Reimag­in­ing Ma­nen­berg with TLC

Cape Argus - - FRONT PAGE - By Gas­ant Abarder

‘OIt’s a say­ing on the Cape Flats, from par­ent to child, you would have heard at least once if you grew up there. It of­ten means stretch­ing a week’s worth of money and re­sources to take care of your house­hold for a month.

Ashra Nor­ton, the di­rec­tor and co-founder of Ma­nen­berg’s The Lead­er­ship Col­lege, knows about

The Lead­er­ship Col­lege – af­fec­tion­ately known as TLC to its learn­ers, staff and par­ents – had a 92 per­cent ma­tric pass rate, with 67 per­cent bach­e­lor passes.

Of the 71 distinctions Ma­nen­berg pro­duced, 68 came from TLC.

But Dhilshaad Ado­nis caught the head­lines with her seven distinctions.

“Dhilshaad grew up with a sin­gle mother and ab­sent fa­ther. She has a very beau­ti­ful story. She has a great-grand­mother, a grand­mother and a mother – four gen­er­a­tions – who live in the house, right on top of the flats,” says a proud Ashra.

“She has two broth­ers and a sis­ter, who also started at our school last year. Her mother is a taxi driver on the Ma­nen­berg-Clare­mont route. Dil­shaad’s great-grand­mother does the odd bit of sewing, brings in money for food and holds the fam­ily to­gether.

“The granny takes care of the chil­dren. The mom works to bring in what­ever they need, like sta­tionery. That is how those four ladies work to­gether.

“When Dil­shaad came to TLC she couldn’t say two words. Here we teach them pub­lic speak­ing. Our chil­dren can stand up in front of an au­di­ence of 500 to 1 000 and just speak off-the-cuff.”

Ashra’s pos­i­tiv­ity on the eve of the first day of school be­lies a deep angst. She is ex­pect­ing a court mes­sen­ger to serve an evic­tion no­tice be­cause the rent rock­eted from R25 000 to R70 000 a month.

But she’s look­ing for­ward. She shows me a hall that is hastily be­ing con­verted into four ad­di­tional class­rooms for the 2017 in­take.

The builders will work into the early morn­ing of the first day of school to com­plete the task.

The school is a bea­con of hope for a com­mu­nity wracked with so­cial chal­lenges.

“When the ma­tric re­sults came out, the en­tire Ma­nen­berg was here to cel­e­brate. And their chil­dren are not even at­tend­ing here. They said: ‘These are our lead­ers.’

“We be­lieve all the chil­dren at this school are lead­ers. We be­lieve, for South Africa to suc­ceed, the ma­jor­ity must be in lead­er­ship po­si­tions be­cause they feel the pain of the peo­ple that are strug­gling.”

Per­haps Ashra’s con­fi­dence that the school will en­dure de­spite the threat of evic­tion is be­cause her own story is so sim­i­lar to Dhilshaad’s and the cir­cum­stances of ev­ery learner at this school.

TLC opened its doors in 2010. It is reg­is­tered as a pri­vate school so the de­part­ment pays 60 per­cent of what it would cost to keep a child at a pub­lic school.

But TLC is by no means con­ven­tional. Even though it falls into the same cat­e­gory as a Bish­ops, Is­lamia or St Cypri­ans, it is a zero-fee school.

The school started with 47 learn­ers and three teach­ers and went from two classes for Grade 8 to six classes for Grade 8 in 2017. In the next three years it is an­tic­i­pat­ing hit­ting the 1 000-learner mark.

Be­cause of its suc­cess, there are now six other TLC schools in ar­eas like Mitchells Plain and Ob­ser­va­tory and a part­ner­ship is on the cards in Langa.

Each child re­ceives a blazer and full uni­form at no cost to the fam­i­lies; there is a feed­ing scheme; and psy­chol­o­gists and learner-sup­port staff, like oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pists, work pro bono.

Teach­ers have of­ten taken salary cuts for the op­por­tu­nity to work at TLC and the dis­tin­guished prin­ci­pal, Yusuf Atcha, who has worked abroad, has at times gone with­out pay.

Ashra has had to con­tend with such chal­lenges her en­tire life. Her fam­ily still lives in Ma­nen­berg and she lives just two min­utes from the school.

