The more things change

2012-06-30 10:27

In a far-flung corner of the former Transkei there was Khwebulana Junior Secondary School.

It was led by a robust Mr Njotini, and his lowered reading glasses sent a cold shiver down my spine. At his sight loafing teachers would run amok.

The school consisted of only two mud blocks with cattle-dung flooring.

It catered for grades 1 to 9, with more than 50 children on average per classroom.

It was one of the best schools in the Transkei. High school principals often came to recruit students to join their high schools.

Mr Njotini was strict. At interval the noisiest student was given the task of sprinkling water on the dusty floor.

Fridays were half days, and after school the girls had to hoist their long grey skirts up to their thighs, roll up their long-sleeved white shirts and smear fresh cattle dung on the floor.

The boys had to take the desks and chairs out of the classrooms and fetch cattle dung from nearby homes with wheelbarrows.

In 1994 a single block of five classes was built. I was in Grade 5 and, as luck would have it, the new classes with tiled flooring started with Grade 5s.

The smell of floor polish was refreshing compared with cow dung. Still, no library was built. The need for one did not exist. The school did not have textbooks.

It was not an ideal setup for any productive learning. A dismal education heritage was starting to be built, and it seems to have lasted.

Delivering textbooks was not a priority for the department of education. Mr Njotini, uniting with parents, decided to raise funds to buy at least one textbook for every class.

This meant I had to be at school at 7am.

At that hour of the morning my teacher would be found writing relentlessly on the board from the sole textbook.

As I wrote down the notes in my notebook, I could hear the white chalk screeching on the board.

Textbooks were a luxury for us rural students. The education department head office was working on it, they said.

Promises were being made. But each year the textbooks would be five months late or never delivered.

The start of the school term seemed to be a sick prank played on the education department by unkind gods.

In any literature lesson five students had to hover above Indlala Inamanyala or Chike and the River. I loved literature, but my mind would slowly drift to other things.

Reading during break time was impossible. The noisy typewriter was etching letters into blank pages. My class teacher would be working on his next lesson.

My sincere request to take a literature book home was answered with a stern “no”. “There are 50 other students in the class,” I was told, and owing to that reasoning I conceded that I was a defeated avid reader.

The news of late textbook delivery in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape is a failure as old as this country’s freedom.

It is a bad contagion that none of the former ministers of education have managed to cure. Each minister has tightly knotted a noose around children’s futures.

The unapologetic denial by Angie Motshekga of the textbook crisis only exacerbates the situation. Her excuse is beyond ridiculous.

The crisis is a glaring error that begs to be condemned – it has been begging condemnation since I started school in 1990, yet it has strangely shunned the befitting reproof.

In Limpopo several NGOs went to court after it emerged that certain textbooks were not being delivered to schools.

The courts issued a directive compelling the department to deliver all textbooks by June. Nothing defines crisis like this.

The nation has been outraged since the textbook story broke. The crisis has provided the perfect PR for the DA in the never-ending wrestling match between the it and the ANC, with the country cheering them on.

The DA and the ANC wallowing in this crisis will not help the kids in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

I left Khwebulana Junior Secondary School in 1998. Even then we did not have textbooks.

Late delivery of textbooks must not be spoken and written about as though it is new. Let us not parade our outraged but passive response to it as though it is a new crisis.

The education department has been failing us since 1994.

» Sikupela is a film student and writer

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