I came to mock, but in­stead stayed to cheer

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

RAKPAN Univer­sity” sounds funny, doesn’t it?

When Kwandile Sikhosana con­tacted the Stoep to tell of plans for the Univer­sity of Brak­pan, his mes­sage some­how by­passed my cra­nium and scored a di­rect hit on the funny bone.

I could not re­late the no­tion “Brak­pan” to the con­cept “univer­sity town”.

Kwandile and his part­ner in the Brak­pan Univer­sity Ini­tia­tive, Ernest Waner, pre­sumed this Joburg boy’s Brak­pan ge­og­ra­phy was lack­ing. They said: “Let’s meet at the quar­ter no one can miss, Car­ni­val City.”

Their rea­son­ing was im­pec­ca­ble. You couldn’t miss it if you were on Mars. The paint in­dus­try recog­nises 500 colours, and the 300 bright­est all fea­ture on the walls or roof. Which merge with one an­other in a swirling ice cream cake, stand­ing out like a shelf of chil­dren’s ce­real boxes in a cab­i­net of law re­ports.

Ernest is a ten­ant, a dis­tinc­tive one, with a cow­boy shop. Cow­boy suits, cow­boy hats, cow­boy boots, cow­boy braces… Joburg­ers who think they’ve glimpsed im­ages of the Wild West in the East Rand, are vin­di­cated.

Strik­ing as the sur­round­ings were, they weren’t all that con­ducive to som­bre dis­cus­sion of im­prob­a­ble uni­ver­si­ties. I steeled my­self to lis­ten po­litely, in­wardly cer­tain that the case for Brak­pan Univer­sity was about as strong as Andile Mngxi­tama in­sist­ing he’s not a racist.

Then up came a sur­pris­ingly telling point. Ekurhu­leni’s 3.2 mil­lion peo­ple con­tain a con­cen­tra­tion of prospec­tive stu­dents who live at home and can’t af­ford digs. Hmm.

Then an­other: Those who can af­ford digs, can’t find them. This very week, the Wits vice-chan­cel­lor was all over the me­dia about thou­sands of miss­ing beds for his stu­dents. Hmm.

Here’s an­other: Brak­pan is sort of cen­tral (well, -ish) to the nine towns and 19 town­ships of Ekurhu­leni. Hmm. And an­other: With half the na­tion’s fac­to­ries and jobs, how weird that Ekurhu­leni brain drains it­self, ex­port­ing its youth for their ed­u­ca­tion. Hmm. And more.

I could fill the page with “hmms”. When Ernest of­fers a tour of the prospec­tive cam­pus, my at­ti­tude of half an hour ear­lier is a bad mem­ory. Can’t imag­ine who that was, some smug su­per­cil­ious snob who thinks you must have spires and cock­tail bars to de­serve a univer­sity.

I tell Ernest his case is made, he needn’t push it. He’s crest­fallen. I say okay then, think­ing I’ll take the ride though it won’t make any dif­fer­ence.

And you can guess what’s next. I take the ride and it makes a dif­fer­ence.

Brak­pan once had a de­li­cious lake, sized to make the most of Joburg’s wa­ter points look like pud­dles. Now the lake is in dis­ar­ray, gasp­ing un­der sickly hy­acinth the colour of burnt veld, shriek­ing to be re­stored to pride and beauty.

The dis­used lake is sur­rounded by 280 hectares of mainly dis­used mu­nic­i­pal land. Along­side are un­be­liev­able barely used sta­di­ums, in­clud­ing an in­door one. And right be­fore our eyes, echo­ing in hol­low­ness, is what be­liev­ers in a ce­les­tial plan would see as a ready­made cam­pus sent straight from heaven.

In the 1980s, when Brak­pan was its own mu­nic­i­pal­ity and pros­per­ous, it built mag­nif­i­cent civic of­fices. These in­cluded as classy a coun­cil cham­ber, now empty and des­o­late, as you ever saw. At the other sev­eral build­ings, my mind’s eye’s leaps to the signs they will surely one day dis­play: Fac­ulty of Science, Fac­ulty of Engi­neer­ing, Fac­ulty of Com­merce… What a fa­cil­ity. What a waste. I came to mock, I stayed to cheer. For cling­ing to a valid cause de­spite turned backs, deaf ears, ar­ro­gant rude­ness and smug su­per­cil­ious­ness, Brak­pan Univer­sity Ini­tia­tive scores a cum laude at the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony of Val­ued Con­trib­u­tors.

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