Newsmaker – ‘I can’t solve this on my own’

2011-09-10 15:41

When a dejected primary school principal told Simphiwe Dana about a learner who had not eaten in two days, she was moved beyond words.

The award winning Afro-pop artist was touring schools in far flung rural areas of our country in an attempt to explore the state of public schools.

“This learner who had not eaten for two days stays with his grandmother who doesn’t work. The school does not have a feeding scheme and this child is expected to learn on an empty stomach,” Dana says as we sit in a cosy cafe in Cape Town.

Dana (30) speaks with the deep concern of a parent and possesses a sharp intellect that makes one wonder if she isn’t perhaps cut out for the world of academia.

The singer and composer embarked on what she has termed the Black Culture Education Tour, which took her to 26 schools in far flung rural areas and townships across five provinces in March.
And as a result, she is now on a mission to get South Africans of all hues to contribute to quality and equality in the education system.

She calls it the Black Stokvel Education Project. Recently she organised two meetings, one in Johannesburg and another in Cape Town, to lay the groundwork and get further input.

The meetings attracted interest from prominent citizens such as radio DJ Penny Lebyane, SABC journalist Siki Mgabadeli, businessman Bobby Godsell and educationist Mary Metcalfe, and featured prominently on Twitter and Facebook.

She is hoping that the next meeting will formalise the project and set the ball rolling on what she believes is a long overdue intervention by the public.

Dana says she is not at all motivated by monetary gain or scoring points on the popularity front.
“I believe that the universe works in a certain way, in that when you do things the right way then other opportunities will open up elsewhere,” she says.

She also plays down suggestions that the project puts her in the same league as musicians Bono (the U2 singer) and Bob Geldof, who were involved in humanitarian projects to raise money for victims of famine across the globe.

“I’m just small fry. But I believe it is better to be known for being a humanitarian than be known for dressing well.

“This is the biggest crisis we are facing in our country, even government is not able to solve this alone. I can’t solve this on my own either, it’s over whelming.”

She acknowledges that the project will eventually interfere with her role as a performer and recording artist, but she’s looking at ways to marry the two.

I feel like I’m picking the brain of a philosopher who lives for thinking and reasoning. Perhaps this comes from her love affair with books. She reads anything: African literature, anthropology, science fiction, children’s books– whatever she can lay her hands on.

It’s a far cry from the image of musicians simply being about song, dance and partying.

“If you look at the legacy of Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and mama Miriam Makeba you will realise they were not just about music and partying. They were social activists and intellectuals.” she says.

Dana grew up in rural Transkei in the Eastern Cape, where she remembers that poverty levels were the same everywhere. “Everyone walked barefoot and we all got our water from the river. To me the whole world was like that,” she says.

She matriculated in Mthatha in 1997 and studied graphic design and IT in Joburg, but music ­triumphed.

“Without education we cannot deal with the challenges we are facing. We can solve all problems with education, from Aids to child-headed homes.

“Illiteracy is a big problem. Even if we have resources, if we don’t tackle illiteracy then all these challenges will remain,” she says.

She believes that adopting a policy of teaching children in their mother tongue would be a great step towards improving the standard of education in the country.

“Teachers cannot express themselves properly in English, yet they are expected to teach children subjects like science in the very language they struggle with.

Art, she says, can be used to promote indigenous languages and dispel the myth that they are inferior to European languages.

“People perceive me as a cool lady ­because I sing in Xhosa. HHP sings in his own language (Setswana) and he is cool. We are making our languages cool,” she says.

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