Prin­ci­pal of iconic school tack­les drugs

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

THE Mor­ris Isaac­son High School in Soweto will al­ways be re­mem­bered as an in­sti­tu­tion that played a piv­otal role in the June 1976 stu­dent protests against the apartheid state.

Leaders of the June 1976 move­ment, such as Mur­phy Morobe and the late Te­boho “Tsi­etsi” Mashinini, cul­ti­vated their so­cio-po­lit­i­cal knowl­edge at the school, which has left an in­deli­ble mark on the his­tory of South Africa’s anti-apartheid Strug­gle.

To­day, al­most 41 years later, the school is wag­ing a new war against ar­guably the great­est threat to town­ship youth to­day – drug abuse.

This fight against drug abuse is spear­headed by head­mas­ter Steven Khany­ile.

He laid bare the ef­fects that such abuse has had on not only his pupils, but the com­mu­nity of Soweto – de­tail­ing the de­bil­i­tat­ing crime and grime caused chiefly by sub­stance abuse.

Khany­ile has joined forces with mu­si­cian Ka­belo “Bouga Luv” Ma­bal­ane, who is also from Soweto, and other com­mu­nity mem­bers, as part of the Anti-Sub­stance Abuse So­cial Move­ment cam­paign.

It was launched in De­cem­ber, when Ma­bal­ane led a march from Khany­ile’s school to the Or­lando Po­lice Sta­tion.

The route taken was sym­bolic, as it was a re-en­act­ment of the 1976 course that the more than 20 000 Soweto stu­dents were sup­posed to have walked be­fore hun­dreds of them were mown down by apartheid’s se­cu­rity state.

Khany­ile told The Star it is im­por­tant for him to be a part of the anti-sub­stance abuse cam­paign, as he can no longer en­dure the pain of see­ing for­mer stu­dents, in­clud­ing young peo­ple from the com­mu­nity, in dire sit­u­a­tions due to drug ad­dic­tion.

Khany­ile added that, as a teacher, he had re­fused to sit by and al­low his pupils to fall by the way­side.

“We don’t want to pro­duce learn­ers who will end up nowhere in life be­cause of drug abuse.

“So, as a school, we must be seen to be serv­ing and en­light­en­ing the com­mu­nity, while also com­ing up with so­lu­tions that as­sist the com­mu­nity to deal with harm­ful so­cial ills re­sult­ing from sub­stance abuse,” he said.

“That is just one part of what we are se­ri­ous about as a school and where we need to con­tinue to fo­cus.

“How do we kill the is­sue of the ef­fect that drugs have on our com­mu­nity? What is painful is that we have learn­ers who abuse (the drug) ‘nyaope’ and don’t get any­where in life, be­cause it makes them lose their abil­ity to think pos­i­tively about the fu­ture.”

Khany­ile be­came the head of Mor­ris Isaac­son in 2013.

He em­pha­sised he does not see his cur­rent role as a pres­ti­gious one. Rather, he said, be­ing the head is a “huge priv­i­lege” that he re­fuses to take for granted, adding he is a pub­lic ser­vant whose duty is to con­tinue po­si­tion­ing the school as a com­mu­nity leader.

“I can’t just be happy to be here – there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of try­ing to main­tain the school’s name, as it is at­tached to his­tory, but also in en­sur­ing that this school con­tin­ues to do good things for the com­mu­nity and for the coun­try,” Khany­ile said.

“If this school played an im­por­tant role in 1976 by pro­duc­ing leaders, how do we make sure that this big name is still rel­e­vant to­day in terms of deal­ing with so­ci­etal prob­lems? “That is just one part where I feel that I need to work a bit harder. That is why I have tack­led the is­sue of drugs, be­cause I can see the ef­fects they have on the com­mu­nity.”

Khany­ile is not merely pay­ing lip ser­vice by ex­press­ing his con­cerns about the ef­fects drugs have had on the youth. He is also tak­ing ac­tion by res­cu­ing pupils who he sees head­ing down a ter­ri­ble path be­cause of drugs.

Ex­am­ples of this are Grade 12 pupils Katlego Mos­ala and Sibu­siso Makha­tini.

Mos­ala, 20, and Makha­tini, 21, told The Star they were em­broiled in a de­gen­er­ate life of drug tak­ing be­fore seek­ing as­sis­tance from Khany­ile, who was more than willing to as­sist them in get­ting their lives back on track.

Mos­ala said he be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with cig­a­rettes and dagga in pri­mary school, a few years af­ter his mother passed away, when he was eight.

