. This is something that has helped interest in, and development of, the sport.
This exposure has also opened the doors to many experiences. In June, the Grade 11 learner and her two peers were part of the Blue Bulls squad that travelled to Cape Town for a national tournament. They played teams from the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Boland, winning two of their three matches. Ofentse is the first in her family to travel the country because of sport and she is looking forward to trying out for the U16 national side in October which, if she is selected, might mean travelling abroad. A group of boys watches the closing minutes of practice from the touchline. They become animated, exclaiming each time a tackle is made. Before practice is over, they crowd around Life Orientation teacher and rugby coach Mpie Mosima,
It is an oval ball and studded boots … that have helped her express her unique identity, while also giving meaning and direction to her life
inquiring about the possibility of starting a boys’ team. Rugby in this context appears to be more than just a game, particularly for Ofentse. An only child, she lives with her extended family, including grandmother, mother, two aunts and uncle. Rugby is a foreign sport to her family, and as a result most are concerned for her safety. She has been injured before, but takes this as part of being a sportswoman. Rugby has done a lot for Ofentse. It has taught her discipline and focus, and with this has come the confidence to stand up for herself. Peer pressure is a reality in Ofentse’s world, influencing the choices and behaviour of many young people around her. With a wry smile, she jokes that when her peers turn left, she chooses right. More than daring to be different, rugby’s gifts have also helped Ofentse to deal with issues in her private life. One of the most difficult things she has had to face is not having a relationship with her father. Page 130
“I can’t say he is struggling to do things for me, maybe it is that he doesn’t want to do things for me,” she says, revealing, for the first time, her vulnerable side, “It is not tough. I just wish he would do things for me, even though I don’t ask for them.” The sense of longing and loss are an obvious weight on her. But Ofentse knows only too well that in life, like rugby, when you get hit and are knocked down, the only option is to rise and continue. Her life is undoubtedly richer with rugby a part of it. Part of this is the foresight of the school’s leadership in allowing her to pursue her passion. In helping to facilitate the opening of doors and not closing them, they have paved the way for Ofentse while also sharing the game with others as well.
What lessons have you learnt from rugby that you can use in life? You get hurt, but you will heal. It makes you tough. In life you get hurt, but you have to get up and continue.
And what about in the classroom?
I enjoy Life Sciences; it teaches me a lot about life. It will help me to help others when I further my studies. My plan is to do veterinary technology because people
are not taking care of their animals. If I follow this career I will be able to help people and their animals in this area. People think that animals are just animals, (and) we can do anything to them. I am scared of them, but I like them. I want to help them … This fear is something I will have to get over when I study.
What is your dream?
I don’t want to live here in Hammanskraal. I want my family to live in a nice house in a place like Waterkloof. It is too noisy here, the taverns make lots of noise at night, and it is not safe. But I won’t forget the animals, just the people.
If you had the chance to speak to young people in South Africa, what would you say to them? I would tell them to live their own lives. Do what is best for themselves. Don’t listen to other people. Make their families proud. These are things that can make you successful in life.
Sonnyboy Mosana Mpofu Finding meaning in the collective
onnyboy Mpofu grew up, in part, in the community of Stinkwater, and much of his teaching career has been in schools in or around the area. It is home. Despite the area’s difficult history, he is leading a school that is charting its own course and producing impressive results above and beyond learner academic performance. Mpofu’s secret is a blend of traditional and modern educational best practice, infusing learning with lessons designed to prepare the individual for life after the final exam. Bent over double, arms outstretched, he reaches this way and that, picking at things carelessly discarded. This street corner is one of the many places that the young people of the community gather to talk about everything, and nothing. Now, in the twilight of a long work day, he interrupts his journey home to clean up the mess. His middle and forefingers work like mechanical tongs, gathering up the signs of neglect. He repeats this many times on the way home. The presence of litter offends something in him. He is unable to just pass by. It goes to the core of who he is, how he was educated to live his life. Eagerly awaiting their father, the children stand on lookout for the first sight of him. Their excitement grows as he comes into sight. But this is short-lived when they see him pausing to pick up things from the ground. Whether they had some part to play in creating the mess or not does not matter. Their embarrassment is shared. The youngest son in particular feels a sense of shame that it is father who is cleaning up after others. The father’s example is the lesson. ***
something we are enforcing, and that is why you see the school is so clean when compared with others.” It is an August morning in 2015. Principal Sonnyboy Mpofu is contemplative, seeming to withdraw into himself as if to fetch the memories that contain the answers to questions about his past. Over his shoulder to the right are two copied photographs stuck to the wall. The more prominent one is the well-known image of Nelson Mandela by Eli Weinberg, capturing him in the beadwork of the Thembu aristocrat and a bedspread in place of the traditional leopard-skin kaross. Taken in 1962 inside a flat in Berea, Johannesburg, Mandela was in hiding while preparing for his “illegal” journey across Africa to garner support for the anti-apartheid movement.
Mpofu’s secret is a blend of traditional and modern education best practice, infusing learning with lessons designed to prepare the individual for life after the final exam
The early-morning sun, still low in the sky, pushes past the half-opened blinds before painting him with alternating stripes of light and shadow. The pattern is repeated along his left side, from the tips of his fingers to the top of his cleanshaven head. “Though we have people who are employed to clean the school,” he says in a gentle voice, “according to our culture we cannot, especially the kids, just stand by and watch this. It is an embarrassment on you as an individual. This is
The other, just above it, is a picture of the man known as the Father of African Humanism, writer and educationist Es’kia Mphahlele. Both images hold great symbolism for Mpofu. Both were men who were shaped by and embodied their cultural heritage, while going on to make significant impacts on the modern world. Mphahlele is especially emblematic for Mpofu. The first person to graduate MA English with distinction at UNISA, he thrived in spite of Bantu Education while mastering a foreign tongue, before going on to lecture in English at universities in parts of the English-speaking world. Mpofu is very much the modern principal. He has numerous qualifications, the highest being a Master’s degree in Education. His school is the top performer in the Tshwane North District. In 2013 Mpofu was awarded Principal of the Year
The sacred symbol of the Mpofu clan, their totem, is the sheep. Guided by this, his people were taught to emulate the animal’s qualities, to practise being meek and modest, to become humble like a sheep in everything they did, especially in their interactions with others
in his district, and a year later Excellence in Secondary School Leadership in the National Teachers’ Awards. To fully understand the man who is the captain of this ship, one needs to look back into his heritage and history. Mpofu is the last-born son in a large family with 13 children. He took his first breath in 1961 on a farm in Broederstroom, in the foothills of the Magaliesberg. Education began before any of the children went to school, his parents grooming them just as they had been, transferring the teachings that had shaped their lives. Growing up in rural Zimbabwe, Mpofu’s father had learnt about life from the stories told by his elders. It was in story, song and praise poems that he learnt about who he was, and how a person should behave in life. These stories taught pride and the values of respect, discipline and hard work, which were reinforced in practice.
“He conveyed things to us through stories,” Mpofu recalling his father, “which were stories that he was told by his elders back home. This storytelling helped him to learn about the ways of his people and when he told them to us, we came to know the culture that we are part of.” The sacred symbol of the Mpofu clan, their totem, is the sheep. Guided by this, his people were taught to emulate the animal’s qualities, to practise being meek and modest, to become humble like a sheep in everything they did, especially in their interactions with others. Rather than imitate the brute strength of the lion, hippo or elephant, the Mpofus were taught to harness a more gentle power. “The lesson was to make friends rather than enemies, and you do this by the way you handle yourself. This kind of influence moulded my personality and, ultimately, my leadership style. Today it influences the way I run the school, how I try influence my educators, my learners, my parents.”
Standard 10. In the final examinations, the school’s History results improved from last in the district to third. In 1987 Mpofu moved to Ntswane High School in Dilopye village, to be closer to home. Again his ability was recognised and, after a week-long visit by Bophuthatswana quality assurance officials, he and the principal were identified as the two best teachers in the school. Mpofu made a habit of being at school very early, meaning he was often the first to arrive. In these early hours the acting principal of a nearby school would pass Ntswane, often stopping to talk with him. The man would joke with Mpofu that he was ignoring his own community in Stinkwater. The efforts of the deputy were aimed at head-hunting the young teacher. Mpofu eventually conceded, starting at Modilati in 1988.
Mpofu’s first exposure to formal education was at a farm school in Broederstroom. This experience, he says, played a major role in him being where he is today. Both of his parents had very little formal education, something that made them emphasise its importance to their children. Instead, both shared what they learned through traditional education, the ways and teachings of their cultures. In this way they laid the foundation for their children, giving them skills that helped them to adapt to the other system of learning. And so Mpofu’s education started before he ever went to school. In his first year he was in a multi-standard class of 16 learners. An eager Mpofu would finish his work quickly, before attempting to also do the work of the Standard 2s. He completed both standards in one year, and discovered his aptitude for learning in the process. Mpofu completed his matric at Boekenhout High School in Mabopane, in 1982. With a love of learning now entrenched he enrolled at Hebron College of Education the following year, where earned his Senior Teachers Diploma, specialising in History and English. After graduating with a first-class pass in 1986 he took up a post at Alfred Maubane High School in Temba, where he quickly matched his aptitude for learning with one for teaching. That year he was promoted to teaching matric History by the principal, despite the fact that first-year teachers were prohibited from teaching
‘I have adopted a shepherd leadership style. I am not walking in front of everybody ... I manage from behind. That way you can see what is happening … you are able to ensure you all move forward together’ In 1993 Mpofu applied for the post of deputy principal, even though he was only a level 1 teacher and should not have been eligible for consideration. He recalls a week during this process when the principal went away with the school’s management for a workshop without appointing a stand-in. Having been exposed to leadership from a young age Mpofu took it upon himself to step into the role, co-ordinating his peers and designing a plan for how the school would run that week. In 1994 Mpofu was made deputy principal. It was the beginning of a journey of coming into his own, showing his full potential, and putting a life’s worth of learning into practice. “This post allowed me to influence the direction of the school and I was able to make a big contribution. The main role of the deputy was in curriculum delivery, so I could influence the planning, delivery and monitoring, as well as learner performance.” In the two years he was in the post Mpofu managed to achieve a lot, but in 1996 there was a lot of fighting in the village of Stinkwater, particularly at Fatlhogang Secondary School, within walking distance of Modilati. For a period of three months there was no teaching as parents and educators
clashed, and Fatlhogang’s principal was suspended indefinitely. In response, the Department of Education approached three performing schools in the area, inviting deputy principals to interview for the vacant post. Mpofu was appointed. Despite the upheaval, he managed to turn the school around. But there was a longing for Modilati. So when his former principal at the school was also transferred to a problem school, Mpofu took the opportunity to apply for the vacant post. In 2005 he returned to Modilati as principal, and began to create the kind of school that 19 years of teaching and 40-plus years of life experience had shown him was possible. It was time for him to put his own philosophies of teaching, education, school management and leadership into practice. “The first thing I had to do was unite a staff that was divided. I introduced a lot of systems to do this, I created committees, introduced quarterly awards for both staff and educators, went out to secure sponsors, and made sure that we (as a school) participate in all the activities in the district. Things began to happen.” ***
In parallel to developing himself as a teacher, Mpofu has also made continued investments in his own learning and growth. In 1989 he registered for a BA at UNISA. He also completed a BEd Management in 1992, and then a further Diploma in Education. But all of this Western-style education would eventually lead him back to his roots. In the late 1990s he began to ask questions about the potential role and importance of the traditional worldview in addressing issues of discipline and lack of cohesion, which were limitations on the performance of schools in the modern context. He believed strongly that his heritage, with its values and ways of teaching, could be part of the solution. In 1999 Mpofu began his Master’s degree at the University of Potchefstroom, his study focused on the effectiveness and productivity in education from the ubuntu perspective. “I approached my thesis by saying that, now that apartheid is gone, we cannot operate in a vacuum. We need a philosophy of education, and one possibility is that ubuntu can become a part of this. My study was about how to put this philosophy in practice.” Completing the study was significant for Mpofu, as it is the theoretical embodiment of a life of practice. Words such as values, respect, discipline, dignity, sharing, compassion, trust, solidarity, co-operation, harmony, interdependence and belonging feature multiple times throughout his thesis as elements necessary to, as well as resulting from, ubuntu practice. This is significant as the purpose of African traditional education is the “preparation of people for life”, both personal and communal, and it is aimed at creating and maintaining community cohesion. This cohesion comes from an understanding that while society or communities are made up of individuals, general wellbeing results from an emphasis on the group and not a single person. In such an environment, the individual finds meaning in their life through identifying with and belonging to the collective. Belonging is the fertile soil in which the individual comes to realise and embody their unique self. In this
communal context, each member of society has the responsibility to contribute to the education and learning of the rest, and children in particular. Education, when looked at from the ubuntu perspective, is a far broader and holistic endeavour, encompassing the totality of a person’s individual and social life from birth to death. When applied in the school environment, teaching becomes far more than simply educating towards a matric certificate and exemption. And this is part of Modilati's mission. “We don’t just teach for results. We teach for social goals,” Mpofu explains, referring to the philosophy in practice. “Part of our approach to teaching has to take into consideration the environment we are in and where our learners are coming from, and so we address the challenges our learners are facing so that they can be part of changing their own lives, their family background, and their communities … “Ubuntu is a way of life and not just adopted when you want something. It guides us and requires of us that we be the best that we can be, to make use of every single moment and opportunity to better ourselves and our surroundings.” Mpofu suggests that the concept of ubuntu is often mobilised or misused by competing agendas, whereas its reality is about small, consistent acts in daily practice that have a cumulative effect. The doing is habit-forming, such that it can become part of an individual, school, community and society. And Mpofu wants to see it become part of the country’s DNA. Drawing from his own positive experience, he also believes it is also necessary when considering the numerous
‘We don’t just teach for results. We teach for social goals’ and persistent social ills affecting the country. “I would like to see this philosophy adopted by the whole country. We cannot realise a better country if we are not sharing, if we are not caring for one another. Collective prosperity has far more value in the world than trying to keep everything for yourself.” While realising this will not be easy, the key is something so simple it seems complicated: belonging. In traditional societies, Mpofu continues, everyone had a place and role to play, meaning that no one was without a sense of belonging. Many of today’s woes arise from groups and individuals feeling excluded. In this kind of fragmented environment, people divide and pull down rather than working together to build. “It is about creating a space for every single person to make a contribution.” This starts with leadership, but not the kind of managerial leadership that is prevalent in the world today, the one based on title, power and even personality. It is a more subtle form of leading that is about unlocking the leadership potential in each and every individual.
“I have adopted a shepherd leadership style. I am not walking in front of everybody. As a leader you can be so quick sometimes that you leave people behind, so I manage from behind. That way you can see what is happening, you can see the fastest and slowest, then you are able to ensure you all move forward together … As the principal I don’t have to feel threatened, I don’t have to hold onto ultimate power – I share. “It is amazing how you can find quality in public schools as long as there is good leadership, a culture of learning and access to resources,” he explains. “This is the case here at Modilati, so why can’t it be the same in every school in our country?” Mpofu is dogged in his belief in this potential, emphasising the role of communities in turning schools around. As the nature of society is changing, so too should our understanding of community. Conventional wisdom suggests that education is a three-legged pot, its major stakeholders being the school, which includes government, the learner and parent.
To this Mpofu adds a fourth. He is adamant that the private sector has a crucial role to play as a partner in changing the state of education. These “social partners” have the kinds of skills and resources that can fill the gaps. The potential return on investment is far bigger than any rand amount spent. And that is good for business. By changing the nature of schools, you change their communities. By changing communities, you change society. Change society for the better and you find yourself living in a prosperous nation. Mpofu becomes silent as he looks out of his office window, past the palisade fence, across the road at the houses of the Stinkwater community, his community. “In five to 10 years we want to see the shacks in our communities changed into proper houses, and it will be these kids who will do this. Education will be the tool that allows them to achieve it.”
