An ode TO THE CLASS OF 2018
Failures never dampened my spirit to persevere and complete my matric studies
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.
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.
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.
Learners are ecstatic to obtain their matric pass, and all the more so because of the egregious hurdles that many have to endure