An ode TO THE CLASS OF 2018

Fail­ures never damp­ened my spirit to per­se­vere and com­plete my ma­tric stud­ies

CityPress - - Voices - Lebusa Monyooe [email protected]­press.co.za Monyooe is a con­cerned ci­ti­zen

My name is Hope – tagged “the born­free”, since I hap­pened to be born af­ter 1994. That tag “ya ndi khenya” is true, given my life ex­pe­ri­ences. I could con­sider it a mud­dled eu­phemism for my sup­posed lib­er­a­tion to in­dulge in all forms of free­doms. The 12 years of my school­ing have cre­ated a cat­a­logue of nu­anced sto­ries stitched into es­o­teric mon­tages bet­ter de­coded by mwa!

I have two sib­lings. Mathata (prob­lems), an el­der brother who com­pleted ma­tric two years ago with ac­cept­able grades, yet he can’t pen­e­trate the labour mar­ket or progress to ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions. Each day, his life­time dream fades like dark­ness at dawn. It seems the dude has been wait­ing for Godot, ngem­phela! My younger sis­ter, Mathuba (op­por­tu­ni­ties) will com­plete ma­tric in two years. Will her story be dif­fer­ent? That, Mzansi, I can’t as­cer­tain.

These have been the lives of “ama-born-frees”. As the adage goes: Bitso lebe ke seromo, loosely mean­ing: Give a dog a bad name and he’ll live up to it. Should I re­main stead­fast to my name?

My school­ing jour­ney has been phe­nom­e­nally in­trigu­ing – mo­ments of ec­stasy and down­right calamity. Yet, some­how, I ne­go­ti­ated those daunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. I re­call with mixed emo­tions that pres­i­den­tial dec­la­ra­tion of ed­u­ca­tion as an “apex” pri­or­ity of gov­ern­ment, im­plor­ing teach­ers and learn­ers to be punc­tual and spend more time learn­ing. Re­gret­tably, it was busi­ness as usual – the pres­i­den­tial or­di­nance turned out to be a mere sound­bite. We rocked up to school in our own time, with no con­se­quences. I ex­pect no karma back­lash for my mis­de­meanours.

COURA­GEOUS

At­tend­ing school in Mzansi is a coura­geous act and com­mit­ment. Stephen Langton, an Aus­tralian lead­er­ship guru, de­fines courage as “not about be­ing fear­less, nor is it about be­ing the tough­est. It is about act­ing de­spite fear. It is moral courage.” All my school­ing years, I have at­tempted to live by that mantra. Egre­gious events and sys­temic im­bal­ances make my blood boil. Yet, it is our school­ing her­itage, re tla kgotlelela. All these add to school­ing am­biva­lence, es­pe­cially for the ama-born-frees.

At the launch of the min­i­mum norms and stan­dards for school in­fra­struc­ture, Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Minister Angie Mot­shekga was un­equiv­o­cal about the rel­e­vance of and pub­lic en­gage­ment on the ul­ti­mate de­liv­ery of the project. “Com­mu­ni­ties must be the eyes and ears of ed­u­ca­tion de­liv­ery; these norms and stan­dards will be a pow­er­ful tool for ac­tivism.” The nar­ra­tive was en­dorsed by the pres­i­dent: “Our chil­dren should be taught in secure en­vi­ron­ments … which af­firm their dig­nity as cit­i­zens of this beau­ti­ful coun­try.”

Re­gret­tably, of­fi­cial­dom dropped the in­fra­struc­ture ball, with tragic con­se­quences, like learn­ers drown­ing in un­se­cured pit la­trines. Else­where, the ama-born-frees scope the land­scape for safer ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties. These fail­ures never damp­ened my spirit to per­se­vere and com­plete my ma­tric stud­ies. Even when we were crammed into mud struc­tures and chill­ing un­der trees for lessons, I never lost hope. When teach­ers failed to show up, I al­ways found a quiet spot to ru­mi­nate over top­ics and lessons to be cov­ered.

When truck­loads of in­struc­tional ma­te­ri­als and books never left the book sheds, I found so­lace in Judge Neil Tuchten’s ver­dict that the depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion had vi­o­lated learn­ers’ right to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion. I ad­justed my cam­pus to the ever-chang­ing ed­u­ca­tional land­scape.