Ntjantja Ned H
Founding Board member
er small body shudders as wave after wave of distress crash over it. With each minute her agony grows. Though very young she already has an in-built a fear of failing at school. The thought alone is enough to bring her to tears. It is so strong that it has a stranglehold on her. And Ntjantja Ned cannot find her pencil. Not yet 10, she is a good child and a better learner. The only habit that brings her trouble is her love of play. While fetching water from the well she is known to get lost in games. In a moment of abandon, she has innocently put her pencil down, forgotten it. Panic turned to horror this morning when the realisation of the missing pencil was met with her mother’s inability to produce the two-and-a-half cents needed to buy another. Besides, she paid for a new one last week. Of all times for this to happen, today is the examination. The class teacher is the kind of strict that will never allow a child to enter ill prepared. Standing at the gate of her home, she is inconsolable. Her world seems to be caving in. The pencil has become the symbol of her future. Without it she will not write, she will fail. That reality will likely mean she walks away from school, for good. An uncle happens to be passing by. He enquires at the home. Why is she so distraught? The explanation is met with a smile as he produces the coins from his pocket. Disaster becomes opportunity, and Ned sets off at a sprint. She covers the distance to Mafube Community School quicker than ever before, buys a pencil and enters the classroom. “That was my defining moment,” says Ned, lifting her spectacles to wipe away the tears that memories of this story continue to invoke in her, more than 50 years later. “It made me the person I am today.” Her pencil became the metaphor for small acts that can impact a child’s life in the most profound way. Small things, she says, have the power to keep a child in school or fuel the choice to walk away. That pencil is the reason she has spent her working life in the service of others, particularly children. Ned was born in Mafube, a small village between Matatiele and Qacha’s Nek in the foothills of the Drakensberg. The fourth of six children, she was raised by “two mothers”, her mother and paternal grandmother, after the death of her father when she was four. Ned’s grandmother was instrumental in her going to school. The disciplined, industrious and community-minded matriarch’s two Page 139
home gardens were abundant with maize, beans, wheat, fruit trees and chickens. It was the family’s only source of income. Sales from the garden put food on the table and sent children to school. Despite never having had a day’s schooling in her life, the old woman had a strong sense that it was of great importance. Ned cruised through school. Having to walk long distances, often barefoot, in rain and snow, the daily reality of corporal punishment – nothing was a deterrent. Education in Mafube was highly valued and well supported. In fact, the community had pooled their time, labour and resources to build a primary school. Though most were uneducated, they seemed to understand the changing nature of the world, that education might someday be important for their children’s futures. “That is something that always astounds me,” says Ned, “their ability to think ahead, to say where we are now may not be where things will be. It is like they knew that change would come and they needed to prepare for it.” Ned passed matric very well at Mount Hargreaves High School in Matatiele in 1974. Her only career option was social work. During her school years there was a woman who would often visit the area in a VW. When Ned asked her sister who the woman was, she was told a “social worker”. Her job was to help poor children. It resonated. And so Ned asked a teacher what she needed to become the same. All he knew was that it required a university qualification. Ned decided that this would be her future. She took a loan to pay half her fees while her sister, a trainee nurse at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, helped with the rest. Her experience of the University of Fort Hare was positive and, as in school, the young woman flourished, graduating in 1977. The following year she applied to the Department of Social Work in Umtata but was told that, as a seSotho speaker, she would have to apply in QwaQwa, the Sotho homeland in the Free State. On 8 March 1978, she started work as a social worker in QwaQwa, the day her grandmother passed away. The old woman had been ill for some time and would often ask Ned when she was graduating, as she was tired and wanted to rest. The Thursday before Ned began her new job, she explained her reason for leaving. There is little doubt in her mind that her grandmother had waited for this day. In QwaQwa Ned encountered acute poverty, family breakdown due to migration, malnourished, abandoned and abused children, and depression, as well as various mental health problems. All of these were symptomatic of the brokenness that resulted from the artificial and unhealthy reality of the
homeland system. In three months Ned developed her first ulcer. “The sense of hopelessness and helplessness that weighed on people was really something. QwaQwa was depressing.” In 1982 Ned returned to Fort Hare to complete an Honours degree in Psychology, before going back to QwaQwa. Two years later she saw an advertisement in a newspaper for scholarships in the United States. After applying, Ned was accepted to the University of Cincinnati to do her Master’s degree in Social Work Administration. Having earned the degree in 1986, Ned resumed her work in QwaQwa. South Africa was under a state of emergency at the time and her colleagues questioned her sanity, asking why she had not stayed in the US. “It’s my home!” was her answer. Her time in the Free State homeland was not all doom and gloom and, through organisations such as the South African Black Social Workers Association (SABSWA) and the National Medical and Dental Association (NAMDA), there were many projects and initiatives that resulted in small victories. Many times Ned used her knowledge of the system to break the rules, as this was the only way to really help. These small moments were important, giving her the opportunity to pass a pencil to those in need. “My thing has always been to work within the system,” says the woman who is committed to her efforts. “But if it doesn’t work, find a solution!” In 1989 Ned moved to Johannesburg to take up a position in NAMDA, the antiapartheid platform for medical professionals opposed to the state’s fragmented view on health, as the co-ordinator of the clinic and services for people in detention. NAMDA facilitated medical, social work, and psychological and legal services for detainees and their families. By 1991 Ned was co-ordinating projects for SABSWA, as well as facilitating training programmes and conferences. The organisation was vibrant, and punctuated by a sense of community-mindedness and members’ desire to serve. Two years later she completed her post-graduate diploma in Policy and Development Management with Wits University, and in 1994 she began consulting in social development. Ned then joined the public sector as the head of the Free State’s Department of Social Development, in 1995. The most pressing task was to transform a system that was still unequal in how it provided services to different race groups. Her major achievement was the piloting of a social security system that used identification cards and fingerprint technology. The system won an award for innovation in public services out of 24 Commonwealth countries, and was one factor in her promotion to deputy director-general in the national Department of Social Development. In the years that followed she left the public sector to take up positions with UNICEF South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Her work in recent years has brought her focus back to children, her passion. “I am more drawn to children. Because of my defining moment as a child, as an adult I feel the need to do things for children.” Ned’s involvement with Adopt-a-School Foundation came about as if by design. For many years she had wanted to start a project at her former primary school in Page 141
Mafube. While thinking about how she would do this, she had a chance meeting with Dr Tshepo Motsepe, wife of Cyril Ramaphosa. The two women knew one another from the days of NAMDA and Ned suggested to Motsepe that her husband should donate something for her school. In 2006 Ned agreed to become a Foundation board member, and Mafube was eventually adopted. Over the past 10 years Ned has contributed her experience and insights to the work of the Foundation. She believes that children and youth are education’s major stakeholders, and so has pushed for a better understanding of their realities and experience. The country’s policies, she says, are very good, but the shortfall is in implementation. The resulting issues, she is quick to stress, are the nation’s problem and no one is immune. Rather than address this decisively, the
‘Money doesn’t solve problems, people solve problems’
trend in South Africa is towards quick wins. It is a pervasive mentality that, she says, is failing. “We have failed the young adults. Our interventions are too late and inappropriate … We shouldn’t be a microwave society, where everything is fixed in three minutes.” Based on her experience, she says that investment in education is the most powerful one any country can make, yielding the greatest returns. Ned also quotes the growing body of scientific research that shows how the early years, particularly the “foundation phases” (0-9), are the most crucial to a human being’s development and future wellbeing. Ironically, this phase is the one that receives the least amount of resources and attention. “I think the cost of missing that opportunity,” she begins, “in terms of human development, is massive. We will continue to bleed as a country until we get that right … We throw our hands ups in the air every year come the matric results, but the problem analysis is exactly the same. Then January comes and we go back to normal and start the process again. They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. I am not Einstein, but I agree with him. We are insane!” As a founding trustee and CEO of the Hollard Foundation, Ned is well placed to know the realities on the ground. Her mandate has been to improve the state of Early Childhood Development (ECD), ages 0-5, in the country by investing in research and stakeholder engagement aimed at systemic change. The solution, she says, is embarrassingly simple. A pencil. “And we shouldn’t think that money solves everything; it doesn’t. Money doesn’t solve problems, people solve problems … So the investment in ECD does not really need money, it needs people who know and appreciate the absorptive capacity of young minds, the courage of young children. We need to create places for children to explore, to play, to touch, to feel, to smell, to talk with other children, and to work together.”
Founding Board member
r James Motlatsi was born into two small families in Morifi, Lesotho. His mother is from Ha Taung, a small village nestled on a high plateau, not far from where the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers converge. This vantage point, looking out over much of Morifi, may have contributed to Motlatsi’s sense of perspective. His father lived lower down, in the village of Ha Rakoloi. For many years his father worked on the mines, a situation that did not improve the financial reality at home for Motlatsi and his two sisters. Few can say that poverty is a blessing, but in Motlatsi’s case it was the reason he attended school. “I could read and write,” he explains, “so my father said that because I was able to write a letter that would be understood by someone, there was no need for me to go to school. He told my mother that school would make me lazy, soft, that I would not be able to withstand pain and so I wouldn’t handle conditions on the mines when I eventually went there. My father said I should go and look after livestock. In response, my mother put her foot down.” So, in 1962, he sat in his first class at the Lesotho Evangelical Church Primary School (LEC) in Rakolo. Though materially under-resourced – learning often happened outside, under the trees – the commitment of his teachers more than made up for what was lacking. Motlatsi loved school and would stay there until the end of Standard 6 in 1969, when his parents could no longer afford for him to continue. In 1962, aged 10, he joined the Basotho Congress Party’s (BCP) youth league. The party appealed to his dislike for the perceived abuse of power by traditional leaders. The January elections of 1970 changed the newly independent Lesotho forever. The defeat of the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) by the rival BCP was followed by a military coup. Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan, leader of the BNP, refused to stand down, citing irregularities. A period of great unrest followed, including political killings and the imprisonment of BCP members.
“The only place to run to as a young man was the mining industry,” he says. “But when I arrived at the mines I realised I had jumped out of the frying pan, straight into the fire.” Working in an underground store meant he had access to the different areas of the mine. When he visited the stopes, he knew this was where he wanted to be. The risks were high: 80% of all accidents happened here. But he also identified it as the area with the most opportunity, particularly because the majority of the team leaders were illiterate and so they struggled with measuring and accuracy. In 1972 he attended a team leader course and was promoted despite, at 21, being well below the average age. The following year Motlatsi contemplated leaving. The abuse from his supervisors offended him; he was frequently threatened with demotion and even assault.
‘I could read and write,’ he explains, ‘so my father said that because I was able to write a letter that would be understood by someone, there was no need for me to go to school’ Motlatsi eventually joined Western Deep Levels near Carletonville, starting underground as a winch driver before being promoted to stope team leader two months later. Eventually he was made section team leader. In 1976 Motlatsi clashed with a mine overseer who had insulted one of his team. When the overseer laid a false charge of sleeping on shift, Motlatsi responded by standing his ground and appealing to the facts. In the meantime, a mine overseer with whom he had previously worked said he would organise for a transfer to his administrative section. The first step was a six-month course. The training was a challenge;
he struggled with the thick files of documents and, having come from underground, the other trainees had a hostile attitude towards him. But Motlatsi soon found an ally in Milton Musuku, a newly arrived teacher from Matatiele. “He knew nothing about mining, but at least he was learned. I knew something about mining, but I was not really learned. So we became friends.” Together they filled in the respective gaps in each other’s knowledge, one teaching the reality of operations underground, the other simplifying the company’s extensive written policies. In 1978 their department welcomed a new head, a Mr Van der Uys. Again
And so his focus has been to go back to the chalkboard, the place that helped him unlock his potential
Motlatsi used his extensive experience to help his new boss, particularly when it came to familiarising him with operations below surface. The following year Van der Uys was promoted to oversee the whole section. Not long after Motlatsi, and his entire team, were shocked when he was chosen as the replacement head of department. He asked Van der Uys why. “They were there when I arrived but they didn’t help me,” came the response. “You did, meaning they don’t have leadership or managerial skills. I am not promoting you because you helped me, but because of these qualities.” This experience was preparation for what came next. In June 1982 he read in the newspapers about the resolution of the Council of Unions of South Africa to form a mining union. In September he was approached by Alfred Mphahlele, a colleague from Soweto, asking if he would consider meeting Cyril Ramaphosa, who had been appointed to set up the union. Motlatsi says he found it difficult to trust Ramaphosa at first, but he believed he was sincere and so decided to help him. He used his network to get Ramaphosa into the mines, to establish contacts and relationships, so they could begin recruiting. In December 1984 Motlatsi was elected first president of the newly formed National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with Elijah Barayi as vice-president and Ramaphosa the secretary-general. It was a good mix of talents and abilities. Motlatsi and Ramaphosa founded the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) the following year. The union grew in size and influence over the years but suffered a blow during the strike of 1987. The three-week strike meant R250-million in lost revenue for the Chamber of Mines. The response was violent and the final outcome was that 50 000 miners lost their jobs; Motlatsi was one of them.
He stayed on as NUM president, and as a member of Cosatu’s Central and Executive Committees, but he also began to involve himself in a long list of other projects. In 1985 he helped start both the Southern African Miners Federation and the Miners International Federation, serving as president and vice-president in each. In the late 1980s and early 1990s he was a member of the reception committees for Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, as they were freed from prison. In 1997 he became chairperson of the Mineworkers Investment Trust. But he also ventured into non-mining related activities as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund from 1995, a council member of Wits University from 1997, and as chancellor of the Lesotho College of Education. In 2000 he also joined the South African Literacy Initiatives, a position he holds to date. This exposure to the world of education prepared him for a conversation with Ramaphosa, who approached him in 2000 while establishing the Shanduka Group. Soon after Motlatsi found himself a founding Board member of Adopt-a-School Foundation. The same year he left many of his positions in the mining sector, including NUM and Cosatu. Motlatsi has a lifetime’s experience in the field of human relationships. When he talks about pursuit of the greater good, it is informed by an understanding of what this looks like in practice. His childhood in Morifi revolved around hard work, culture and a healthy community that was focused on collective wellbeing. He has personally initiated and funded different initiatives in Morifi over many years, including Adopt-a-School’s interventions, but still he does not have all the answers. After investing in attempts at change he knows that simply throwing money at a problem is not the solution. And so his focus has been to go back to the chalkboard, the place that helped him unlock his potential. The first step was to mobilise support from various mining companies to assist in building Morifi Community High School. He also used the schools as a means to motivate the same companies to bring electricity to parts of the area. “I built a high school with the support of the mining industry. I did this because I said to myself that if there was a high school in Morifi, I would have been a graduate today … So I wanted kids not to have to leave to get an education, because once you leave and are educated, you will not come back.” And so the man who earned a PhD without having completed matric continues to preach what he believes is possible, echoing the words of Mandela when speaking about the role of education in catalysing change. “There will be no development in any country, without education,” he starts, speaking slowly and deliberately for emphasis. “There will be no development in any community, without education. There will be no development in families, without education. There will be no individual development, without education.”
The Morifi schools Shifting realities
tanding on an outcrop overlooking Ha Rakoloi, the village of four generations of his father’s people, Dr James Motlatsi has a perfect 180-degree view of his community. The solid rock protruding from the earth looks as if it was placed there for this very reason. It is called Tlokong, after the Sotho word tloko, meaning “bell”.
This is the place where the community used to assemble to discuss matters affecting it, the bell being a young person charged with shouting the call to come together. The community of those days was strong, unified, with the culture of the people ensuring that individual interests were not above collective wellbeing. As children, he and his friends would gather at Tlokong under the cover of night to plot mischievous things such as stealing watermelons, maize or peaches, as well as daring midnight forays across the Makhaleng River into South Africa, where the grazing was better. It is nearly 55 years since Motlatsi roamed these hills and valleys as a boy. Throughout the wider village of Morifi, much has changed in this time. Much has stayed the same. To understand the context that is Morifi, it is helpful to look at the country of Lesotho. The mountain kingdom has a sparse population of around 2 074 000. Its economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining, but it is also highly dependent on the salaries of migrant workers from across the border. Unemployment in the rural areas is said to be in excess of 80%, while total youth unemployment stands at 50%. With 70% of the population living outside of towns and cities, these statistics are the picture of a universal reality. The Basotho are a people of the land. Nearly half of the population relies on incomes from vegetable production and livestock, while the majority of the population depend on subsistence farming. Despite this, the country continues to import 70% of all its food from South Africa. The contribution of agriculture to Lesotho’s GDP dropped from 20% in 1983 to a mere 7% in 2010. The reasons for this reality are many. Overgrazing, poor farming practices, climate change and economic migration, as well as the global economic crisis, are several factors that are being felt acutely. The causes are less concerning than their actual impacts, particularly on the country’s youth. Among children below the age of five years, 20% are underweight due to inadequate nutrition. Countrywide, more than 360 000 children are orphaned and vulnerable.
It is nearly 55 years since Motlatsi roamed these hills and valleys as a boy. Throughout the wider village of Morifi, much has changed in this time
In Morifi these figures are not much different. Of the almost 3 000 residents, 90% of working-age adults are unemployed. Child-headed households or young people living with their grandparents are widespread. Despite being in the western lowlands, Lesotho’s main agricultural zone, food security is a big challenge. In response, school feeding schemes, supported by organisations such as the World Food Programme, were expanded in 2015 to include two meals daily. For some, these are their only meals. This is perhaps the biggest concern for the principal of Morifi St Thomas Roman Catholic Primary School, Marets’elisitsoe Moiloa. In response, she has used the school garden to plant vegetables with the intention of growing surplus for those in need. Learners are instructed to bring cow manure from home to help keep the soil fertile. Moiloa was born in Morifi and did her schooling at St Thomas. The cruel irony is that, as a child, her poor family was often unable to afford clothes for school, yet her stomach was always full, while today her learners arrive at school in uniforms with empty stomachs. Radipere Letsepe grew up as part of a farming family in the same
village as Moiloa. An agriculture teacher at Morifi Community High School, Letsepe says that he has observed a gradual physical change in the children of the area over the years. “If we keep gong this way, in another 10 years these kids will be breaking into our cars to find something to sell,” he explains, “Everyone has run away from being self-sufficient, we want people to donate … But we have donor fatigue now.” Letsepe is quick to recite a long list of issues. But ultimately he is hopeful, believing Morifi’s future potential is still in the soils that sustained its population many years ago. He knows what self-sufficiency looks like, from years of personal experience.
