The doors remain shut

2014-07-25 00:00

‘How can we change the world when the doors of learning are still closed to thousands of young people in this country?’

THE doors of learning and culture shall be opened.

That was the ideal situation envisaged by the authors of one of the most quoted documents in South Africa: the Freedom Charter.

But, the gates of the Plessislaer campus of the Umgungundlovu FET College in Imbali have remained shut for prospective students who have been waiting to register for the N4 semester for over two weeks.

It got me thinking. In fact, I feel sorry for these teenagers who come mostly from previously disadvantaged families in South Africa.

I say South Africa because some of them have travelled from as far as the Eastern Cape and various far-flung regions of KwaZulu-Natal, including Nkandla, Empangeni and Nongoma, to name just a few.

They have had to endure very cold conditions for several days, sleeping outside the campus gates while hoping to get a place in their first step to improving their lot in life.

Advertisements were placed in various media indicating that registration at the college would start on July 15.

But when the day came, the young people who had gathered there were told that there were delays with the N5 and N6 results, which meant that before the institution could begin the process of educating the students, the campus management needed to ascertain what space was available.

Those students who have travelled long distances to be there now cannot afford to leave until registration resumes. Yet despite this, they are determined to learn.

The waiting continued until last Friday, which was International Mandela Day. Even on this special day, they were told registration would be carried out only from Monday to Wednesday.

Once again, on Wednesday more than 500 prospective students were told that they needed to apply and then wait for an SMSs to see if they had qualified for a place at the college.

The campus, however, has only about 150 spaces for N4 students. This means that the demand is high and we have a short supply of FET colleges and institutions of higher education in general in this country.

So how are we ever going to achieve the goal of opening the doors of learning and culture to all, as prescribed in the Freedom Charter?

This remains a conundrum that our government should face head on by actually providing enough institutions of higher learning that will be equal to the task of accommodating the numbers of pupils who are matriculating every year.

Ironically, it was our very own international icon, Nelson Mandela, who said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

But how can we change the world when the doors of learning are still closed to thousands of young people in this country, who can’t study after matric because we don’t have adequate facilities to cater for them?

After 20 years of democracy, South Africa still has a long way to go to achieve the ideals set out in the Freedom Charter and our Constitution, because we still lack the infrastructure necessary to cater for the youth who wish to study further and become self-sufficient.

It was painful to see the sadness in those young people’s eyes when their hopes for registration were dashed after camping in the cold for several nights.

Their wish to escape the harsh realities of whoonga and teenage pregnancy remain staring them in the face as they return home to await the SMSes, which will bring good news to only a few of them.

When will this reality change?

The intellectuals of this country need to come together to help in creating a society that allows for its children to be educated.

In a democratic society, ordinary folks are the government and we need to help change this, if South Africa is ever to be a better place for all who live in it.

• Thobani Ngqulunga is a reporter at The Witness.

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