Culture of last minute acts add to body count

2012-01-14 09:19

The tragedy that befell Gloria Sekwena’s family after she died in a stampede at the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road campus this week is as much an indictment of the education system as it is of some personal attitudes we continue to harbour as a nation.

It is a tribute to the spirit of parenting that a mother would die trying to procure education for her son. It is admirable and exemplary that she travelled thousands of kilometres to help her son find a place at an institution of higher learning.

But it is the kind of heroism that should never have been necessary. Clearly, there is something to be said about the limited opportunities for ­further education in South Africa.

Questions have to be asked as to why only the Bunting Road campus of UJ was seen by prospective students as having the capacity to deal with potential students.

Answers to this question are more urgent now given that some colleges are lying idle or have been turned into dens of iniquity as students display a continued antipathy to Further Education and Training.

We would be fooling ourselves if we ignored the South African culture of waiting for the last possible minute when we have more than adequate time to respond to public interest issues.

Schools, teachers and parents should encourage students to apply for places in time; they can even offer comprehensive career guidance to help learners choose their vocations, but ultimately learners themselves must apply for admission.

We recognise that some learners found that their marks were better than they had anticipated after the release of the matric results.

This made them realise belatedly that they had a chance of being accepted at a tertiary institution and thus they took advantage of UJ’s comparatively lenient admissions policy. Still, there are many other laggards who deferred their responsibility in applying for places timeously.

This is the culture that caused the Ellis Park Stadium stampede in April 2001 in which 43 people were killed.

It is a culture that persists despite the many unfortunate, and sometimes fatal, consequences.

We see it each year on the last day of every tax return season; we saw it with the change in gun licencing laws and we see it yearly on the first day of the school year, when parents flood to schools as if the realisation that their children need education had only just dawned.

The tragedy that occurred at UJ can be addressed by banning walk-in registration.

But unless South Africans change the culture of waiting for the last possible minute to do what they need to do, we may simply be changing the location of another tragedy waiting in the wings.

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