When he ar­rived at Mor­ris Isaac­son in 2013, he be­gan smok­ing nyaope be­cause of what he said was the anger and frus­tra­tion he felt in his life, caused by be­ing an or­phan.

“When things weren’t go­ing well at home, I would get an­gry at think­ing of why my life might have been bet­ter had my mother still been alive. All of these things led me to abuse drugs and other sub­stances in or­der to numb the pain that I was feel­ing,” he said.

“There was also a lot of peer pres­sure in­volved, as my friends would smoke nyaope in front of me.

“They would say to me: ‘Man, just take one puff; it won’t hurt you at all and you will feel much bet­ter’. But I also have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for my ac­tions, as I al­lowed my­self to get sucked into smok­ing nyaope – never again.”

Mos­ala added that the school helped him to check into a drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

He re­turned in April to be­gin the sec­ond term of the aca­demic year as a Grade 10 pupil.

““I have yet to fail a sin­gle term since my re­turn from re­hab,” he said.

Makha­tini has a sim­i­lar story to Mos­ala of per­sonal prob­lems that led him to a life of sub­stance abuse.

Makha­tini said he was raised by his sin­gle mother who was an al­co­holic. When it be­came ap­par­ent his mother could not take care of him ad­e­quately, he said that so­cial work­ers placed him in the Wal­ter Sisulu Child and Youth Care Cen­tre in Soweto.

He added that things went fur­ther south af­ter his mother died in 2008, when he was adopted by a Soweto fam­ily who he said would of­ten mis­treat him – and this led to him sniff­ing in­dus­trial glue.

“For ex­am­ple, I would be hang­ing out­side and chat­ting with my friends and we would lose track of time.

“When I would ar­rive back home at around 7.30pm, my guardians would kick me out, telling me to go back to where I had come from,” he said.

“There was a boy who was home­less and who slept on my street. He was heav­ily sniff­ing glue. It was com­mon knowl­edge back then that glue was sniffed by home­less chil­dren.

“That is when I also started sniff­ing glue be­cause I would oc­ca­sion­ally sleep out­side. The first time I sniffed it, I re­mem­ber it numb­ing the pain and anger I was feel­ing.

“I fo­cused mainly on how good the glue made me feel, not re­al­is­ing how de­struc­tive it was go­ing to be in my life,” Makha­tini said.

He re­turned from a drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre at the end of Fe­bru­ary this year, af­ter his head­mas­ter had checked him in to­wards the end of last year.

Makha­tini was sup­posed to com­plete ma­tric last year, but he never wrote his fi­nal ex­ams be­cause of the ef­fects the glue had on him.

He cred­its Khany­ile for as­sist­ing him when he sought help, say­ing he wants to make his head­mas­ter proud.

His views were echoed by Mos­ala, who said that Khany­ile “al­ways had their back”.

Mos­ala hopes to study law next year, as he wants to de­fend peo­ple, es­pe­cially the youth,

‘I have tack­led drugs, as I can see the ef­fect on the com­mu­nity’

who are down­trod­den, like he was a few years ago.

“But I also want to be rich, my brother,” he said.

Makha­tini, on the other hand, hopes to study busi­ness man­age­ment next year and en­ter the cor­po­rate life, be­cause he be­lieveshe is en­tre­pre­neur­ial.

“But I also want to go into the cor­po­rate sec­tor be­cause I look good in a suit and tie,” he joked, point­ing to how neatly dressed he was in his uni­form.

Both pupils said they aim to work hard this year, so that they can achieve good marks in or­der to qual­ify for bur­saries, as they know their fam­i­lies won’t have money to put them through uni­ver­sity.

Asked whether prospec­tive spon­sors should trust them, see­ing as they had lived a drug­fu­elled life, they said: “We are not pris­on­ers of our past, but the pi­o­neers of our fu­ture.”

Khany­ile said he was con­fi­dent both were on the right track and would not let them­selves and their fam­i­lies down, which was more im­por­tant than them try­ing not to let him down.

“They must do it for them­selves, not for me,” he said.

THE FIGHT IS NOW AGAINST DRUG AD­DIC­TION: A worker is seen sweep­ing near the Tsi­etsi Mashinini Statue at Me­mo­rial Acre, fac­ing the Mor­ris Isaac­son High School in Soweto.

COUN­TER­ING ABUSE: Steven Khany­ile, prin­ci­pal of Mor­ris Isaac­son.

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