Overgrazing, poor farming practices, climate change and economic migration, as well as the global economic crisis, are several factors that are being felt acutely
“Morifi is capable of doing things, but time is running out … We have alluvial soils, we have plenty (of) water, and we have idle hands. There is an opportunity to create a very prosperous community with this.” Food security is a metaphor for a high level of self-reliance. If the power to feed oneself is beyond an individual or family’s control, then they are dependent on others. And if the economics of a community or society is uncertain, then dependency can become desperation. Like Moiloa and Motlatsi, Letsepe believes that education is the key, but he is critical of the current reality, asking if enough is being done in the schools to address the needs. He also feels that the breakdown in the spirit of unity, of community-mindedness and shared welfare, as individuals and families experience increasing pressures, is an obstacle to the kind of commitment needed to create and sustain change. “Communal things have many problems. That is why people tend to privatise. The combination of different skills, different attitudes and different needs can often be the death of something good … ‘Education is the key’ are nice words to say, but a rusted key cannot unlock anything!” The former prosperity of Morifi was beyond quantifying in monetary value. Collective wellbeing and a close link to the land meant people were able to shape their own reality. “If we want to alleviate poverty in Morifi, we need to use the resources of this community,” says Motlatsi, echoing Letsepe. He, too, knows the potential of his birthplace to provide for its people. “It is gifted with a lot of water and soil. The only thing needed is to mix soil, water, and seeds. The people, and an institution to lead this process, are all that are missing.” Motlatsi has a vision for the high school to become the centre of the community, a unifier and driver of change with the primary schools playing the role of laying the foundation. Educated children, he says, can transform Morifi. And this is not theoretical – there are already examples of this potential in practice. Thirty-four year-old Limakatso Nketsi is the principal of Morifi African Methodist Episcopal Primary School, her former school. Nketsi was born in Morifi and is now putting all her energies into serving her community through education. Despite having only two teachers for eight grades, Nketsi is creating something special. This is evidenced by the numerous teaching awards she has received over the past five years. This is the potential in which Motlatsi is wanting to invest. Together with Adopta-School Foundation, she has facilitated a number of interventions in the Morifi schools, including social programmes such as strategic planning workshops, eyesight testing and perimeter fencing, as well as high school bursaries for top
achievers. While primary education in Lesotho has been free since the early 2000s, parents still pay for high school, which means that many children from financially strained families do not finish their schooling. “The reason we renovated the schools was to make them attractive. The enrolment numbers in Morifi have been dropping over the years. If the schools are unattractive, this will continue. Now the teachers and students are sitting in facilities that are appealing. This is the only way to recreate that commitment to teaching. In my time we used to sit under the trees.” says Motlatsi. There is a sense of frustration, fatigue even, when Motlatsi speaks about this work and the challenges faced. But this is not enough to dissuade him. Morifi is home. His mother and many family members still live here. He could pull out, redirect resources, but that would mean turning his back on his birthplace. Besides, that approach runs counter to the education about life that was Morifi’s gift to him. “This community is not without brains,” he says. “It has produced quite a number of high-calibre people, but once people become successful it is very difficult for them to come and invest some of their success back here. Instead, they settle far away in the urban areas, deserting where they are from.” The Morifi schools are a good example of an opportunity for communities that have lost their centre, their glue, to recover some of this through making schools the new centre of community. “I think that, ultimately, every community can be developed by the residents from that community,” Motlatsi continues. “People used to run away from Morifi because they said there is no electricity, no water, and no quality schools. I have helped to bring all these things here. “So, my hope is that the people will now pick up the challenge and apply their minds to finding the solutions to the problems of Morifi. It should not always fall back on me, it should be led by these learning institutions, the high school in particular, so that it is people who drive their own development. It has to be bigger than any one individual to succeed.” Morifi’s history is one of migration. Its present is a story that is being written by this legacy. Its future, though, could be one of rediscovering the values that once held its people together, ensuring a greater chance of shared wellbeing. The difference now is that the once-fertile soil that sustained this past shows signs of being exhausted. Instead, the schools of Morifi will need to become the new soil, in which the seeds of a better future are sown.
‘If we want to alleviate poverty in Morifi, we need to use the resources of this community,’ says Motlatsi, echoing Letsepe. He, too, knows the potential of his birthplace to provide for its people
Seithati Mathibeli The roosters have only just begun to crow as she gets up, the world outside still dark. After lighting a candle, she dresses and readies herself. An icy cold slams against her skin as she leaves home; she crosses her arms over her chest in an attempt to generate some extra warmth. Passing through the gate, Seithati Mathibeli turns onto one of the many footpaths that will take her to class. Her stride quickens, lengthening as she passes the school that is visible from her house. It will be nearly two hours before she reaches her destination. Along the way the blanket of stars recedes as the sun begins its rise, bringing with it a symphony of brilliant colours: deep reds, purple, yellows and oranges, and even smudges of a peculiar green. This display does not excite her much, except for the warmth she knows it will soon bring. It is not because she is witness to it five times in a week, but because it is difficult to see. Seithati is often the first to arrive at Morifi AME Primary School. Many of her classmates live just a stone’s throw away, and so their daily trip to school is leisurely. This does not bother her, though, she loves her school because it is a place of nurturing and support. When classes start she finds her seat. Despite being soft spoken, timid even, she stands out for the mere fact that she is the tallest learner in her school. She is naturally shy, but it is also perhaps about a lack of confidence from knowing that she is behind. Sixteen-year-old Seithati should be nearing the end of high school, but she
is only in Grade 6. For years she struggled with learning, not because she was unable, but because her poor eyesight limited her. “She should have been in high school already,” explains principal Limakatso Nketsi. “She should be close to finishing school! But her eyesight is bad, so she was not able to learn. She had to repeat Grade 5 last year. “It is very frustrating for her. And for us as teachers; you don’t know exactly why learning is difficult or how you can help her. It is worse because she is a dedicated learner. Even though she comes from far away, she is always early at school and she does not miss a day, even when it is raining.” Seithati lives with her uncle, as her mother passed away some years ago and her father lives and works in Germiston, South Africa. Nketsi says that he has not been seen for years, hinting that it is unlikely he will ever return. Despite the difficulties of home and school, Seithati is passionate about her education. The turning point came in March 2015, when Adopt-a-School Foundation facilitated eyesight testing for 662 learners across four schools in Morifi. Seithati was among the 26 who were given spectacles. The year before she had failed Grade 5, and so had to repeat. Able to see now, she is pushing herself to catch up to her peers. In 2015 Seithati’s former classmate, Tebogo Motlatsi, shocked the communities of Morifi when he placed in the top 10 for Standard 7 in the whole of Lesotho. Seithati aspires to similar achievements. “I need to pass with merits,” she says. “I want to be like the others before me who have done so well.” Few people will know the frustration, the despair even, that comes with trying
to learn when one is unable to see. Testing a person’s eyes and giving them spectacles does not sound profound, but it can literally change a life. Seithati is evidence of this. It is also significant that she chose AME, a long distances away, rather than the easier option that is the school close to home. Had she not done so, Seithati may never have received the spectacles that are her new eyes. She may even have been deprived of the opportunity to finish school. ***
What do you want to be when you finish school? My dream is to be a doctor so that I can help sick people, just like the doctors who came and helped me with my eyes. Now I can see the chalkboard. Before it was difficult to read and write, but now everything is clear.
What would you like to say to the people who brought you your spectacles?
I would like to thank them very much. They really helped me. Before, I went back to Grade 5 because I could not see well. It is very hard to learn when you cannot see. Now I can read and write. May God bless you!
The circle moves backwards and forwards in song and dance. Thabelang Sepadile stands in the centre, leading the game while the rest respond to him in chorus. Generally, it is the older children who take up the leading role, but now he is firmly in control. He saw a gap and inserted himself when there was a lull between songs. It is not the first time. Everyone knows him for this. “The boss,” jokes principal Limakatso Nketsi as she watches. In class Thabelang is the same. His bravado is the source of much amusement and laughter, perhaps even a little envy. In another school his behaviour might be considered disruptive, but at Morifi AME his enthusiasm is entertained, encouraged even. It is his way, his character. The innocent assertiveness has found understanding and acceptance, earning its place in the school. To try and stop him would be to discourage his spirit. And why would anyone want to try and crush such fierce determination? An only child, Thabelang lives with his mother and grandmother in Ha Taung, a village a good distance up a mountain where its residents live on a small, isolated plateau that looks over much of the rest of Morifi. In the mornings and afternoons his little legs carry him across these steep, long distances. It would be a privileged position to be a fly on the wall to the endless possible worlds of wonder that likely dance across his thoughts on this journey. When he grows up, Thabelang explains, he wants to buy a phone. Oh, and also to be a teacher! Later on, the screams of a little person can be heard around the school. Thabelang has burst out crying inside the Grade 1 classroom, his inconsolable sobbing contrasting sharply with the confident character that has been so ever-present throughout the day. But then, one has to remember that Thabelang is only six years old.
What is your favourite subject? “Maths … No, English!”
What do you want to be when you finish school? I want to be a teacher so that I can buy a phone. Then I will come and teach at AME and work for Ma’am (Nketsi). Thabelang is pictured in the centre of the image on this page, and biting the table in the image on p154.
Limakatso Francina Nketsi Magic in the classrooms
othing about the arrangement of the desk and chairs in the principal’s office suggests anything special. In the corner of a sparsely furnished office with bare walls, is a nondescript cabinet, as if in keeping with the minimalist theme. Carefully arranged on its top, however, is a display that demands attention: a collection of trophies and certificates all pointing to numerous achievements, recognition of the magic that is happening in this school. The brightly coloured certificates are arranged in chronological order. Best teacher in English, 2010. Best-performing teacher in Sotho at Primary School Level Education (PSLE), 2011. Best-performing teacher in Sotho and English at PSLE, 2013. Bestperforming school in English, Sotho and Multistandard, 2015. Browsing through this story, it is clear why the office is so empty, because success in education is happening in the classroom. Not 10 metres away, Limakatso Nketsi moves around the room, pushing her learners for answers. While she is gentle in her appearance and manner, she is a tough taskmaster. Pointing at random, she gets learners to their feet, coaxing the solution from them. The certificates in her office are the result. At 34, Nketsi may be a young principal, but she has many years' experience working at Morifi African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Primary School. Born in Marabeng, a village at the base of the hill on which the school is located, Nketsi began her education at AME. She was not very strong in her primary years, but over time she began to develop a love for learning. After finishing school she spent a year at home, because her family’s limited financial means could not support further studies. Nketsi had plans to study accounting, thinking it was the right path for her because she had enjoyed Business Studies at school. When nothing concrete materialised over the next three years, the frustrated young woman decided to volunteer at Thaba Putsoa Primary School because it was better to do something than nothing. Although unpaid, Nketsi was responsible for teaching the Grade 4 learners.
“That was tough. It was my first time to be in a classroom. I did not have the skills,” she says of her early days, “things like preparing teaching aids, lesson planning. All I had on my first day was a pen!” But something shifted and her love of learning was reignited. After being given a post at AME in 2004, Nketsi registered for her Primary Teacher’s Certificate with the National Teacher Training College in 2005. She graduated first class. And as her skill set increased, so did her confidence and enjoyment of teaching. In 2011 she registered for a BEd with the National University of Lesotho. One day, nearly a decade after joining AME, she was called into a meeting by the principal. Surrounded by the school’s leadership, she was told that she would
Carefully arranged on its top, however, is a display that demands attention: a collection of trophies and certificates all pointing to numerous achievements, recognition of the magic that is happening in this school
take over as the head of the school. Nketsi’s eyes were a fountain of tears. While there was much excitement in the room, the news struck fear into the heart of the young teacher; the prospect terrified her. She did not feel up to the task, but accepted anyway. A year into her role as principal she graduated, again with distinction. The community that Nketsi serves is one of the most rural in the Mohale’s Hoek district. Many of the children come from homes that do not have access to electricity or running water. Added to this, she and a colleague are responsible for teaching Grades 1 through 7, meaning they have to balance the differing needs of learners and syllabuses. Despite the pressure, Nketsi chooses to see the silver lining. “It is a challenge, but it is also an advantage,” she says. “It has made me a better teacher.” Instead of despairing about the heavy workload, Nketsi has developed a system where she looks for commonalities in the content for Grades 5, 6 and 7 learners
before designing lesson plans that can involve all the learners at the same time. From here she introduces exercises appropriate to the needs of each grade. Surprisingly, the result is that the younger children seem to learn faster because they are exposed to the syllabuses of higher grades in advance. And the creativity does not stop here. Being a no-fee school means that AME struggles with funds to take care of basic needs, or initiate projects. The only building in the village to have electricity, the school charges the communityâ€™s cellular phones for R2 each. Two stone pigsties, where animals are raised for sale, have also been built. Despite the challenges, AME is a working model. Its results in recent years mean that it is performing as well as the majority of the schools in the district, drawing eyes and attention to this small corner of Morifi.
A factor in AMEâ€™s string of successes was the complete renovation of the school in 2011, by Adopt-a-School Foundation. The new infrastructure has made the environment more conducive to learning and created excitement in the learners. AME was also the recipient of a fully equipped mobile library, including a television and DVD player, a reward from the Foundation for its good results. The opportunity to read books and work on computers is a big advantage for children who are so removed from such facilities and commonly used technologies. The commitment of the AME community, however, is the lifeblood of the school. Nketsi in particular remains after hours to ensure learners stay on top of their work. Known for her dedication to learning, she even receives requests for help from the young people of the local high school. Though a burden on her time, she does not see it as a chore. This is her home, and every minute spent is an investment in herself and her community.
This is her home, and every minute spent is an investment in herself and her community
What was the response of the community to your appointment as principal? They were happy to know that someone from here was going to run their school. They really supported me. They do support me. Together, we are doing our best for our children.
How does it feel to be principal of your former school?
I like it because I am helping the children of my school, of my community. Some of my nieces and nephews are here with us. Even in the afternoons the children come to me. I am also helping some of the kids from the high school. I want these children to be like me, to have opportunities. For this, I must try by all means to give them what they need. This school helped to change my life, so now it is my turn.
What are your challenges as a school? The shortage of teachers makes it tough. We are only two for the whole school when (retired principal) Maâ€™am Luka is not around. Also, we are a no-fee school, so we have no income to do proper projects. We keep pigs, which we sell to raise funds, but we need money to buy them food. We have to be creative to be able to get the things we need.
What is your dream for this school?
In the future I want my kids to be online while learning. They should be using tablets and laptops when doing their work. It is so important because we are living in the time of technology, and we are behind. I want these rural kids to have the same opportunities as the ones in town. Page 154
Paulina Mathabiso Luka The mother of the school
er expressive face, with its high cheekbones and deep, lined forehead, is both stern and playful. Throughout the day it switches through a repertoire that includes deadpan looks that could stop a man in his tracks, and inviting smiles that have all the warmth of a grandmother.
Months away from her 70th birthday, Paulina Mathabiso Luka could easily be a grandmother to every child in the room. In fact, two of her grandchildren are learning in the other classrooms. Although retired, the former AME principal still makes the trip from her home in Ha Thetso village a few times a week to help at the school. “Two teachers to run a whole school, hey! I came back because these are my children,” she explains. “I am here because I don’t want people to laugh at us. I want to see AME go far. So I must be close to the school.” She looks towards the door, nodding at the approaching silhouette. “I don’t know what I can say. I am so proud to know this school will never go down because someone from here, our product, is now in charge. The future is bright!” Former learner and current principal Limakatso Nketsi knocks and enters in much the same way she would have done in the mid-1990s. Her manner suggests an obvious deference to her elder; Luka is the matriarch of the school. Luka first came here in 1973, when the African Methodist Episcopal Church attempted to establish the school, but it was closed the same year because of issues around registration. She returned in 1980, again at the request of the church, to help formally start and run the school. Luka and a colleague were the only staff. She laughs, recalling her paltry first salary cheque: a whole R6. The school building was an old church constructed from stone and mud, in the traditional style, with a grass roof and inner walls of plastered dung. It was too small to accommodate the class numbers and so lessons happened outside, with the learners seated on the ground. There were no books at the time, so the walls were used for writing. Lacking pens, the industrious teachers used charcoal or twigs burnt at either end. At a later stage pencils and paper were introduced, but because of shortages a single A4 page would be torn into four pieces and shared. In her 40-year teaching career Luka has taught at three schools, but AME, she says, is hers. In more than 30 years of service to the small school, all of her five children have been educated here, with her last-born going on to become a teacher. Even her grandchildren have benefited from what she helped build.
And although numbers have dropped over the years due to a migrating population and the opening of new schools, she is adamant that AME is a light in this community, something that is reflected in the school’s exceptional results as well as in its motto, Thuto ke Libone (Education is Light). “You cannot live,” she says, her eyes flickering at the thought, “where there is no light. And education is the light. AME will never die!” ***
You keep mentioning the electrification of AME through the work of Ntate Motlatsi in 2003. What did this mean to the school? For the first time we could read at night. Now these kids can work after hours. At first we didn’t know how to use it. I was shocked when I first experienced electricity, I did not know what it was. I thought that we should take a bucket, I thought that it was something we had to collect before using it. Since then, life has changed. Now we charge our phones, we can use heaters when it is cold. Before, when the weather was not good, the children would not come. Now, even when it is raining or cold, they are here. When a child is ill today, we can make hot water or tea for them. We were poor those days. We were poor, for sure. Now we are better off. May God bless Ntate Motlatsi and Adopt-a-School.
What do you think AME means to the future of this community? Hope. But as time goes (by), we will need this to become a high school. The teachers are working hard. Look at our trophies; our kids are getting merits. We will need to grow to be able to give our children the education they need ... It is tough to teach multi-grade, but we are managing … Our secret is that we make sure every child understands. After school we do remedial classes for those we can see are behind. Even during the weekends there can be classes. It is our duty to make sure these kids learn. That is our secret.
What is your favourite subject?