I re­call with ner­vous­ness how we strug­gled through nu­mer­ous cur­ricu­lum changes af­ter 1994. Though my am­biva­lence was am­pli­fied, I rode the waves of re­silience with hope.

Each time I re­flect on Mathata’s sit­u­a­tion, a bold ob­ser­va­tion made by The Econ­o­mist rat­tles me with in­cin­er­at­ing deci­bels: “Not all ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems serve the young so well.” My own brother has per­ma­nently en­listed with the Youth Un­em­ploy­ment Trading Cor­po­ra­tion. Soon, I shall join the ranks. That, Mzansi, dis­em­bow­els my soul.

I am al­ways hope­ful that one day schools will move with the times and em­power learn­ers to breach knowl­edge bound­aries and shape knowl­edge economies.

In my ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney, acts of vi­o­lence and protests have cast as­per­sions on the sacro­sanc­tity of ed­u­ca­tion. When Vuwani erupted into fire­balls and schools were can­noned into wretched flames, my bona fides were sab­o­taged by fury. Idio­syn­cratic pref­er­ences were pri­ori­tised over the next gen­er­a­tion’s fu­ture.

SMOUL­DER­ING RU­INS

From the smoul­der­ing ru­ins of erst­while class­rooms in Vuwani and else­where, some­thing as­tound­ing emerged. I rode re­silient waves. Books cod­dled and cos­seted my nerves to the very end. Each day I nav­i­gated the ru­ined build­ings, I drew strength from the judge’s in­junc­tion: “We must guard against fail­ing those who are most vul­ner­a­ble. In this case we are deal­ing with the ru­ral poor and with chil­dren. They are de­serv­ing of con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion.” Yet, Mzansi’s com­mu­ni­ties are com­plicit in de­rail­ing so­cial jus­tice by con­don­ing the de­struc­tion of pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture, es­pe­cially schools.

Mzansi’s ex­pan­sive land­scape is fraught with chal­lenges. Ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties is as daunt­ing as try­ing to sprint up the uKhahlamba moun­tains. My ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney also me­an­dered across rocky slopes and the croc­o­dile-in­fested rivers of the moth­er­land.

Those early morn­ing swim­ming ses­sions strength­ened my re­solve to reach school. Even in the midst of dan­ger, I waded through freez­ing wa­ters, of­ten teas­ing mo­men­tar­ily se­date crocodiles. Some­how, my dash­ing back­stroke se­duced them to slum­ber, while my loaded school­bag held aloft played an ef­fec­tive scare­crow. It van­quished their hunger pangs. With each daily cross­ing I grew more coura­geous; noth­ing would in­ter­cept my dream of ed­u­ca­tion, not even rugged crocodiles in in­sa­tiable mood.

As I re­flect on my ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney, were it not for un­matched val­our, I would not have com­pleted the 12 years of school­ing. I drew in­spi­ra­tion from the litany of Nel­son Man­dela’s in­sight­ful ut­ter­ances, in­clud­ing this one taken from Wil­liam Ernest Hen­ley: “I am the master of my fate, I am the cap­tain of my soul.” That, Mzansi, kept my dream alive. Con­se­quently, as I em­bark on phase two of my ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney, I em­brace Madiba’s re­al­i­sa­tion when he was re­leased from prison: “As I walked out the door to­ward the gate that would lead to my free­dom, I knew if I didn’t leave bit­ter­ness and ha­tred be­hind, I’d still be in prison.”

Not­with­stand­ing the egre­gious ex­pe­ri­ences I en­coun­tered dur­ing my ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney, bit­ter­ness and ha­tred have no place in my psy­che. Only hope and or­der ig­nite my plans for ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions. As Man­dela opined, “we must ... seize the time to de­fine for our­selves what we want to make of our shared des­tiny”; it’s part of a poignant nar­ra­tive about so­cial jus­tice and lead­er­ship ac­count­abil­ity.

My name is Hope, a metaphor­i­cal name for all the 2018 ma­tric learn­ers who, in spite of per­sonal and sys­temic chal­lenges, never gave up on their stud­ies and per­se­vered to achieve their life­time dream. May you con­tinue to ride waves of Hope and Re­silience for your next jour­ney, re­gard­less of the ma­tric­u­la­tion out­comes. South Africa loves you even more.

PHOTO: LUCKY NXUMALO

Learn­ers are ec­static to ob­tain their ma­tric pass, and all the more so be­cause of the egre­gious hur­dles that many have to en­dure

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