Madiba’s final gift to home village

2013-12-17 00:00

NELSON Mandela’s final gift to South Africa will be completed in the week his life journey came to a close — and it will happen in the place where that life began.

The result of what is believed to be his final public initiative, after an appeal to a businessman in 2010, the high-tech, R100 million Mandela School of Science and Technology will see the last of its computers, microscopes, experiments and Internet channels installed this week in Madiba’s muddy rural birthplace of Mvezo, ahead of its opening on January 6.

Yesterday, principal Patuxolo Toni told The Witness, “Madiba saved his best gift for last — this school will light the future for his legacy, at the very core of his past.

“Our focus is on creating scientists and engineers, but imagine, a future president could now very well come from this same village. The learners would actually have begun orientation classes last week already, but the decision was made that they take a week of mourning for the founder of our school.”

Powered by wind turbines and a solar array, the stunningly ambitious project is designed to slingshot its pupils far beyond the current literacy and matriculation goals of the area, and into top universities and “the innovation of future technologies”.

The futuristic structure is just 20 km from where Mandela was buried, at Qunu, on Sunday.

Thirteen-year-old Ayabonga Msila, one of 420 inaugural pupils, said that, unlike Mandela, he would not need to leave his home to take a path toward becoming a doctor. “If Madiba was born now, this is the school he would go to.”

The Witness understands that President Jacob Zuma will preside over the official opening later next month.

In one of his last meetings with any corporate leader, Mandela asked Peter Loescher, former CEO of engineering giant Siemens, to help realise his long-held “dream” by funding and building a world-class high school in his birthplace, an area that had no high school at all.

According to a statement from Siemens, the 25- classroom school was physically built by 150 local villagers who were trained on-site.

The company completed the construction this month in a partnership with Mvezo Development Trust, founded by Mandela’s grandson, Nkosi Zwelivelile Mande­la, and the Department of Basic Education.

The school’s motto is “Education is Freedom” based on Mandela’s statement that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, while its logo comprises an unlikely mix: three spokes of a wind turbine dividing images of a traditional Xhosa hut, a chemistry beaker, and a computer chip.

In addition to an initial 70 computers, science pupils will also be offered “ExperimentO” kits, which include materials for 130 self-teaching experiments.

Toni said, “Because these children have been disadvantaged, it would have been unfair to subject them to entrance tests; instead we will use grades 8 and 9 partially as bridging years into high performance learning in grade 10.

“But I can tell you we were dazzled by the potential and enthusiasm some of the children showed during interviews.”

Ntombozuko Mzazi (14) said adults in Mvezo — many of whom have never gone to school — had admonished the new entrants “to work hard and learn, and not to waste time”.

Noheadman Somdaka, a member of the interim school governing body, said, “They must go on after school to become engineers, farmers and doctors, and then come back to the village. We need these professionals in Mvezo. The closest health clinic is 35 km away.”

Toni said that, with rural matriculants typically pressured into generating income immediately after school, the school would seek to convince parents of the benefits of careers in science and engineering, in a programme that includes classes for parents themselves.

“Parents will be included in our agriculture programme, and the children will not only be taught the latest agricultural sciences academically, but also how to use those lessons at home to reduce hunger,” he said.

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