When 14-year-old Karabo Mothae finishes school, he is often to be found working in the spaza shop of local soccer hero Thapelo Lesaoana. It is one of the few places in Morifi where things such as cooldrinks, sweets and airtime are readily available. It also has a television, so young people often gather to watch soccer or wrestling. For Karabo, spending time with Thapelo, someone to whom he looks up, and being close to a centre of entertainment are attractive, but more so is the exposure to money and business. The reality of monetary economics is not lost on Karabo. Both of his parents are migrant workers who live in faraway Cape Town, while Karabo and his three siblings live with their grandmother. Every family in the area shares this experience to a greater or lesser degree. The part-time job gives Karabo a glimmer of financial freedom. When he finishes school, the Grade 6 learner explains, he plans on joining the military. The reason: it is a stable job that will give him security.
English, because English prepares you for the working world. It is an important language to know.
What do you want to be when you finish school? A soldier, because you will get a good pension one day.
What do you like to do in your free time? I like working in the garden planting marogo, cabbage, spinach and carrots. I also play soccer; my favourite player is TK Ndori from Mamelodi Sundowns.
Seithati Makoala She is the first to finish the classwork assignment; closing her book, she glances quickly around the room, then smiles to herself. Across from her a young boy draws lines on his hand in pen, counting as he searches for the answer to the equations. Minutes ago, class teacher Lebohang Lesia had introduced the topic for the day: fractions and division. Before that, Seithati Makoala rushed to the front of the class to erase the notes on blood transfusions that were being discussed in health. With the chalkboard clean, maths could begin. Now Seithati raises her hand from her desk to call her teacher. The smile returns, in anticipation of the red pen marking her answers correct. She beams when it does. When the rest are done, Seithati is invited to the chalkboard where she guides the class in working through the problem process to the answers. She is clearly very bright, and she seems to relish in the challenges that learning present to her. The 13-year-old, from Mane’s village in Morifi, says that she really likes school. “It is important because we learn things that will help us in life.” As with the majority of young people in Morifi, her mother works in South Africa, and so she lives with her grandparents and younger sister. Seithati does not want to leave Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) Primary School, but is looking forward to completing her Standard 7, as she is excited to experience high school.
Pasted on a wall in the staff room are the final results for class 6 from the fourthquarter test of 2015. At the top is the class motto: “We strive for a better future.” Just below is Seithati’s name; her results stand out from the rest. With Science and English, her favourite subject, at 81% and none below 66%, her average for the year was an impressive 76%.
What is your favourite subject?
English, Health and Science. Maths is difficult, but I enjoy it.
What do you want to be when you finish school?
I want to be a doctor so that I can help sick people. I want to them to be alive like me.
What do you think it will be like to leave LEC at the end of the year? I will be sad to leave, because I love my teachers and the principal. It is also the most beautiful school in Morifi.
Lebohang Ephraim Lesia Returning home
he first thing Lebohang Lesia would see after passing through the front door to the outside world was his school. Not 200 metres away, it is as if his home, perched on a small ridge in Ha Rakoloi village, was positioned specifically for this view. As he rounded the family’s vegetable garden, his mother’s pride and joy, he descended onto the flats that are the community soccer grounds. Meeting up with his classmates on the way, he entered the school grounds. A smile crossed his face as the bell rang in the new school day. Time to learn! Today, he steps out to the same view. Repeating the familiar ritual, he walks through the open school gate and is greeted by a chorus of young voices. “Good morning, teacher,” they say. Twenty years after he made the last short trip to Morifi LEC Primary School as a learner, Lesia now opens the door to his own classroom. Inside it is light and colourful. Rough, concrete brick walls are broken by sections plastered smooth and painted watermelon pink. Overhead the bright yellow roof trusses, enhanced by the silver insulation, add to the brightness of the space. The floor, covered by a material that has the feel of canvas, is dark, accentuating the different colours in the room. On each windowsill, their window frames painted a deep, navy blue, are pots of plants, some wearing flowers. They are the cherry on this visual cake, bringing an organic, living energy into the room. “I like them,” says the Grade 9 teacher. “They make the environment better. They make it smile. As the teacher, I have to be proud of where I am teaching, I can’t be in a classroom without flowers.” Lesia has spent the majority of his life in Ha Rakaloi. The year he was born, LEC was established at its current site after being moved from its original location close by. Growing up, he and his siblings were encouraged to learn. Both their parents had had some schooling, enough to have them believe in
the value of education, and all four of their children completed school. A hard worker, Lesia seemed to be on track to become a teacher. After matriculating at Likuena High School in Mohale’s Hoek in 2000, he applied for posts at a number of schools. He was only successful at one. “I was very excited to teach at my old school, here where I live,” he recalls, “to have my former teachers as colleagues. It was also nice to earn the respect of my community for my contribution as a teacher.” Confident that he had found his path, the 21-year-old Lesia registered for his Primary Teacher’s Certificate (PTC) at the National Teacher Training
‘I like them,’ says the Grade 9 teacher. ‘They make the environment better. They make it smile. As the teacher, I have to be proud of where I am teaching. I can’t be in a classroom without flowers’
College. He was joined by Limakatso Nketsi, from the neighbouring Morifi AME Primary School. Having completed their PTCs, both continued teaching before going on to start their education degrees at the National University of Lesotho in 2011. “I am one of the few teachers in the area that is from Morifi,” Lesia declares proudly. Over the past 15 years he has taught his younger sister and niece, as well as the children of his neighbours and former classmates. It is a responsibility he does not take lightly, both because of the impact that education has had on his own life, as well as the fact that many former classmates, particularly those who did not value education as much, are now struggling to make a living. The community of Morifi has a long history of labour migration, something that has left permanent damage. Lesia’s own father spent many years on the mines in South Africa. Page 160
“Most of our parents went to the mines. It was tough for us as a community to have them go. Children were left alone, families were split. Many, many people went there but, honestly, we didn’t see any improvements that these migrant labourers brought here.” Lesia and Nketsi represent the next generation, the maturation of the children of Morifi who are now putting back into the schools that groomed them. Both know the value of education and want to share this with the young people in their care. Migrant labour is something that tends to entrench itself, locking generations of a community into a pattern that repeats. Most of Lesia’s former classmates have followed in the footsteps of their parents. It is a good thing that he avoided this fate, choosing home instead, where he can now be part of writing a different potential future for Morifi’s next generation. ***
What are the challenges of teaching here in Morifi? There are challenges, things like dealing with behaviour issues. A lot of these problems come from family issues. Some parents struggle with discipline, but this is often because the adults are away, working across the border. As teachers, we need to be involved in helping with these issues in the home.
What does the work of Ntate Motlatsi and Adopt-a-School Foundation mean to this community?
Ntate Motlatsi was born here, and I know that he was also at school here at LEC. He is an example to all of us, about what you can achieve in life. His work has changed our school. Before, the environment was not conducive, but now look at it.
The work of Ntate Motlatsi and Adopt-a-School is not only lifting us as a school, but also the other schools around us. I like this. Maybe the ones who will benefit most from all the improvements of the recent years are these kids. I think in the next five years we will start to see the real changes.
What do you think is the importance of education in a community like Morifi?
According to me, it will change these kids. If you compare them now to when we were kids, they have opportunities to learn that we did not have. I think in our time it was difficult for some to be serious about education; that is why so many left to go and work in South Africa. These days the education is much better, so it creates interest in learning. Most of my former classmates are across the border. They are still searching, they are still struggling. Many did not focus too much on their education; now they are limited.
What is it like to know that you are contributing to your community’s and family’s education? The kids are unaware, but they are helping me with my studies. There is a lot that I gain from them … So I have to contribute. Some years ago I was the breadwinner in the family, so I learnt that I have to try by all means to solve problems on my own. Education has prepared me for life, so I need to give the best that I have as a teacher to make sure these kids have the same … Education improved me mentally and even physically. It prepared me for my future.
What is your dream for the future of LEC?
I want this school to be productive; our students must have a bright future. It would be great to see these kids get to tertiary (education) and then go on to make their own contribution.
In a time of hardship and opportunity “What are the uses of the ox-drawn plough?” As the question leaves her lips, two learners jump to their feet, clicking their fingers furiously. “Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, ma’am …” “Remember, we were talking about farm implements yesterday. So who can tell me what the uses of the ox-drawn plough are?” By now four of the six learners are standing, clicking, each one hoping to be selected. She points. “It loosens the soil.” “Again.” This time they answer as one. “What is another use?” Fingers click on waving arms. “It buries the weeds.” “Again.” The class continues. Principal Mabasia Lefotho takes the learners through the remainder of the implements and their uses, before starting the next topic. “It is very difficult,” she explains, “to mould the mind of a child.” Dressed in a blue trenchcoat, light grey skirt, black stockings, and shoes that are impossibly shiny in this place of dusty, exposed earth, Lefotho is little more than a head taller than the learners in the room. Her soft-spoken, gentle manner occasionally gives way to comments that are blunt in their candour, even slightly pessimistic. But perhaps, having started her teaching journey almost 37 years ago at this school, she has the benefit of hindsight. “The future of these kids is not an easy one, but education will help them to have a good one. We are giving them the skills for life.” Lefotho arrived in Morifi as an unqualified teacher in 1979, after being given a grant by the Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) Primary School. At the time the school and church were in the process of being moved to
the current site. Conditions were difficult, with all standards being taught together in the church hall. Learning was a challenge, as this reality meant competing demands on attention. The lack of material resources meant teachers relied almost entirely on their voices. Added to this, because there was little to no transport in and out of Morifi, they had to stay with families near the school. In 1982 Lefotho left LEC to pursue her Primary Teacher’s Certificate (PTC) at the National Teacher Training College. While studying she secured a position
‘The future of these kids is not an easy one, but education will help them to have a good one. We are giving them the skills for life’
at Thaba Putsoa Primary School, where she taught for a number of years. In 1986 she left and started her Advanced PTC, before returning to Thaba Putsoa. In 1995 she was called back to Morifi, this time as principal of LEC. In the meantime it had begun to look more like a school. New buildings meant less sharing. In 1998 the church was moved to another site. Numbers slowly increased, to as many as 250 at one point, until the year 2000 when Tjotjong Primary School was built in Morifi, a development that took many learners away. The intervention of the Motlatsi family in 2011 and Adopt-a-School Foundation in 2015, means that LEC now has a classroom for every grade, with old buildings being renovated and electrified. The school no longer looks its age, something that is reflected in the energy that seems ever present. Close to retirement, Lefotho is grateful for these much-needed interventions. Despite the challenges of declining numbers and a Morifi that is struggling with the long-term effects of economics and migration, new life has been breathed into the old school.
The importance of education should not be undervalued, says a resolute Lefotho: it could literally mean the difference between life and death. “If it was not for education, I could have been dead! I would have been like others, migrating to look for work, having to leave home to go to strange places looking for money. People do all sorts of funny things in these situations. I could have been caught by HIV, like those who left and returned, only to die … Education has allowed me to build a different life.” ***
What was LEC like when you first started teaching here? It was challenging. We lived in the community because there was no accommodation for teachers. In the old days community members were nice to teachers. This has changed, that respect is not there as much any more. I don’t know why. The learners were poor. There was not too much learning in the class because we – Grade 1 up to Grade 6 – were packed into the same hall. While you were talking here, others were talking there and there. Those conditions were tough. It was distracting. We had no chalkboards, no paper, nothing, so you taught with your voice.
How has Morifi changed since then?
There have been many changes. Parents used to be very active and involved. They are involved, but these days they are slow to do their things, to take care of their responsibilities. There are a lot who just grumble.
Do you ever see any of your past learners?
Most of them have gone to high school, some have managed to go to tertiary (education). There are a few who are now working for government. It makes me proud to see them living their lives. Some have even brought their children back here to LEC. We even have one of our products, Mr Lesia, teaching with us now. It is great to see him giving back to his community.
What are your dreams for LEC’s future?
We should go beyond the level where we are now. I want to see learners coming back, not leaving to go to other schools. It would be great to see the classrooms full again.
Vibrancy in the dust
he five women get out of the battered taxi, stepping down onto the dirt road leading to the school. Their colourful dresses, the intricate patterns, contrast sharply with the surrounding open veld.
Walking in single file, chatting and laughing, they stand out, as if not belonging here. But this is very much where these women belong. They have worked hard to make this place their weekday home. Though their clothing is a uniform, they are not the same. Each one is different in a small way, reflecting the personality of the wearer. As colleagues they chose the fabric and design together, each paying with their own money. More than ensuring they look good as teachers, this exercise serves to bring them together, uniting them as a team and removing the potential for competition and conflict. Makabelo Memane, resplendent in her uniform, seems to wear this knowledge like it is clothing. The 37-year-old is the embodiment of a teacher, in both her appearance and conduct. And rightly so: from the time she first sat at a desk in primary school, she knew it was what she wanted to be. “I enjoyed school very much,” says Memane. “It was such a good experience, that I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.” But after graduating from Bethal High School in 1998, she missed the application deadline for teaching studies. Faced with the prospect of sitting at home for a year, Memane decided to register for a diploma in secretarial studies. As if by design, rather than joining the business world after graduation she found a position at her former school as an unqualified teacher. It was meant to be. In 2003, the following year, Memane registered for her Primary Teacher’s Certificate, completing her diploma part-time while teaching. “I felt that teaching was the only thing for me,” she explains. “I wanted to be a role model to others like my teachers were to me, to do the right thing and to show kids how to do the same, so that they can grow up well.” When Memane was given a post at Morifi St Thomas Primary School in 2010, she struggled at first with the commute from Mohale’s Hoek, where she lives.
More than this was the added financial burden of the monthly transport costs on her family. But the environment she found herself working in quickly cancelled out these concerns. St Thomas was characterised by strong teamwork among the teaching staff, children who were a pleasure to teach, and a community that supported their teachers and school. It added a sense of belonging to Memane’s purpose. “The children of Morifi are more respectful, they are very disciplined, which helps you as a teacher,” explains the Grade 5 educator. “The community supports us a lot … So we are not educating these kids alone.”
‘The community supports us a lot … So we are not educating these kids alone’ Being part of a united and motivated school has helped Memane to fulfil her dream of teaching, while also confirming her belief in the importance of education and its power to positively shape the future. She smiles as a group of learners from her class emerge in their traditional dress, in preparation for a performance for visitors. “I think that education will determine how these kids will relate to the world. If their talents are developed at school and are allowed to shine, they can do anything …” ***
What are the challenges of teaching in Morifi?
This place is far from town so the people here are not as exposed as others. When you try and teach some of the things in the syllabus they can’t understand, because they have no experience of it. There are many homes without television and we don’t have local libraries, so things that urban people think are normal are strange to some here in Morifi.
There seems to be a pride here at St Thomas, a love for the school. We are very proud of our school. The developments that Ntate Motlatsi brought for us, make the environment a conducive one for teaching and learning. Small things, like being able to use the lights when the weather is rainy and dark, make a big difference. Having a staff room where you can sit comfortably and prepare your work helps you as a teacher. When your school looks nice, feels nice, then it is easier to be here and be part of education.
Can you say something about the uniforms the female teachers wear?
We find it is very important for us to have a uniform as teachers; that way, there will not be one among us who is dressed in an unacceptable way. We are the same, and no one can try and put themselves above others through clothing and money. It makes us a strong team ... We are like sisters and brothers; there are no groups, no outsiders.
What is your dream for St Thomas? I want us to become one of the best schools in the area. We try hard to be together as a team. You see that we pray together every morning. By relating well, by being a team, we can really do well as a school.
You mentioned that it is difficult to commute every day from Mohale’s Hoek to Morifi. Do you ever think of transferring to a school closer to home?
I don’t think so. I like how we are at this school. I have experience of other schools, where there is a lot of politics between teachers. There is no such thing here, there is nothing that is separating us. If there is something that affects us, like a misunderstanding, we deal with it … Why would I leave? I think I can even be principal one day! [laughs]
Marets’elisitsoe Moiloa The value of self-reliance
he room is still. The teachers’ heads are bowed, eyes closed. Seven in a circle. Principal Marets’elisitsoe Moiloa starts. The others join in. The room fills, grows.
The quiet seriousness of prayer is replaced with jubilant song. Eyes open. Smiles become wide. They begin to move, almost dancing. As the hymn reaches fever pitch they embrace each other, shaking hands, touching shoulders. Some hug. A wish for the day. They are together, one. As the morning ritual winds down the teachers of Morifi St Thomas Roman Catholic Primary School leave the staff room, each headed towards their classroom. The school day has begun. “There are several things that can unite people,” says Moiloa. “We pray together in the morning. This helps me to see if someone is not doing well emotionally, or because of things at home. When we pray or sing together, sometimes a person will show their emotions, even cry. Then I am able to counsel them. Sometimes people have conflicts at work, but when they shake hands they are together. “It is our daily ritual. It is how we start our day.” The more one listens to the unassuming Moiloa, the more layers of this complex individual are revealed. Marets’elisitsoe means “to comfort”. A former learner quotes a Sotho proverb, Thupa e otlolloa esale metsi, in reference to her. It means “the stick is prepared while it is still wet”, suggesting that a person is shaped while still young. “We have to be one as teachers,” says Moiloa. “If we are divided, then we cannot give our best to these kids.” Moiloa was born into a “very small, very poor family”. An only child of parents who never received formal education, she completed her primary schooling at St Thomas, but the situation at home prevented her from going further. So Moiloa left school and married soon after. It was a shock to the young girl, moving from a small family to a large one,
having to cook for many mouths, serving her in-laws, cleaning up and making conversation. It took her a long time to adjust. Her husband’s great-grandfather was a local chief after whom Moiloa village was named. His son, Mosiuoa Edwin Moiloa, was the teacher who in the 1920s started St Thomas in his village with the help of Catholic missionaries, as an outstation. Classes were small, as many of the locals saw no need for education. Boys, in particular, were discouraged as they were needed to look after the family herds. Teachers were unqualified, selected from those who could read and write, and classes happened outside under the trees.