The grand­mother of four has per­suaded two of her three chil­dren and her sonin-law to teach at TLC and she has her hus­band’s full sup­port.

“Be­cause I was born and bred in Ma­nen­berg I know about the yearn­ing, es­pe­cially by the chil­dren and the youth. We have bril­liant chil­dren in this com­mu­nity and they have big dreams.

“Ev­ery year I at­tend the award cer­e­monies for Grade R. You ask these fiveyear-olds what they would they like to be one day and you hear the dreams: a doc­tor, a pi­lot… re­ally in­no­va­tive in their think­ing.

“But then 13 years af­ter that, you speak to the same chil­dren, or you see them drugged in the road. Some­thing hap­pened and I think our com­mu­nity is fail­ing our chil­dren.

“When I was a child in Ma­nen­berg I at­tended Sil­ver­stream Pri­mary and Sil­ver­stream High and my dream was to be a phar­ma­cist. But in the 1980s, if you were non-white, you could ei­ther be a teacher, a nurse or a so­cial worker. I chose teach­ing as a ca­reer and, in my first year of stud­ies, I had to do an as­sign­ment on gang­ster­ism and drugs.

“We were seven chil­dren – five sis­ters and two broth­ers – liv­ing in a two bed­room flat, with a small kitchen of 2m x 3m and the rooms the same size. My fa­ther got very ill and my mother raised us on a dis­abil­ity and main­te­nance grant.

“My mother was very strict be­cause, at that time, the gangs were al­ready around. The gangs started in Ma­nen­berg be­cause fam­i­lies had been pushed out. We were from Dis­trict Six and at that time the gov­ern­ment would say here’s a key and this is your new home in Ma­nen­berg. We were among the very first fam­i­lies who moved in 1966 when Ma­nen­berg was es­tab­lished – 50 years last year.

“My mother said you’re not go­ing to do your re­search (for the as­sign­ment) in the li­brary in Athlone or Cape Town with pub­lic trans­port. We had no cars or such lux­u­ries. We grew up very tough on R19 a month to raise seven chil­dren.

“She was a house­wife who had no ed­u­ca­tion. She al­ways wanted me to leave school at pri­mary level. I never knew why.

“When I passed ma­tric and I was ac­cepted to do phar­macy she said: ‘Can you now un­der­stand why I didn’t want you to go to high school? I knew I was go­ing to dis­ap­point you be­cause we won’t have money to send you for your stud­ies.’.

“For the as­sign­ment she said: ‘Why do you want to go to Athlone? You’ll have to take a taxi and it’s un­safe. Se­condly, I’ll have to find money so your best bet is you know the peo­ple in Ma­nen­berg, go and in­ter­view these guys.’

“Ev­ery day, when I look back, I can now see the wis­dom. I re­alised in­ter­view­ing these guys that, ir­re­spec­tive of what they were do­ing, 99 if not 100 per­cent of them were driven by cir­cum­stances.

“They yearned to be lead­ers, but there was no pos­i­tiv­ity in their lives, no role models, no op­por­tu­ni­ties. They be­came lead­ers by hook or by crook.”

Gangs and drugs are a daily re­al­ity for the chil­dren who at­tend TLC. But in­side its walls is a safe haven. When gang vi­o­lence shut schools in Ma­nen­berg for at least a fort­night last year, Ashra kept TLC open.

“I’ll show you the spot that was the war zone for the two gangs, where the Amer­i­cans and the Hard Liv­ings fought it out. That is now where we have about 14 class­rooms. We have a psy­cho-so­cial ther­apy unit at the school. We have oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pists, psy­chol­o­gists and so­cial work­ers that work with the chil­dren and the fam­i­lies as well.

“Just a week be­fore school closed we had a fa­ther-and-son af­ter­noon. The dads came and we gave them break­fast and fa­thers just tell their sons: ‘I love you.’ Sons tell fa­thers: ‘I love you.’

“You heard a 50-year-old dad say: ‘This is the first time in my life I’m cry­ing in front of my son.’ In this com­mu­nity, a man can’t cry. You have to be hard. We tell them it’s okay to cry – you have a heart, you’re a hu­man be­ing.

