Honouring a teacher

2009-08-13 00:00

ON August 7, two very telling occurrences took place, symbolizing a renewed passion for the provision of quality education to the people of South Africa. These two incidents, uncharacteristically juxtaposed, represent the good and the bad of education in the country.

“How can such a good thing share our public space so comfortably with the worst of evils in one day?” I silently inquired. It did happen nonetheless — like a scene from a horror movie, we all watched, picking our jaws up off the floor.

Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for the president of the country to have the presence of mind to use his “precious” time to share, engage and interact with school principals, with the aim of finding solutions to the challenges facing the education system in the country. Many school principals never imagined that it would be possible in their lifetime to share a space, discuss, debate and engage with the president on matters pertaining to education.

The presidency, however, decided in its wisdom that school principals are key in improving our education system — whether or not the school does well depend­s to a large extent on their management practices. The government has not only identified education as one of the Apex Prioriti­es, it has taken a sig­nifican­t step in ensuring that the education of South African childre­n is given the status it des­erves, I thought to mysel­f warm-heartedly.

No sooner had I had that warm thought, than the unexpected happened. On the morning of Aug­ust 8, we woke up to the news of the death of one of the exponents of quality education, the custodian of education excellence, Dr Thamsanqa Wilkinson Khambule. Khambule lived for the better part of his life in the tenacious and relentless pursuit of quality education for African children, esp­ecially. He resolved that any child taught by him would be the opposite of what Hendrik Verwoed­ intended with the introduction of Bantu Education.

Khambule was called a mathematician. That is correct, because people who study and excel in mathematics are called such. However, Khambule was more than that. He was a compulsive educationalist, a human rights acti­vist, but most significantly, a man who lived his life as the epitome of what a good school principal is supposed to be like.

As if anticipating his untimely passing and perhaps unwittingly paying tribute to Khambule, Jacob Zuma said on August 7: “In spite of Bantu Education, our country produced thousands of distinguished professionals from the black community.” Such was Khambule — a passionate and consummate professional who shunned mediocrity and pursued excellence.

Again, as if paying tribute to Khambule, the school principal extraordinaire, Zuma said on that fateful day — the day of Khambule’s death: “Our principals are the most important partners in this education renewal campaign. All the international studies show that the biggest driver of better education outcomes is the school manager — the principal.”

The president continued and said: “Some principals have produced sterling results without extra resources, while many have not improved results, even after being provided with additional resourc­es.”

Khambule came from the generation of school principals and teachers who produced much with very little. It is not astonishing that people such as Desmon­d Tutu, Frank Chikane, Sphiwe Nyanda, Patsy Tlakula and many other luminaries owe their success to his sterling job.

I think that when Zuma called for a principals’ imbizo last Friday, he was hoping that, as a result of that historic gathering, South Africa would again have principals like Khambule — men and women who fully understand the nobility of the teaching profession and under­stand their responsibility to the nation.

It is for his selflessness and dedication that Khambule was awarded the gold Order of the Baobab by former president Thabo Mbeki, for his contribution to education, human development and community service. Afte­r all, teachers are, first of all, human developers.

It is my hope that all the men and women who were gathered at the International Convention Centre on August 7 will take a leaf out of Khambule’s book and work tirelessly to improve the standard of education in the countr­y. Let his death mark the birth of legions of passionate and consummate education professionals.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.

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