‘We pray together in the morning. This helps me to see if someone is not doing well emotionally, or because of things at home. When we pray or sing together, sometimes a person will show their emotions, even cry’
Despite the family link, Moiloa’s husband received very little schooling – just enough to make him literate. Instead, he travelled, like most able men from Morifi, to the mines in South Africa where he worked underground for nearly 30 years, leaving his young wife with their three children (much later, she bore a fourth). A miner’s salary was not enough to sustain the growing family, so in 1986, 15 years after finishing Standard 5, Moiloa took herself back to school. It was a shock to her system in every way. At 30, now a mother of four, she was closer in age to her teachers than her peers. Balancing motherhood and school meant sometimes she had to stay home when her children were ill. But she persevered, believing that education was the only thing that could enable her to change her circumstances. She was allowed to skip Standards 6 and 7, and proceed to Standard 8. That year she achieved a second-class pass. During her final years of school, Moiloa became more certain of her future. “There were vacancies in the banks at the time. A lot of people were trying for
those kinds of jobs, but I did not want to work there. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I finished school. A teacher, and nothing else.” In 1989 she started her Primary Teacher’s Certificate (PTC) at the National Teacher Training College. She graduated in 1991, with distinction. The following year, after applying to different schools, she was offered three posts. Two of them were located closer to her home in Mohale’s Hoek. It was an easy decision. “I came straight back to my roots,” she says with a broad smile. “This is my home. I thought that if I could do something good, I must do it where I am from.” Despite a daily commute that added to her monthly expenses, she was glad to be back in Morifi. St Thomas had changed a lot in 21 years. In 1994 the former principal left the school, and Moiloa was appointed in an acting capacity. Five years later, her position was made official. The same year her husband passed away. A further blow came when the foundation responsible for administering the pensions did not pay out his money. Moiloa had to call on her inner strength yet again to be able to support her family. Just as before, her belief in the power of education rang true, this time, however, from the position of principal. All four of her children finished school and then tertiary education. Today they are working as a salesman with Suzuki in Johannesburg, a lecturer and an aircraft engineer, with the youngest about to qualify as a mechanical engineer. Moiloa’s belief in the power of education as a catalyst for change has been confirmed by both personal and family experience. Hardship, rather than defeating her, has given her an understanding of life and a large inventory of
tools to use in navigating its many storms. Over the past 22 years she has applied this knowledge to creating structures and systems at St Thomas. Moiloa’s leadership style is practical. An example of this is the culture of uniforms for women teachers. “Where ladies are together, they can mock each other,” she explains. “We are not equal at home and so clothing can become something that divides people. A uniform makes us together, it helps us to become a family … “I was born to a poor family, so I know what it feels like not to have, when others do. I don’t want people to feel bad or look down on themselves. I want everyone to be happy because that is how we get their best.” Every day, the women teachers arrive dressed in a similar way. Their uniform has not only removed unhealthy competition at school, but also acts as a bonding experience. The point is not to be identical but united, and so they choose the fabric and pay for the tailoring together, but each one has the freedom to add her signature to her final design. The impact of this is obvious in the interaction between the five women, who appear more like sisters than colleagues. When asked what her school’s biggest need is, Moiloa’s answer is unexpected. “Water.” She goes on to explain that the greatest challenge at St Thomas is hunger. Many of the learners at the school come from food-insecure homes. Those from childheaded households only eat when they come to school, or if food parcels are given to them for weekends and holidays. Water is needed to irrigate the large
gardens that overflow with healthy-looking spinach and morogo. “We used to grow our own food. Although I say I was born from a poor family, it was rare to be hungry,” she says, describing the paradox that is Morifi’s past and present. “As a child, I sometimes did not have clothes, but my stomach was always full. There was no money, but there was always food.” Moiloa knows the value of self-reliance, believing that Morifi’s ample land, perennial rivers and many idle hands hold the key to a more prosperous future, one where the people are in control of their destinies. Ensuring that individuals are empowered to look after themselves, as well as make a contribution, are part of St Thomas’ stated objectives. The first thing one sees when walking into the principal’s office, high on the wall behind the desk, are two framed portraits. The first is of Adopt-a-School Foundation chairman Cyril Ramaphosa and, just below him, a Morifi native and Foundation board member Dr James Motlatsi. In recognition of their work in the school Moiloa had their pictures scanned from a foundation annual report, then enlarged, printed and framed. “When the church members came for a visit and they saw these,” she says, laughing, “they asked why there are no pictures of church people. I told them, ‘No, this office is because of these men – that is why they are here!’” She opens the same report to a random page. On it, a quote from Ramaphosa stands out big and bold. “A nation’s history may be written in books, but a nation’s future is written on the chalkboards of its schools.” The moment is serendipitous, as if he had written it with Moiloa in mind. She knows that education can break the cycles of history. It is her story. And now she spends her days working with the children from her community, hoping they will write themselves a different future. ***
What was it like to go back to school after so many years as a married woman, and a mother of three? I can’t even explain; you will just have to imagine. I was so lost. I could not use any of the mathematics equipment that had been introduced. In primary we only did arithmetic … It was so difficult. The age difference also made it challenging. I was in my 30s at the time, closer to the age of the teachers. Imagine! When learners had to run, I had to run. I had to do everything that the others did. It was very difficult to go to school and then have to look after children in the afternoons. But I wanted to learn so that I could finish school, so I did.
How has Morifi changed since you were a child?
When I was young our parents used to go to the mines. Some sent a lot of money home to support their families. Now there are very few who go. In some
villages you can count one or two people who are working; the rest can be at home without jobs. Many have lost their jobs or been retrenched, and now they sit without opportunities.
What are the challenges of Morifi as an area, and how does the reality you just described factor into this?
Sometimes, when Ntate Motlatsi gives us funds to do projects, people are reluctant to work. They think that he has got a lot of money, so why can’t he just pay people to do things that are for their benefit? For example, when we were going to fence the school, I had to use all the money he gave us to pay people to work, compared to other schools, where the parents did the work for nothing.
Schools often complain about a lack of support from parents. What is the situation here at St Thomas?
They love their school, and they are proud of it. We might not have the best results, but they know that we are working hard to give their children the best. Our numbers have dropped over the years as the population drops. This is another challenge. If it continues, then some of the teachers might be transferred to bigger schools in the future. We have the full support of the parents, even though many of our learners have lost their parents or they live with their grandparents while their parents work elsewhere. Some have even been abandoned by their parents, who go for work and don’t come back.
What is your wish for the future of St Thomas?
I wish I could see these kids start their own things, go to tertiary (education). I wish I could see them live a better life. They must make a contribution and not just sit back with folded arms. Even when I am retired I will still come, if they would like me to, because this is my school.
When you walk into St Thomas you are welcomed by the beautiful flowers, the patches of grass that have been cut into heart shapes. What is the driving force behind this? Love. When you are in a friendly environment, you teach and learn better. We need healthy environments to have a healthy life. I hope that the experience of school is the example that these kids will take with them.
The leopard is awakening
powerful weather system pushes up from the coastline under the cover of darkness. With ease it scales the rolling hills that are the gateway to the interior. Gaining momentum it bullies anything in its path, bending trees as if trying to shake them free from the earth. Everything it makes contact with cannot help but be overwhelmed. Galloping over the open grass-covered veld, it gains speed before crashing into the walls of a small structure that sits exposed on a ridge of the Ingwe Mountain. The corners of the corrugated iron roof begin to lift and buckle. Eventually the metal sheets are ripped free and scattered into the air like paper, crumpling and breaking as they eventually drop to the ground. The discovery is a blow to the community. This building has been home to their collective dreams for their children’s future for 26 years. In 1972, a group under the leadership of the former induna, Ndima, came together to request permission from a local famer to build a school.
Together with other local women, his wife made the cement blocks before building began. They called it Ingweniphaphama, ‘the leopard is awakening’
Before this, Ndima had persuaded a community member to allow them to start a school in an unused house. The community pooled resources to find a teacher and pay her salary. But it was inadequate to meet the need. When the decision to build a school was made, the community rallied. The hope was that their children’s future would include a formal education. It was significant, considering the majority Page 175
of those pushing for the school were uneducated. The farmer agreed, as most of his workers were from the same community. Ndima took the lead by selling some of his own cattle to buy the building materials. Together with other local women, his wife made the cement blocks before building began. They called it Ingweniphaphama, “the leopard is awakening”. For the first 12 years it operated as a farm school and learning was piecemeal, informal, before it was eventually registered with the Department of Education in 1984. This
meant that qualified teachers could be appointed. Things began to improve. However, being rural and largely inaccessible meant that it was not given much external support, including the range of services normally available to state schools. In 1995 and 1996 three new teachers were appointed, as well as a new principal. The teachers, Dlomo, Buthelezi and Sibiya, and principal Moses Mahlangu, have remained until today. Together they built the school by formalising its systems, curriculum and learning culture, despite the challenges of a lack of staff and resources, as well as the demands of teaching multiple grades in shared classrooms. Because of the distances from home and the inaccessibility of the school, the teachers were forced to live in the school during the week. When the roof was blown off in 1998 the community’s hopes that the leopard would wake were put on hold. It seemed as if the original vision would not be realised just yet. But again they took matters into their own hands. First they built a small cottage for the teachers, so that they had proper accommodation. The leadership then came together and, with the support of the farmer, decided to move the school to a new location closer to the main road between Vryheid and Melmoth. This was not a smooth process. In fact, it even divided the community. Some of the learners came from homes in the opposite direction, meaning it would add to the distances their children would have to walk. Mahlangu and the community elders also approached Transnet (then Spoornet), requesting permission to occupy disused buildings along its coal line, the 580km stretch of railway that connects mines in Mpumalanga to Richard’s Bay. For safety reasons, this was impossible. What Transnet did agree to, was the harvesting of materials from the old buildings: roofing sheets, trusses and window frames that were used in the building of the new school. At the same time it was also necessary to engage the farmer on whose land
Meanwhile, school continued under very difficult conditions. Without a roof, the classrooms were exposed to the elements, the extremes of heat and cold
the proposed site was located. Their request was that the land be given to the community for this purpose, a delicate and lengthy process. Meanwhile, school continued under very difficult conditions. Without a roof, the classrooms were exposed to the elements, the extremes of heat and cold. When it rained the school would have to be closed, meaning many lost classroom hours. After some time the teachers, together with the learners, made an attempt to salvage and repair pieces of the original roof in the hope that this would improve the situation. This was Ingweniphaphama’s reality, until the community began construction of the new school in 2002. In parallel, principal Mahlangu, as a member of the Rural Road Transportation Forum in Vryheid, began to put pressure on the Department of Transport to build a road into the community. This was eventually realised in 1999, a year later than hoped because the farmer who owned the land had initially refused to allow the project to proceed. The road became a catalyst for greater access to the outside world, as well as the promise of services previously unavailable to the community. Mahlangu also managed to arrange for a borehole to be dug in 2004. He persuaded the contractor to position it just outside the school’s boundary so that the community could make use of it as well. In 2008 came electricity, despite many
questioning Mahlangu’s logic of bringing power to a mud structure. Without these additions, he says with hindsight, it is unlikely that Ingweniphaphama would have been in the position it is in today. Though they faced many difficulties the teaching staff, led by Mahlangu, refused to accept they were victims of circumstance. Part of the process of bettering the situation meant upgrading qualifications. The energetic principal told his colleagues that they would develop themselves despite their limited physical resources. All of them have added to their list of qualifications, with Mahlangu going as far as obtaining his Master’s degree. Reflecting on their past, the teaching staff are quick to assert that the mud structure was not the determining factor, that it did not dictate the kind of education happening inside. Instead it was their passion and commitment, the desire of the learners, that saw the school endure. This is reflected in their impressive results. Ingweniphaphama achieved an overall pass rate of 92% in 2014 and 97% in the first part of 2015. But it has not been an easy road. The state of the physical infrastructure resulted in a loss of support by community members over the years, with some deciding to take their children to betterresourced schools in the area. This led to repeated cycles of growth and decline, meaning Ingweniphaphama faced possible closure on more than one occasion.
The turning point came in 2014, when Ingweniphaphama was selected as one of three schools to be part of a pilot project partnership between government’s Accelerated Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) and Adopt-a-School Foundation. This partnership resulted in an overhaul of the school infrastructure, with a state-of-the-art facility that includes a library, and computer and Science laboratories. It will also include workshops and training designed to help equip the teaching staff, learners and broader community to extract maximum benefit from their new school. The relationship with the Foundation will have a five-year lifespan, ensuring that Ingweniphaphama is fully capable of standing on its own when the organisation’s mandate ends. The first step was the delivery of park home classrooms in 2014, which meant the 94 learners and four teachers could move out of the mud structure during construction. Ironically, according to learners and teaching staff, these are as good as a new school. Already it has changed the way that the school community views itself and education. This is also in part to do with the workshops, training and planning sessions that are being rolled out by the Foundation as part of its Whole School Development model. Knowing that the current classrooms are only temporary has created a real
sense of disbelief that there can be something better on the horizon. In the entire school community, only principal Mahlangu has any prior experience of the kinds of resources that will be the daily reality as of 2016. And even then, it is unlikely even he has ever seen a school of this nature. This is a brand-new chapter in life of Ingweniphaphama, the full realisation of the school as the centre of the community. The principal is already talking about opening it up to the broader community and surrounding under-resourced schools, so that many more may benefit from it. There is a buzz in the school about the many potential projects and activities that could become a part of Ingweniphaphama’s offerings, things that go above and beyond the delivery of the national curriculum. There is even talk of starting Adult Basic Education classes, meaning that those who built the first two schools may even become beneficiaries of the education they sought for their children. The new facility is the reward for a community that established Ingweniphaphama and built the first two school buildings, for enduring and never giving up on their vision. It is the realisation of a dream that started many years ago, inside the mud walls of a school on the ridge of the Ingwe Mountain. Perhaps the leopard will now finally wake from its slumber, and show its full self to the world. Page 178
Induna Alzina Ndima
A community tradition lives on
he crow of roosters echoes across the valleys as dawn begins to paint the horizon with deep reds and purple. The cattle, pigs and chickens begin to stir around the homestead. The fire, made from wood and dung, also stirs, growing in size and heat as it warms water for the waking family. But one was up before the rest, rising long before the light to begin her working day. Once her children have washed and eaten, she readies herself to work in the fields. Setting off, she watches her husband pull his big frame up into the old saddle in a single movement and, with a kick of his heels, starts his horse off down a footpath in the direction of the farm where he works. From his homestead, the middle-aged man looks down a small valley and up the ridge sloping away from the Ingwe mountain. On the crest of the ridge is the school that he and his community built by hand. Now the rider watches as groups of children follow the well-worn footpaths leading up to the school. Riding after them, he scolds the stragglers at the back, warning them not to be late. Moving up the train of children he asks questions of some, about their parents’ wellbeing and things at home. He knows them by their families, the people he is responsible for serving. Having been groomed for leadership, he understands that the school, that education, is something that can change the fortunes of his community and so he values it very highly. “He had a vision of helping our children,” she says in a deep voice that is raspier than usual, “not to become like us, working on farms where we earned very little, where our labour was for the benefit of others. So he had to push them to make sure they used the opportunity we created for them. We wanted our children to be better than us. Not just our children, but all the children of our community.” Today, sitting inside a park home classroom, she remembers her husband, pausing every now and again to clear her chest with a deep, wet cough. The recent burst of cold and rain has broken months of crushing drought. But the change of weather in early March has also brought the flu. She talks slowly, as is the way of the elders, speaking each word deliberately as if it has the power to communicate an entire sentence.
Induna Alzina Ndima’s husband has since passed. At the request of the community she was chosen to replace him. Like him, her life has been spent in this place. It is her heritage. She leads her community as someone that is woven into its past and present, with each decision and resulting action pointing towards a vision for its future. Recalling the journey of building and growing, rebuilding and regrowing Ingweniphaphama School, she speaks with pride about their achievements. In her youth she had very little that could be called formal education. At the time children had to work, and the only reason for any type of schooling was to read
‘He had a vision of helping our children,’ she says in a deep voice that is raspier than usual, ‘not to become like us, working on farms where we earned very little, where our labour was for the benefit of others’ and write one’s name. In previous years the people here survived on subsistence agriculture and wage work on surrounding farms. The nearest school was many kilometres away, meaning that formal education was something distant, happening “out there”. So when Ndima and her husband approached a community member to ask if they could turn an unused indlu, the traditional round house of grass, tree poles and mud bricks, into a school, it was more out of a belief in what this kind of education might mean for their children than any real understanding of what would actually result. Learning began after the community agreed to contribute towards a teacher’s salary. As things progressed they realised that this indlu was not an adequate solution, and so Ndima’s husband sold his own cattle to fund the
build. Ingweniphaphama was born, the name reflecting, in part, the fact that the school was situated at the base of the Ingwe mountain, but more so because the school was a sign of this community awakening to a different future. Of the Ndimas’ 10 children, only seven were able to attend school as three sons left school for work on the farms to help support their siblings’ education. Ndima, too, had to find work to ensure that those attending school completed matric. In such communities, though, individual sacrifice for collective good was the norm. Added to this, the vision was to lay a better foundation as an investment in the long-term future. “We valued education so much,” she explains, “even though we never had the chance, so that our children would become teachers, lawyers and writers. We saw that we were struggling with reading and writing so we wanted better for our children, we wanted them to become professionals.” And in many ways this vision has come true, with some former learners going on to pursue careers in teaching, the police service and nursing. And this, in spite of limited infrastructure and resources, and having to relocate the school. Ingweniphaphama seems to embody the community’s work ethic and passion. Three generations of the community have gone through the school. But for Ndima this is not enough. Today she tracks the progress of the community’s young people through school and even after. She knows who is doing what, and with this knowledge she has been able to steer them towards different opportunities. It is because of Ndima that student teacher Sibusiso Buthelezi learnt of the bursary opportunity that has enabled him to study. And his advantage has benefited the community, as he is completing his practicals at the school. In many ways the original vision has grown beyond the school. Ndima sits back and becomes silent when asked about government’s Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) project that is under way. She is quick to
‘I have no words. To see these young people working, like we did, to build our new school is exciting. They are learning new skills and it also gives them something to support their families’
point out perceived gaps, the community’s list of needs, things such as electricity, a high school, a clinic and a community hall. As induna, her excitement is a mixture of hope and realism. However, her face brightens into a wide grin when she talks about how the new school is unfolding. “I have no words. To see these young people working, like we did, to build
our new school is exciting. They are learning new skills and it also gives them something to support their families.” Ndima is particularly pleased by the fact that it is the community that, for a third time, is involved in the construction, the continuation of a tradition. “It shows that we are moving forward as a community,” she says calmly. “Again we are building a school for ourselves. I believe this means we are awakening once more, a sign that our future is bright.” ***
Why choose the name Ingweniphaphama? It was my husband’s idea to name it after the mountain, Ingwe (leopard). It was in reference to the community deciding to do this project, that our passion was awakened and we were now building.