“It was just so heart-warm­ing to see dads hug­ging their sons, hug­ging and say­ing: ‘I love you, my son. I re­ally be­lieve in you.’ Those lit­tle things are gamechang­ers. “We also have churches and youth groups that give ex­tra classes for ac­count­ing and physics and maths – not only for our learn­ers, but for all learn­ers in Ma­nen­berg.

“Our school is a so­cial hub. The com­mu­nity who live around here help to paint, cut the lawn. Ev­ery­body gets in­volved when we do some­thing here.

“The chil­dren know we be­lieve in them. We care and we love them. Those three words we hold very high at this school. We build a very strong school cul­ture and we have cer­tain pro­to­cols.

“At events, the na­tional an­them must be sung and the school song must be sung. We give them a sense of iden­tity and be­long­ing that they don’t have at home. This is why you’ll have chil­dren here till 6pm.

“At 7am on a Satur­day they’ll knock on the care­taker’s door to sit un­der the tree to watch the birds. They bring their books and they read be­cause at home there’s noth­ing.

“They live in 2m x 3m Wendy houses where they can’t even walk straight up into be­cause it’s too low. There’s no food, there’s no mom, no dad… They come here and feel tran­quil­lity and peace. They’re happy when they’re sent to de­ten­tion and shout: ‘Yippee.’ We can’t even pun­ish them with de­ten­tion!

“We tell our chil­dren that they’re more safe at school than fac­ing the stray bul­lets at home. At home there’s no su­per­vi­sion. If you’re go­ing to hear gun­shots you’re go­ing to go to the win­dow. When you’re here, you’re safe.

“We have a feed­ing scheme and I tell the teach­ers all the time that you can’t ask a child for home­work, you will never get math­e­mat­ics into their mind if they didn’t eat for two days. The only thing they see in front of them is a sand­wich. He looks at the teacher and can’t see the teacher. They see a slice of bread.

“But I in­sist that we main­tain peo­ple’s dig­nity. I don’t like soup kitchens where peo­ple have to stand in line. We do it very dis­creetly.

“We make the sand­wiches, give it to the class teacher and they’ll know who these chil­dren are. They’ll slip the sand­wiches into the chil­dren’s bags as if it comes from home. We also have peo­ple who of­fer lunch, like two pots of food.”

How does one bot­tle and repli­cate TLC’s suc­cess? It ex­cels at maths and science with no lab and classes that at times are taught un­der the trees or in the kitchen area. There is no quick fix or sil­ver bul­let. It is hard work, de­ter­mi­na­tion and sur­viv­ing against ex­tra­or­di­nary odds.

“You must re­mem­ber if you see ma­tric re­sults at TLC, it’s not like in the af­flu­ent ar­eas where there are tu­tors. Not one of our chil­dren can go for ex­tra tu­ition be­cause they don’t have the money. It’s just the teach­ers.

“What we have is a very strong in­ter­ven­tion pro­gramme in the school start­ing from Grade 8. Ev­ery Satur­day is maths day at TLC. Ev­ery­body must come in school uni­form. There’s another day for physics.

“I want the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment to say: ‘Mrs Nor­ton, here are 10 free premises, put up 10 Lead­er­ship Col­leges – in Hanover Park, Ne­treg, Bon­te­heuwel, wher­ever.’ But we need premises. With that lit­tle money the de­part­ment gives us we can stretch the bud­get.”

Ashra has in­cred­i­ble re­solve; she is com­mit­ted to chang­ing the story in the area where she was born and raised.

“I can only pros­per if my fam­ily is happy and I can only do what I do if they un­der­stand what I’m do­ing. The good thing is that my hus­band is also from Ma­nen­berg. He un­der­stands my jour­ney.

“My con­cern for this com­mu­nity is great be­cause I feel the pain. I come from this area… I was born here, I was bred here. The school that was my school in my ma­tric year was then the best-per­form­ing school in this cir­cuit. It’s now the worst-per­form­ing school and they want to close it down. That is very sad and we need to change that.”

PIC­TURE: KATOO PEETERS

ACHIEVER: Ashra Nor­ton, the founder of the Lead­er­ship Acad­emy in Ma­nen­berg, in one of the class­rooms at the school. Her school has pro­duced ex­cel­lent ma­tric re­sults, de­spite con­cerns over pos­si­ble evic­tion from the premises.

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