To succeed, we must look out for each other
Anyone who had to walk to school has a story to tell about that 12-year-long journey. Like all travels that go back into history, small events are magnified, some big ones are forgotten or changed by the passing of time, but the lessons remain.
There were times when I hated school, and there were days when I couldn’t wait to get back to class. School for me was not voluntary, and I know a lot of people who were in my shoes. Understandably, given the choice, children would rather play than learn about Pythagoras of Samos and his theorem.
Of course, there were “the nerds” who loved school, but the rest of us had to be shepherded like mindless goats that had no idea what was good for them. Parents understood that, and so did the whole community.
At the school I went to in KwaThema on the East Rand, where I grew up, there was an old man called Eputswa, “The Grey One”.
He was tall and dark like the warriors we learnt about at school, and had a striking handsomeness that was enhanced by his grey hair that looked like pure, white ash – the kind of ash that little girls put on their faces and pretend is a skin lightener.
He was mentally disturbed or, at least, that’s what the children in the streets thought.
So we feared him like we feared the angel of death.
He took his duty of shepherding children to school very seriously. If he saw a child walking in the neighbourhood while wearing a uniform during school hours, he chased him or her into the nearest school.
I was once one of those children who had to be chased into school every morning. The scene: a shouting old man, sjambok in his hand; dogs barking; me crying – tears rolling down my cheeks, snot gushing down my nose; girls laughing at all this madness; me feeling like a pile of embarrassment. Then, finally in class, an unsympathetic teacher and a monster called BODMAS waiting to chew me up.
Last week, Mike Teke, the president of the Chamber of Mines, went to visit his old primary school that he still funds, which is also in KwaThema. As he was driving off to go to work, he saw a group of youngsters who were in school uniform and walking around without purpose.
He stopped his car and approached them. “Why aren’t you at school?” he asked. They laughed.
He soon made them realise that this was no laughing matter, and that they’d better be serious if they wanted to come out of this experience half alive.
The discussion went on about the importance of getting an education, and the boys conceded that they were wrong not to be in school.
Teke became a parent to every child, and shone a torch on a future that has yet to be explored.
Today, many of us are too busy making a living to care about our neighbours’ children, but that is the wrong attitude.
We can’t be too busy to build the nation. The children on the street are not strangers, but your future, and you have the right and responsibility to shape it.
When our government legislated the relationship between parents, the community and its children without taking into consideration historical norms, it created an unintended apathy when it comes to building our communities.
We have now reached the dystopia that our parents called umazibonele, where everyone has to look after himself. If you’re too young to see into the future, tough. We cannot allow that to happen, we must quickly change gear and create mentorships in our societies if we are to build a better South Africa.