What did you think when you first heard about the project to build the new school?
I was so very happy to hear the news that the project was coming to us. They actually asked my husband’s younger brother to come and introduce it. We thank teacher mkhulu (Mr Moses Mahlangu) so much for his efforts because our children had to travel very far to complete their education, which cost us about R250 for transport a month. So he has brought something great to us by convincing these people to build here.
What do you think this new school will mean to the futures of your grandchildren and their children?
I am happy about the future of our children. There are some community members who have taken their children to other schools, but I am encouraging them to bring those children back. We are also letting our neighbouring communities know that Ingweniphaphama is ready for them. My vision for the school is to have it go all the way to matric. That way our children can do their education close to us rather than us spending money to have them go far away, where they can be influenced by others. When we have a high school, then you will see what this community is made of! After the high school, all we need is a community hall and a clinic. You see I am sick now, so if I want to go to the clinic I have to travel far on foot before I can find transport. I would love to see a hall in our community. We would then be able to gather as a community for sports, singing, cultural things, and discussing our matters. I want it especially for these young ones, it could be a place where our young people keep busy so that they do not turn to bad things.
These are my children, all of them, and I worry about them. If we have these things, yoh, then I can die in peace knowing my community has all that it needs to be well. I have worked hard for this community, but there is still some work to be done. We started something when we built the first school. Now I can see our vision is coming true. But there are still these holes that need to be filled.
What do you think when you look at Mr Buthelezi teaching here at Ingweniphaphama?
Look at him, how good he looks here in our school. He is a product of us. I am so, so, so happy. He is the example of our efforts. I gave four young people bursaries and this is the one who has shone. Being from here, we can also trust him to give his best to our children. He grew up here, he ate our maas (sour milk) like the other children, he helped to build our school, so I would be happy to know that he will carry on with everything we have started. The reason I want Mr Buthelezi in charge is that I know that if he makes problems, the community will discipline him. They will whip him if he causes a problem. I hope that one day Mr Mahlangu, when he is old, will leave the school under the eyes of Mr Buthelezi.
What do you think the future of Ingweniphaphama will be like? It would be better if we saw our school growing into a high school as well, teachers in every classroom teaching one grade. For now our children leave us when they need to go to high school. We need them back here. They should start and finish school here. Let us have Grade 8 next year, then 9 the year after, until we have all of them. These things would make me very happy. The other thing that would encourage learning would be if we had help for bursaries after matric. We need our children to go further with their education. I hope that Mr Mahlangu will give me bursary information because I know who is completing matric, who is sitting around. I will then take it to those people so they can get opportunities. I was the one who told (student teacher) Sibusiso about the bursary. This will encourage these communities to bring their children here, because they will see the role we can play in their children becoming successful. I also want to encourage other matriculants from the surrounding schools, so that we can help them with bursaries. That way they will see that we are supporting them; then they will support us. I need to see this before I am gone! Page 182
From left to right – Nobuhle, Siphesihle and Noxolo
‘Last year we were in the mud, but things have changed’ Page 183
Siphesihle Dlamini What is it like to be at school at Ingweniphaphama? It is very nice to be at school here in Ingweniphaphama. Last year, in 2014, we were learning in the mud class with no windows, so it was windy. But now we are in the new classes, which makes things better. Moving out of the mud into the containers made us very happy, because we learn better. And when I look at the new school that is coming that side, I am very, very happy. It makes me excited because it is going to be very beautiful and have lots of space. With things like computers, we will also learn a lot of new things. Last year we were in the mud, but things have changed. In the old kitchen we used to cook with wood from the mountain: now we have the container with gas … When we move to the new school we won’t have to worry about the cold. Before some windows had no glass, so we had to close holes with cardboard … My younger siblings will also have a chance to get a good education in a beautiful school.
What do you want to be when you grow up? When I grow up, I want to be a policeman because there are many people doing the wrong things.
You lead the boys in the cultural dance, do you enjoy it?
I really enjoy it … When we are doing the dances, as a leader I have to make sure everyone is moving together. We all have to be focused. It starts with me as a leader; I have to be focused. I learnt by copying from the elders. One person I got a lot from is Siphemandla Buthelezi (a former Ingweniphaphama learner and SA national induku champion).
How does it make you feel to see the new school being built?
How does it make you feel to see the new school being built?
I am very excited for the new school. I am very happy, for the old school was extended for us when the park homes came. But they are not big enough. I think we will enjoy school even more. We will have a chance to read in the library. I have also never used a computer before. There will be so many things for us to learn. I am excited to see the number of teachers and learners grow. We will get a chance to meet new people from other places. People left our school in the past because of how the classrooms were. Some were scared for their safety in the mud. Others were embarrassed of this school. But when it is finished, I’m sure they will come back.
I am very happy when I watch the new school being built there. I am looking forward to learn how to use the computers, because I have never used one. I have never touched a computer before, so I am excited for that. I also like to read, so I want to see the library … Things will really change for us.
If you could speak to the people who built your new school, what would you say to them?
I would like to thank all the people who built this school for us, because it gives us the chance to have a better education. I hope that God may bless you very much.
Moses Mahlangu Leading the leopards
rincipal Moses Mahlangu began teaching in the former homelands, at well-resourced schools, before taking a post at a large school in Vryheid. When the circuit inspector suggested he consider a post at Ingweniphaphama, he was reluctant. It has been the most challenging post of his career. He and his colleagues had to overcome the lack of physical infrastructure, classroom resources and formal systems.
In nearly two decades they have built the school’s culture and place in the community, something that is reflected in the overall pass rate of 92% in 2014. Mahlangu’s background in community work and affiliation with a local transport forum equipped him to facilitate the building of a road, electricity connection and borehole. Without these, it is questionable if Ingweniphaphama would have ever qualified to be a part of government’s Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) project. He is looking forward to building the new school into a resource, a centre of the community.
South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 marked a turning point in Moses Mahlangu’s life. He was a young teacher at Senzangakhona High School in Ulundi when he became an electoral officer. The country was entering an era of great change that would require many willing hands ready to do the necessary hard work. The first task was getting South Africa’s diverse and divided people to the polls; Mahlangu remembers casting his ballot early in the morning on April 27, before witnessing the historic day unfold. “It was amazing to see the queues of people waiting to vote as equal citizens in their own country. People came from far on loaded trucks and tractors. You would hear them long before you could see them. They were singing the traditional heroic songs, they danced in their traditional gear with their spears and shields, the flags of the IFP. This was a strong IFP area, where people were proud of their heritage. “It was very powerful, and peaceful, even though you realised that some of these people had been involved in fighting and killing in the cities.” Mahlangu’s excitement was heightened by the fact that the Inkatha Freedom Party had threatened to boycott until a few days before the election. While he was buoyed by the reality of presiding over this historic moment, there was a persistent “smell of blood in the air” until the message came that the elections would go ahead. “This,” he says, looking out of the window of his small park home office, “was the moment I got involved in community work.”
It was the beginning of many years of service to community benefit projects, something he gave significant amounts of time and energy to over and above his family and teaching commitments. When the Bethel Lutheran Mission began a process of returning land to people in the area where he had grown up, which was his grandmother’s community, the young teacher took on the secretary role.
‘Negotiation, I like it!’ he says with a smile. ‘I like talking. I like engaging people, sharing. I am not afraid to go somewhere to ask for what is needed’
In parallel, Mahlangu was also part of establishing the Rural Road Transportation Forum (RRTF), a body that operated in the municipalities of Vryheid and Paulpietersburg. The RRTF was, he says, “the ears, eyes and hands of communities and the mouth of the department”, created in response to the new government’s plans to roll out large infrastructure projects in underserved and isolated communities. At the time, many rural areas had no roads, water or electricity. With his previous community involvement, his experience of serving in positions of leadership, Mahlangu’s work with the RRTF helped him further develop the skills of consultation and negotiation. “Negotiation – I like it!” he says with a smile. “I like talking. I like engaging
people, sharing. I am not afraid to go somewhere to ask for what is needed.” In 1996 Mahlangu found a post at Mpofini Secondary School, just outside of Vryheid, a choice he made to be closer to family and home. The school was the biggest of his career, with more than 800 learners. It was also well resourced, with double-storey classroom blocks and teachers from mixed backgrounds. But within six months the circuit inspector and former Mpofini principal, Mr Modise, began to push Mahlangu to consider a principal’s post that had opened at a local farm school. Mahlangu was reluctant. “Why should I go there?” he asked Modise. “You know, Mahlangu,” replied the inspector, “it is a way of living. You must sometimes take challenges, even when you don’t foresee the outcome.”
Mahlangu relented. The first time he visited Ingweniphaphama he had to be driven by the farm owner in his bakkie, such was the condition of the roads. Something clicked. “When I saw it, I told them, ‘I will see you tomorrow!’” Mahlangu’s first day on the job reminded him of his youth. Because of the lack of proper access to the school he had to navigate the farm roads as far as possible, before parking his car at a homestead. Then came the long walk up the ridge, a journey of a few kilometres. Small antelope and warthogs were almost daily sightings. The daily ritual stirred memories of the many hours spent with his family’s herd as a boy. One of Mahlangu’s first purchases was a pair of gumboots, necessary during
summer, when it rained. In winter there was the lingering fear that veld fires might devour his car. These were things he could not share with his wife, his biggest source of strength and support, for fear it would have worried her unnecessarily. Added to this, he found a school that was in great need of an overhaul. Because of the way that Ingweniphaphama was established it had limited staff, and lacked proper systems and an organised and active governing body. In general, there was a great need for a formalised culture around education. “It was not a school in the sense that I knew it,” recalls Mahlangu. “But I told
Four years later Eskom completed installation of poles and cables, and Ingweniphaphama became the first and only building in the community to have electricity. While some questioned the principal’s reasoning in bringing such services to a mud school, he was pleased with the progress. For many years he had believed in the school’s potential to become a centre of education. “You will not get support,” he recalls, “if you don’t tell your story.” When Ingweniphaphama was selected as a beneficiary of the pilot project of the partnership between the Accelerated Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) and Adopt-a-School Foundation in 2013, Mahlangu knew the school’s time had come. Despite the long list of hardships that had been encountered and overcome, including the fact that on more than one occasion the school had faced closure, the original vision of the community might finally be realised inside the walls of a new, fully resourced facility. “When the roof blew off it was a blessing in disguise,” Mahlangu says with a sense of irony. “It actually awakened me. When I look at where we are now, I sometimes wonder if ASIDI would have come if there was no road, water or power.” While Ingweniphaphama’s story may read as one of adversity and constant struggle, it would be a mistake to see this as its defining narrative. The soul of the school was there at its inception. It is part of the life force that has sustained Ingweniphaphama despite being battered by the elements and the shortcomings of mud buildings. “Just because the mud is here,” Mahlangu says, gesturing to the walls, “it does not mean that the mud is in here.” He taps his temple, a glimmer in the eye. “Our intention has always been to give the best to these kids … It is love. We have invested our love in this school.” Mahlangu found something in this community, this school. As much as he has shaped its past and present, it has also directed him. Education is about laying the foundation of things today that can only be realised tomorrow. And while the future is uncertain, what has remained constant in every change is the founding vision for Ingweniphaphama and the determination of the school community in realising it. “I have found a sense of belonging here in this school,” he says. “It is my end story.” And so Moses Mahlangu steps out of his small, park home office at the end of another day, descending its metal steps. Pausing, for what seems like a long time, he looks forward into the distance. Surrounding him is the old and the new: the mud school off to the right, with the temporary park home classrooms fanning out in the shape of a U around him. Directly in front of him the South African flag stretches out, dancing on a gentle breeze. Less than 50 metres away is a hive of building activity. It is unclear though, in the moment, if he is staring at this bricks-and-mortar future, or if his gaze is fixed on another horizon.
‘I had to show the community that I was serious. I had to earn their trust. I told myself that one day things will change, one day we will not be in such a situation, we will move up’ myself, I am going to start fresh. I organised myself, created a plan, duty rosters, I worked on the policies … I exercised my positivity. I had to adapt myself to the conditions. Firstly, I accepted walking. I accepted the challenges of the school. I accepted the journey to change the reality. I had to show the community that I was serious. I had to earn their trust. I told myself that one day things will change, one day we will not be in such a situation, we will move up.” The seeds of such change were sown in early 1998, when Mahlangu used his position as chairperson of the RRTF to begin pushing the Department of Transport to build a proper road into the community. From past experience, he knew the power of roads as the spark of bigger things. “Roads create worth,” he says. “If you build a road you create access for the community. Building a road opens the door for everything: health, social welfare, electricity, transport and other services. The road was the catalyst.” In late 2000, the community came together, just as before, to build the new school. Men, women and children collected the stones, soil and water needed for construction. It was a project of shared effort and excitement. In the meantime the farmer had transferred the land to the community, the road was completed, and doors, windows and roofing materials had been secured from Transnet. Ingweniphaphama was resurrected. It signalled the end of twoand-a-half years of a near-debilitating situation of trying to teach in the original building without a roof. But Mahlangu was not satisfied. He continued pushing for other services. In 2004 funds were allocated to install a borehole. Mahlangu persuaded the contractor to position it just outside of the school grounds, believing the community should also have access to the water.
Ingweniphaphama was your first experience of a farm school. It also seems as if it was the biggest undertaking of your teaching career. The culture of education was not really there. The people from here, the parents and community members, had not really been exposed to a formal, wellresourced education environment. Many of them were farmworkers, many more had never completed school. There were many other factors that got in the way of schooling. So this culture had to be built. That is why it took us so long to get here. It would not have helped this new structure being built so far away, or to start building before we had built the community. It would not have worked.
What are the particular challenges of working in this environment?
You have to be very innovative in your teaching style. Working in underresourced schools demands it. You have to plan, to arrive early, to be able to balance different needs while teaching multi-grade, many things. In township schools there are so many influencing factors. My sister-in-law teaches in the township and she complains a lot about the young people. There is no electricity here so we do not have the influence of TV. This means that there are no competing messages about how an individual should be, no distractions and fewer negative outside influences. When it comes to respect, there is still that cultural influence. Culture, in this sense, is educational. Adults still positively influence their kids, and it starts at home. It is rare, for example, to find a child-headed household in the rural areas. The grandparents, aunts and uncles ... The extended family is generally there in support of the child. What you find then is that the lessons are internalised because they are not theory, but practical in the way they are part of daily life. This is about teaching the child in totality. Education in this environment is not about certificates, but about a way to be in life. And when you see a child acting on those things you have taught them, you cry because you know that this will be with them for life; it will serve them long after you are gone.
You talk of education as needing to be holistic, about more than just school life. What does this mean in practice?
If I look at my responsibilities, I am not easily satisfied. When something is completed I always ask myself, “Could I have done more?” I believe there is always room for improvement. Where I am, is where I need to be. A person must
always improve the place where you are. It is my way of looking. In this way, the future is always bright because I am working on making change today. I really believe in constant change. I don’t like to force things. I believe in negotiation. I may solve the problems of today, but tomorrow you will encounter something new. It never stops. When I look at things, I do not want to have negativity creep in. When people come to Ingweniphaphama and see the state of our school buildings, I don’t want people to see negativity in us. We must be positive first. There may be cracks in the walls, but let there not be cracks in us. When you set goals for anything, these must be positive. You will find, for example, people talking of impossibilities. I see it the other way around, I see possibility. When you have a positive mindset then you will find positive results. The minute you let impossible come into your mind, then you are allowing that reality.
There appears to be a common vision and spirit that has run through Ingweniphaphama in all its physical manifestations, and now it is as if the facilities will finally match this?
