To suc­ceed, we must look out for each other

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@city­ Kuzwayo is the founder of Ig­ni­tive, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency

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.

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