Like Nelson Mandela, it has been a long journey. There is no shortcut in education. Perseverance is the mother of success. When we were still in that building we did not find ourselves being useless! We found ourselves with challenges, but it was not the walls that decided our fate; it was what was in our minds. I told myself that I am the leader, that I must do my best. Even though people looked at us and did not think there was much happening here, because we did not have the facilities, they did not look at the human beings inside! When we talk to these kids we do not talk of the mud structure, we talk of education. There is now a dilemma. But it is a dilemma of hope. I am saying, let us destroy the old building and go to the new one. But then I find myself thinking, should I destroy that old building? Because in the walls of that space is a spirit, it represents that hope we have as a school, our history. So this mud structure is a reminder of where we have come from. It is the record of this community’s efforts, our ideas and our hopes for the future. To be honest, the new school was always in our mind, from (a) long time ago, not the mud structure. We were already in the new school in our minds. Now the reality is catching up. You see, if you take away every building, we will not be naked. But now we stand in front of big, big change. It has been a long time to get here. And after we have conquered there will be tears. Tears for hope, tears for joy, tears for achievement.
What does it mean, in a context like this, to have such a facility? My feeling is that this is a gift. If you look at the bigger perspective, then we need to come together as one chain in education. We cannot look at education separately. I would love to have those teachers in the surrounding schools, especially the Science teachers, come here and do workshops on our equipment. By doing this we will be serving our learners right until the end of their school journey. Because it is not enough for us to give them our best in primary, and then they are disadvantaged as they move off to secondary schools that are not as well equipped. A strong high school needs a strong primary, and vice versa. Imagine if we, as educators, all came together to talk about how to achieve this. We can become an education family. Even the community must become part of that. We need to offer adult education, skills training for those who are out of school for some time, workshops on computers and in the library, many things. This is the full realisation of the original vision. We will also build a new community in the new building. This is a journey towards a model for schools.
What is its importance, and how do you go about creating it?
I feel like people must have the feeling that something is their own. Ingweniphaphama is the name the community gave their school; they are part of it … They didn’t have this formal thing of coming to a school. They were seeking knowledge. It was informal till now. Now they see that institution in front of them … You need to give up something to get something. You must do something in order to have something … You find a sense of belonging by being a part of something. You shape it, you mould it, you nurture it for those to come. My feeling is that future generations will belong to this school.
As a principal who has walked a long road with this school, the many challenges of location, resources and even rebuilding, what does a project like ASIDI mean to you, particularly the workshops and interventions, the approach of involving the community?
It means trust. Because ASIDI has been wise in involving the community, it means that they now feel involved in everything that is happening. This way of doing things has laid a good foundation. As a community, there is now a sense of ownership. Even when ASIDI is no longer with us, we will look after and maintain this school. It is ours!
It encourages me, this approach. ASIDI is now a part of our family in education, in being part of the building, curriculum development, planning and evaluation, everything. I have never seen a project of this nature before. ASIDI has done things the other way around by making it local, meaning that ownership was there from the beginning.
Ironically, it is as if the tradition of this community building and driving the development of their school has continued. Yes, exactly. I don’t know how this was planned, but it means so much that it has happened this way. If we were excluded, if contractors came in, built and disappeared, I don’t know what kind of future this school would have had. It is so wonderful to think that such a project can happen in this way. It is a continuation of our history, which makes it very special to us. Before ASIDI, we started to talk as a community about the future of our mud school, what we were going to do about this building. We built this school ourselves because learning needed to continue. But we knew it was not in a good way and that we were slowly losing learners. Now we have new life again. It is a continuation of our history.
From the perspective of where you are today, what is your dream for Ingweniphaphama? I want to create a centre of learning. This community needs a place to excel. By this I mean that our numbers will grow as the infrastructure grows, but the community must also grow with us. My plan is also to invite principals of the secondary schools and to talk to them about education, to allow them access to our facilities. They must know that this is a resource for them and their learners as well. Presently, kids from the surrounding areas travel to Vryheid to be exposed to resources and facilities. That must end. This is that opportunity. If we make this a resource for under-resourced schools, then we will raise the standard of education all around us. I have many years’ experience in high school, so I know what happens there. Added to this, I specialise in Maths and Science, so I know where we are lacking. If we lay a strong foundation here, then support that as it grows, we will ensure the best for our kids. But to do this I need support from the department, the neighbouring schools, the community, its leaders, all the different stakeholders. We really can make this a centre of learning.
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Busisiwe Buthelezi Building opportunities
ausing under a moody sky, Busisiwe Buthelezi lowers the heavy wheelbarrow. She surveys the new buildings that have risen up out of the open veld, then looks right towards the sounds of children singing, the mud school that her hands helped create. The product of Ingweniphaphama School, she built the mud school for her siblings, but today she builds with greater purpose, a new school for her children and community. She takes a breath, muscles tensing as she pulls on the handles of the wheelbarrow with its 20-litre water containers, and continues up the slope to the building site. There is work to be done. For two days it has rained, breaking the months of drought. Such was the rain that the dirt roads into the area quickly turned to liquid mud. Construction ground to a halt, as materials could not get there. One driver even spent a night in his truck after sliding off the road, rendering the powerful machine useless. Buthelezi is soft-spoken as she recalls details from her life. Her gentle presence and manner contrast with her strong physicality, the blue overalls and heavy work boots that show signs of hard labour. “I am proud to be a woman doing this work with other women,” she explains, her face almost concealed by red ochre, a traditional sunblock. “We are showcasing our abilities. We do this work well because we know it is for the future of our children, our future. It also shows that we can do something to benefit our community.” For Buthelezi, being employed as one of the community builders has meant a lot, particularly the fact that many of the community members employed in this project are women. For the duration of this project, which is part of government’s Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), the mother of two has benefited from a stable income while also learning new skills. More significantly, she has had the opportunity, like the generation of her parents, to help build her children’s future. This time, though, the school is unlike any this community ever imagined, one they could never have constructed themselves. When Ingweniphaphama was relocated in 2002, both of Buthelezi’s parents were key members of the community committee that drove the project. They
were also very hands-on. A younger Buthelezi was part of the building team that collected sand, water, stone and other materials needed for the construction of the mud school where her siblings, cousins and son have all learnt. And it did not stop there; her mother took it upon herself to repair and replaster the school when needed, as well as to redo the dung floor once a week. Whenever possible, she would involve her daughter in this. And so Buthelezi’s sweat is in the mud walls of the old building, just as it is part of the new. “I feel very happy to see my family benefiting from the school we helped to build,” she explains, “and we hope that our children and our children’s children will now have better opportunities because of the one we are building. The first schools helped us to get education, but this new one will bring a brighter future.” The potential she speaks of is very real. Her younger cousin Sibusiso, currently in the final year of his teaching degree, has done all of his practicals at Ingweniphaphama, his former school, where he hopes to teach after qualifying in 2017. Buthelezi smiles when asked what it would mean to have him teach her three-year-old daughter one day.
‘I am proud to be a woman doing this work with other women’
“She will have a good experience in his hands, and I hope that he will give her the knowledge that she needs to be successful in her education.” Buthelezi’s wish for the future is simple: that her children and the children of her community should continue to benefit from Ingweniphaphama, as so many have done before; only now the expectations, like the new school, are bigger. “I hope that my children continue to learn the way that we did at school,” she says, “but now our expectations are that they can and will go further than us by going to tertiary. I want them to become independent in life and to achieve the things they want. “I also hope that the story of our building this school for them gets passed on to their children just as we have told them about those who built Ingweniphaphama for us, how we also built the mud school for them. This history is ours and we must be proud of it.” ***
What was it like to learn at Ingweniphaphama? It was a good school even though it is in the rural area. Our education was of a high quality, and we, as products of the original school, went on to high school and completed our matric.
What was it like to be a part of building the mud school?
It was fun to be part of the building of the school. First there was planning for how we were going to build it, what we would need, then we had to gather the community to get their input. It was our project so we did it with our best. For me it shows that I am a parent who would like to see my children have a bright future because of my hard work. Because of this, my children’s futures are full of new opportunities that we never had before.
How did you get a job as a builder on this project? We were told that there was a project, that they were going to build a new school. We had a meeting and then applied in numbers. I was one of the lucky
ones to get hired. Then they gave us the dates and we had some workshops before starting, so that we knew what was expected of us. The day we started building I couldn’t really believe it. It was even more difficult to believe as we saw the different buildings, how big it is compared to the mud school … I had experience of building from before, but I have learnt so much on this project. There are many skills that I have now that I did not have, so I have gained a lot. I feel great having this job because it has brought hope to us that someone is a breadwinner, since our parents have passed away. Having this job, as the eldest, means I am able to support my family.
What do you think your father would say if he could see you building the new school?
I think he would be so happy. He would have been involved if he was here. The building knowledge that I had before this project came from him. He would be happy to see us building with bricks and not stick, mud and stones like we used before. I think he would also have been curious to learn to build with these materials. It would be my chance to teach him, like he taught me.
Siphephele ‘Chillies’ Masondo
How does it make you feel to see the new school being built?
What is it like to be at school at Ingweniphaphama?
I am very happy with my new school. We did not like the mud so it was nice to move here to the containers. But when I look to the new school it makes me even more happy … When I watch it being built it makes me excited about the future.
I live very far from here, about 10km. I get a lift every day with ma’am Buthelezi … I started school this year (2015) at Silweni because it is closer to home, but my parents decided to send me here because they can see the changes happening. My parents will also bring my two younger brothers here in Grade R, when they are old enough.
What are your favourite things at school? I like playing netball and learning English.
What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a pilot one day because I want to fly, even though I have never been inside an aeroplane. Page 194
Nombulelo Dlomo Opening the doors
t the front of the class she points to a poster on the wall, colourful pictures of vegetables with their names written bold and black underneath. It is one of many that cover much of the available wall space. A buffet of visual learning that competes for attention. Eagerly, they gather around her. Some of the younger ones jostle for position at the front. Nombulelo Dlomo points with a stick to the pictures on a poster. They respond in unison. “Carrots, carrots. French beans, French beans. Tomato, tomato. Radish, radish. Eggplant, eggplant …” She stops. “Do you know what an eggplant is?” “Nooo,” they respond. “You don’t know? Hawu! It is very delicious when you cook it with tomatoes and onion. Mmmm …” Two girls giggle at her animated description. Nombulelo Dlomo points to the posters again. “Onion, onion. Cabbage, cabbage …” Dlomo’s classroom is alive. Throughout the day the sounds of learning carry across the school grounds. Her energy is contagious, evidenced by the levels of engagement and enthusiasm of those in the class. She moves effortlessly between group work and individual tasks. Added to this is her skill at balancing differing needs. The learners in her class range between 6 and 10 years old, and she has to juggle the competing needs of Grades 1, 2 and 3. But she is used to this; it has been this way for many years. It is two decades since Dlomo came to Ingweniphaphama. Her first teaching experience was as a volunteer teacher at a farm school in 1993, but because of its small size and declining numbers it was eventually closed. When she arrived at Ingweniphaphama the situation was much the same, with the school serving, predominantly, the children of farmworkers in a community-built structure,
housing three classrooms. She and two colleagues slept, cooked and bathed in the classrooms at night, and then packed and moved all of their belongings to the back during the day. “It was challenging. The foundation and intermediate classes were in the same room, so while you were teaching there was another class happening in the same place. But there was still learning. While the building was not good,” she says with emphasis, “we were still teaching!” The following year, in 1996, the school welcomed the new principal, Mr Mahlangu, who quickly set about formalising systems and putting measures in place to improve things at Ingweniphaphama. Despite the gradual improvements, and the fact that they had built the school, many parents complained about the
She slept, cooked and bathed in the classrooms at night
physical condition of Ingweniphaphama. Dlomo recalls how numbers fluctuated over the years, as families with the means looked to other schools. “We did not have support,” she adds. “We were ignored! But there was always hope that things are going to change.” Then, in 1998, the roof of the mud structure was ripped off in a storm. The school operated without a roof for over three years, struggling against the heat of the summer and the cold in winter. When it rained, school often had to be cancelled. It was disruptive. In response, the community came together to build a small cottage for the teachers so that they were able to continue at the school, and some of the old and badly damaged corrugated iron was salvaged in an attempt to cover part of the exposed building. But none of this was a real solution. And still the teaching continued. Then came the decision to move the school and rebuild it at its present site in 2002, something that also had its challenges. Once again, however, the community pulled together and managed, over time, to secure the basic Page 196
necessities. Dlomo and her colleagues picked up where they left off and it was business as usual. While the new school was more conducive than the old one, it was still stymied by a lack of resources. “It was very hard to build our new school,” says Dlomo. “We had a lot of promises of support from many people over the years, but nothing happened. Then last year I heard about ASIDI and Adopt-a-School. I didn’t believe they were actually coming. But when I saw them bringing the park homes we became very
‘Are we going there, ma’am?’ Dlomo was once asked by her learners. ‘Yes,’ she replied, smiling at the innocence of the question. ‘It is yours’
excited, even though my class was the last to move out of the mud.” Today the school is abuzz with excitement at the recent changes and the prospect of a new school. But Dlomo is quick to drive home the point that, despite having operated inside of mud structures for many years, Ingweniphaphama is not a charity case or in need of pity. There is a pride in her words when she speaks about the years of perseverance and the resulting successes. Today she shares a classroom with Sibusiso Buthelezi, a student teacher who is busy with his Grade 3 practicals. The lively young man is from the area and sat in her classroom as a boy. Interestingly, his style is very similar to hers, the teacher who, says Buthelezi, is a role model. For Dlomo, his presence here is proof of what they have been able to achieve. “I am so pleased to see the product of the mud. I am excited that we are even colleagues in the same class. Look at him: he is a teacher, from here, from Ingweniphaphama!” What is inspirational about Dlomo’s dedication to her job is that she is originally from Ekuvukeni, near Ladysmith, a fact that has meant considerable personal sacrifice. She is away from home for most of the year, meaning her two sons have grown up with family back home. Since finishing matric, they now live in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Neither of them has ever visited the place in which their mother has spent more than 20 years investing so much of herself. Ultimately, Dlomo’s story is one of investment in others. She takes the lead in many of the sporting and extracurricular activities, and her enthusiastic support can be heard on the sideline of the sports ground as well as in traditional song and dance. And yet the outgoing woman is also very private. She is the only member of staff currently living at the school. The open spaces and peacefulness, she says, appeal to her. The old mud building has been home for nearly 10 years. The only concern she ever expresses is where she will stay when
the structure is finally taken down to make way for the new sports facilities. More than anything, Dlomo says, the future is bright. In many ways, though, it seems as if the coming reality has not fully set in. And rightfully so: there are few schools like it in the country, and even fewer in rural areas such as this. Principal Mahlangu is the only one who has any comparable experience of a well-resourced facility. “Are we going there, ma’am?” Dlomo was once asked by her learners. “Yes,” she replied, smiling at the innocence of the question. “It is yours.” And as they prepare to take ownership of the state-of-the-art school, she has high hopes for what it might mean for her learners. “They must know that their future will be different if they want. They do not have to grow up to look after cattle. I told the kids: look at the principal, he came from farm schools. So these learners must not look down on themselves, they must have a positive attitude and see that they can go far.” ***
Your teaching style is very energetic, fun, and the learners seem to respond really well to you. I try to involve them. I am teaching three grades at the same time, and I also have to be aware of the needs of individuals. There was one girl who was very shy; she didn’t want to get involved. I tried with sweets and cake, to reward her when she did well. She needed a lot of attention and appreciation. I had to be creative. She is much better now … Some of these kids do not have educated parents, so I have to prepare them to work alone at home. Even when they have left for high school, they know my door is always open to give them advice and help.
What is your experience of the kids here at Ingweniphaphama?
They are talented! One of our past pupils is a national champion for induku (stick fighting). I remember one learner, Joseph Zulu, who was with me. When he was in Grade 1, if he got two answers wrong he would cry as if he had gotten zero. Later, when he was studying at Durban University of Technology, he used to come and visit, and tell us about how things were going. He was so determined. He once said that his father would have at least one educated child. The father was not working, so after finishing school he started making and selling chantsi (grass mats). When he had enough money, he registered. Then he pushed to get a bursary. That boy was so serious about his studies and his future. Today he is a teacher in Mpumalanga. It makes me so happy to see learners like this.
And what has your experience of the work of Adopt-a-School Foundation been? Yoh! Adopt-a-School has done so much for us. We did workshops on leadership, relationship building, they taught us how to work better through planning. Multi-grade teaching is one of our biggest challenges, but they encouraged us to network with other schools and to approach the department when we have challenges. Adopt-a-School has also done workshops for parents. Before, when we had extracurricular activities, it was hard to get support. Parents did not want to pay, but now they understand the importance. They see that this is not a waste of money. I like that message, the one that this is also the community’s school. They are building us as teachers, they are building the kids, and also building our community. They taught us to teach the learners freely and not to be afraid of making mistakes, of looking bad. We also learnt how to get learners to learn while they are playing. They also gave us teaching aids like wall charts, the mat game, flash cards, things that help us. For example, the kids can now identify and name objects easier. All of these things have developed more confidence in us as teachers. There were also workshops with community members and the SGB [School Governing Body]. People now know their roles better and they communicate better. We are working better together now as a school community. It makes the community want to protect the school and look after it. They know they own it.
You have moved into the park homes, but you are watching your new school being built just over there. How does this make you feel? While we were in that mud, there was a lot of positive. I told you about that learner who comes from the mud who is now a teacher. So, it is our history and we won’t forget it. Our passion as a school is what has made us come this far. It is so great to watch the activity there, to see those buildings come up from the ground. We have hope that we will take what we are doing here and do it even better in the new school! I think these kids will now have the chance to have many different careers. Before it was limited, but now the doors are opening. I am so, so, so excited. I don’t want to die now and miss out! (Laughs) I am praying that I will touch the new school, the atmosphere that will be there. Before we were in the mud, there were many kids in one room, the dust would blow in from everywhere, the parents taking their children away, we really struggled. But it looks like those days are over. The news is spreading fast, and far. The community is so excited. And it is not just here: even those communities from far away are talking. You see Ma’am Buthelezi’s car? It is small but it is full of learners whom she gives lifts to every day. I have also heard some other parents say, “We are coming.” so we have told the principal that he will need to organise transport for those new learners. Some would take their kids to former model C schools; now they want to bring their kids here.
Baba Voice Zulu B
The winds of change
aba Voice Zulu stands just over five-and-a-half feet tall. But his modest height and small build are anything but soft. They have been made strong, hard, by a rural life that makes daily demands on the body. The wrinkles on his face, the lines drawn by life, are physical evidence of his many years’ experience. Though his eyes have grown cloudy from age, it would be a mistake to think he cannot see. And while his hair and goatee may be more salt than pepper, in this place 80 years means one is not old, but an elder. As he winds his way through the building site, his gait slow and deliberate, he stops every now and again to ask questions of the young people working. With his hands clasped behind his back, he listens as they explain, gesturing. He knows many of them as members of his community, the children and grandchildren of his age mates. He has watched them grow. Often he can be seen wandering
‘What is in my heart now, is something that can never be blown away’
around the site, inspecting the progress with great interest. He, too, is a builder. As one of the founding members of Ingweniphaphama, he has twice drawn on his resourcefulness in establishing a place of learning for his children and the people of this area. After the roof of the first school was torn off in a storm and it was decided to relocate the school to its current site, he played a pivotal role in negotiating transfer of the land from a local farmer to the community. As a member of the building committee and chairman of the School Governing Body, he helped demarcate the current site while also securing the roofing materials needed to complete the new mud structure. The letter from Spoornet, granting permission to remove the necessary items from an old building, is still in his possession today. All of his 11 children have been through Ingweniphaphama, so it means a lot to his family and their future. In many ways, these efforts have also built his community. “Education is the most important thing,” says Baba Voice Zulu, “that opens the mind of a person.”
Sitting in principal Mahlangu’s office, he looks like he is from the 1940s. Polished black shoes contrast with his white socks. The grey slacks and matching blazer accentuate the baby blue shirt and off-white tie – faded by years of use – that reads Datsun in embroidered pink. A felt hat leans to one side. The corners of his mouth curl into a youthful smile and, for a few seconds, there is a glimmer in his eyes while he recalls the past. “I believed that, from the beginning, a child who attends school will become a professional person, a nurse, teacher, lawyer, policeman, and so on. Though I have never done a day of school in my life, this is something I always believed in my mind. Educated people are different people altogether … My son is a product of Ingweniphaphama. He is a teacher.” Baba Zulu’s son Joseph found such enjoyment for learning at school that he grew into a teacher. While at Ingweniphaphama, Joseph inspired many with his discipline and determination, setting the bar for conduct and achievement in school. His father, with no formal education, contributed in the only way he could, by ensuring there was adequate physical infrastructure and support for learning. With his homestead less than 300 metres from the school, Baba Zulu has observed the daily rhythm of education at Ingweniphaphama for the past 15 years. He has watched many children pass through the school and then go on to become adults. “I am very, very happy to see what is happening with the school now … Although the mud school remains a museum to us, the story of the journey of our school. We put so much into this school; we built it with our hands. So I will be sad in my heart to see it go, but I am happy with what is coming next … When I look at this as an old man, I see a community that is happy. The children, most of all, are excited to see what is coming, and I think this will mean a bright future for them and for all of us.” Speaking almost metaphorically, Baba Zulu recalls how, to him, the wind that ripped the roof off the original school represented an opportunity, the chance to lay the foundation of something new. And now, he seems to suggest, the same winds of change are blowing again. This time though, they are building up rather than pulling down. “What is in my heart now,” he says knowingly, “is something that can never be blown away. When they promised us that they would build the school, there was that hope. But now that hope is fulfilled by what is being built in front of our eyes.”
Sibusiso Buthelezi A matter of providence
nside the empty park home classroom it is silent. So silent it hums in the ears. Hours earlier it was filled with the sounds of learning, talking, laughter and the movement of young bodies. Two teachers and three grades working at the same time, in the same space. Now he sits alone, bent over a desk and the open textbooks. The light in the classroom begins to fade with the setting sun, making it difficult to see. Sibusiso Buthelezi has been here since the close of school, writing out detailed lesson plans for tomorrow’s classes. It is a ritual he repeats five days a week. The aim is to finish before darkness sets in. If not, he must move next door into the mud school, the room of his colleague Nombulelo Dlomo, because it is the only place in the village that has electricity. Twenty-five year-old Buthelezi is a student teacher in his final year of a BEd degree, with the South African National Tutors Services (SANTS) in nearby Vryheid. For the past four years he has been periodically based at Ingweniphaphama to complete the teaching practicals that form a big part of his course. Buthelezi is unique in many ways. The wellspoken young man never wanted to be in education; in fact, he used to tell his friends how much he disliked teachers and their profession. His journey in teaching even began with a mistake. When he was given the forms to apply for a bursary by the induna of his village, he did not realise that it was for education until he was standing in a room in Durban together with other prospective students. It seems as if, despite his beliefs, teaching chose him. Following this, Buthelezi decided to specialise in Grade 3, an unusual choice as foundation phase has traditionally been the domain of women. More than all of this, though, what is truly special about this young man is that he was born in this village. Ingweniphaphama was his primary school. It is where his siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins and neighbours were all taught. Sibusiso started school at Ingweniphaphama in 1999, the year after the roof of the original school was blown off during a storm. The conditions were tough, being exposed to the elements, but it did not bother him much as the
experience of learning was new and exciting. When the community mobilised in 2000, the 10-year-old Buthelezi was involved in the construction. His aunt and uncle were key role-players in the build and many of his family members, including his mother, took part. The experience left a lasting impression on him. “It was amazing to help the adults build. Every day, when I got in our new classroom, my heart grew big. I knew that I have to make use of the opportunity because many had come together and worked so hard to create it for me.” “We collaborated in everything and we shared what we had,” he says of his community. “For example, if you wanted to plough you would ask your neighbours to borrow oxen or ploughing implements if you didn’t have them. We would also help each other to plant and harvest. We were so close as a community.” This cohesiveness, the sense of shared destiny, was informed by strong values that permeated all aspects of communal life. Individuals were encouraged to
It seems as if, despite his beliefs, teaching chose him
conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to their position in society, with the elders leading from the front. The example was the lesson. Negative or disruptive behaviour was not tolerated, and especially not at school. Any problems were dealt with communally, with meetings being held to discuss issues and agree on solutions. The village was fully invested in collective wellbeing, especially of their children. Buthelezi recalls being inspired by the passion of his teachers and some of his fellow learners. It was the culture of Ingweniphaphama. When the induna approached several young people in the village with bursary application forms, Sibusiso grabbed the opportunity. At great cost to his financially strained family, Buthelezi travelled to SADTU House in Durban to learn about his fate. “Congratulations, students of the Bachelor of Education programme!”
A cold feeling came over his body when he learnt he had just been awarded a bursary for an education degree. “Oh, gosh! It was a big surprise. I didn’t know what to do because I spent a lot of money to get to Durban.” He phoned his mother immediately to consult. His strongest support, she told him she was behind whatever decision he made. With limited opportunities, Buthelezi decided to take the plunge. Growing up on a daily diet of hard work and multiple responsibilities, it was not in his character to quit. In February 2013, he walked into his first lecture. Student life, his peers, the general environment at SANTS was very positive. “Everything was going well,” he recalls, “until our practicals began. That is where the problem started because I panicked when they told us we had to do our practicals at a school of our choice. ‘Yoh!’ I thought. ‘Am I really going to stand in front of kids and teach? This is real! I am a teacher now …’” Buthelezi knew what he must do. When he approached his former principal, Moses Mahlangu, he was welcomed with open arms. There was great excitement at the school, his former teachers congratulating him on his chosen profession and the fact that he had not forgotten his roots. A week spent observing in class was the turning point. And so, over the past three years Buthelezi has carved out a space for himself in the school, spending
with you. They must trust you. For that to happen, you have to show them love in order for that relationship to develop.” Buthelezi’s whole being here has the feeling of providence. When he graduates in 2017, the new Ingweniphaphama will be finished, ready to absorb additional teachers. Already he talks as if he is a member of staff. And why not? The community elders address him as “teacher”, a title that carries a lot of weight and respect. It matters little to them that he is not yet qualified. He is their son, a product of their school. To them, he belongs there. ***
What was it like to grow up here? I had a normal childhood for a rural area. We grew up under the strict supervision of our parents. Everything we did, we had to make sure we were doing it right. We were also always taught to be respectful in everything we do. We used to judge a home by the way the people of that home would behave. So, ethics and values were a big part of life growing up. We had to look after the livestock, herding them during the day, we had to make sure things were okay at home, do our chores … We had duties to do before and after school. You did not just go to school without having something to do, like taking the cattle to the fields or dip. Imagine, school starts at 7.45am and you have to be at assembly, but you are still dipping the cattle. Now you are late so you have to run to make sure that you are in class during first period! It was tough, but it was nice. When I started school at Ingweniphaphama it was still at the original school. In Grade 1 I was about seven or eight years old. It was so far. If you were running it could take you 45 minutes. It was tough to travel so far to school and then still concentrate in class. But as time went on we adapted, so it was not a problem. Our teachers were great, they respected us and they taught us respect. The school was just great in general. It was a great experience to be part of Ingweniphaphama; we had a lot of fun. We worked hard and were encouraged to do our best. I believe that what I got at Ingweniphaphama was quality. And (what) I like most, it was these same teachers who are here today!
With limited opportunities, Buthelezi decided to take the plunge. Growing up on a daily diet of hard work and multiple responsibilities, it was not in his character to quit
increasingly more time at Ingweniphaphama as per the practical requirements of his course. Smiling, he also remembers the day he first heard the news about the new school. The timing was perfect. “I laughed to myself. Here I am, a student teacher, and now this school is coming to my home. I imagined myself in class, a teacher, with lots of kids around me. A conducive class, with all the tools and resources for teaching, and me, teaching the best way I can. It gives me hope that we can do better. “I never thought that I would have this much knowledge about teaching, and I never thought I would have this much passion for teaching. It is like I was reborn in some way. They [SANTS] taught us how to take care of young children. They emphasise that a professional teacher is much more. “You have to be a nurse, you have to be a parent, you have to be a researcher. You are everything in front of those children. They must look up to you and feel safe
You say that Ingweniphaphama was an ‘inspiring’ environment Can you explain?
There were some guys who were so serious about their work, you had to copy them. Some were being praised by the teachers every day because of their work, and when someone is praised while you are listening, you want to be like that. I used to imagine, what if that praise was for me? So, everyone was encouraged and pushed in their work. This helped us get where we are today.
Why did you decide to specialise in foundation phase, Grade 3? During the process there were three spaces to tick on the form, diploma in Grade R or BEd in Foundation and Intermediate. They told me to forget about Grade R so I thought, look at me, I am almost the same height as the Intermediate phase learners, are they going to listen to me? I decided I would rather teach the young ones. It is fun with them. Even though they can be a bit noisy sometimes, a professional teacher must be able to deal with that. My tutor told me that she was proud of my choice. She thinks it is great to have a male at foundation phase because the world is changing; we need to see people doing jobs believed to be for others. I was encouraged every time I heard that. It would make me think about my first day as a permanent teacher. I will have to behave like an adult, even though I am still young. That will be my first experience of real life. For now, it is just school. My first day of being a teacher will begin when I walk into a classroom as a permanent teacher.
This is your final year. What is your plan for 2017, when you are qualified? For now my only thoughts are on building my knowledge of teaching, getting experience. By 2017 I hope to be confident in every subject to make sure that whatever I teach, the children can grab it very easily. And more than that, I want to build my relationship with this community … It is like Ma’am Dlomo, she taught me and now I am something. She is proud of that. I want to do the same. I am hoping that I can achieve this. I think that when 2017 begins, Mr Mahlangu will do something for me. I am not expecting to be sent to another school, but if that happens, I will accept it. But this is my home. It would be much, much better if I am accepted here so that I can fulfil my goals of being part of changing this community. It is about giving back, making a contribution as a community member.
What are people in the community saying about the new school being built? I remember the day when we had a meeting to introduce the idea of the new school. They came in numbers. For me that was great; they were showing that interest that was there like in the old times. So we are going to build a community that has one goal, to build a better future for our children. I hear many rumours that people are happy, and that some are saying they want to see if we are successful before they bring their children here. There are many kids Page 205
around, but people took them to other schools because of the mud. I hope that we will grow so much when it opens and they see what we are doing.
You talked about coming with your aunt every Friday to redo the dung floor. How does it feel, as someone who was a part of building this mud school, to see your mother and cousins building the school again?
It is like a dream come true. I never thought that we could have a new school here, because we are a small community. Sometimes I even thought that Ingweniphaphama would eventually be closed. It bothered me. When I heard about the new school, I didn’t believe it. I thought that someone did something somewhere to make this happen, I don’t know what. When the construction vehicles came with the materials, I knew this was really happening. It made me think back to when we first built this mud school. We built it by hand with materials from around here. But when I saw this I thought, “Wow, this is going to be something special and those who are employed are lucky to be part of it.” We spoke a lot about how we collaborate as a community. We have been doing that for a long time and I don’t think that we will drop that. It will carry on and it will probably also grow. It shows that our community can also work with people from outside this community, that we can accommodate them. If we can have more people in South Africa who are accommodating like this, we will have such a bright future. Because everything we do as adults, the children watch it and that is how they then behave.
You spoke about needing to adapt in life. Can you explain that in more detail?
You know, at SANTS you are taught to overcome in every situation that you face. You have to make the best use of it, even if it is a challenge. For example, if you have ill-disciplined children, instead of punishing them you have to use that ill discipline to get the best out of them. You have to be loving, love them equally. There is something my tutor once told me that I liked: if you are a good teacher you show love to all the children, even the bullies and most ill-disciplined ones. Because you never know what that child is facing to make them behave like that. If you show them love then maybe they will open up about their problems, so that you can provide the best possible help. For me, whenever you face something and you need to pass through, you have to adapt. You can’t just let things go because they are difficult. I believe in that saying that “a quitter never wins, while a winner never quits”. I don’t like to quit. Even though the teaching profession was not my choice, I will never quit. I will carry on because I want to win.
Do you have any role models and, if so, who are they? Ms Dlomo was my first role model. The way she used to teach us still rings in my mind. Each and every day she stood in front of us in class, she was the most amazing teacher. And I am trying to copy from her. Sharing a class with her now I am trying to revise, remember, to learn these skills from her. The other one is Mr Mahlangu. He is a very good principal. He shows equal respect to young and old people. You wonâ€™t find anyone with bad things to say about him. And the last one is Joseph Zulu, who was some years ahead of me in school. He is a teacher, too, these days, in Mpumalanga. I was inspired by his story when I heard he had become a teacher. It was so great to watch him in class. There was no time for games. He was always in class, the first one to raise his hand. You would never find him being disciplined, it was only compliments. So, looking up to these guys, I tell myself I have to make my family and community proud, as well as my teachers. They will be happy to know that I have added another teacher to the one we have already produced.
We frequently hear stories about the youth in South Africa, and it is often negative. If you had the opportunity to speak to other young people, what would you say to them? I would say to them that anything is possible if you make up your mind. You have to keep on believing in it and pushing towards it, even if things are really difficult. Along the way to success the challenges will face you, but these challenges must not become a barrier between you and your goal. You must look forward, not backward. You only look back to reflect on what you have done, where your mistakes are, but this is only to improve and move forward. Also, when you are doing things you donâ€™t have to just think about yourself, think about your community and those who can benefit from your efforts. We need more role models in life; we have to become those role models. If we had so many role models, then South Africa would become the most beautiful country. Page 206
Adopt-a-School Foundation staff
Nonhlanhla Baloyi, Rethabile Belle, Nicola Brown, Keri Francis, Andisiwe Hlungwane, Zaheer Ismail, Tseleng Lebelo, Steven Lebere ,Nanjali Lungu, Solomon Mahana, Khanyisa Maphaha, Bernice Maponyane, Alouis Matekenya, Vuyiwe Mkhupha, Banyana Mohajane, Valrey Moremi, Skhumbuzo Mtsweni, Regina Murerwa, DonnĂŠ Nicol, Zibusiso Ntini, Cassandra Pireu, Daniel Radebe, Liopelo Ramahloko, Paul Ramusetheli, Abram Sekgobela, Precious Serakalala, Nonhlanhla Sithole, Jabulile Soko, Grigory Thamae, Ditshego Tsebe
*Due to the nature of the work of the Foundation, not all staff and Board members were present at the time of these photographs
Adopt-a-School Foundation Board members
Top row (left to right): Sydney Seolonyane, Mshiyeni Belle, Silas Mashava, Griffith Zabala, Steven Lebere (Executive Director) , Rebone Malatji Second row (left to right): DonnĂŠ Nicol, Lucky Moeketsi, Yvonne Themba, Eric Ratshikhopha Not photographed: Helena Dolny, Zanele Mbere, James Motlatsi (Deputy Chairperson), Ntjantja Ned, Cyril Ramaphosa (Chairperson), Yaganthrie Ramiah
Published on Nov 7, 2016