Newsmaker: Matrics in safekeeping

2012-09-15 15:27

The Northern Cape’s education department has resorted to smuggling matriculants out of their villages in the dead of night so they can study and have a chance at passing

It’s like something out of a spy movie: a group of teenagers taken from their homes under the cover of darkness, moved to a central safe house and then smuggled out of their village.

At their final destination, the teenagers are protected by armed police officers.

But this is real life for a group of matriculants from the Northern Cape’s Kuruman district – and they say it’s the best thing that could have happened to them.

Susan* is one of the girls who has spent the past month and a bit at a special training camp for matriculants in Barkly West.

“Getting here was not easy, but we were determined to come,” Susan tells City Press.

Her school in the Kuruman district has been closed for more than three months, a casualty of the battle between residents and politicians in the area.

Residents want tarred roads and accuse politicians in the area of not delivering what’s expected.

Scores of schools in the John Taolo Gaetsewe district – the second-largest region in Northern Cape – are still closed.

Dressed neatly in her school uniform, Susan talks about being smuggled from her village to attend the camp.

When some protesting residents heard of the group’s plans to go to Barkly West, they tried to stop them.

That’s how the teenagers’ desire to learn became a cloak-and-dagger escapade.

The camp’s manager – all names are being withheld to protect the matriculants – said once the teens’ parents had given permission for them to attend, they were moved to a house in the village where they slept for one night.

They were then smuggled out in the early hours of the morning.

It’s been a tough time for Susan.

“My parents died so I am staying with my aunt and her kids.

“My aunt is working and earning R4 000 per month, so it is not easy feeding, clothing and schooling everyone,” she says.

She doesn’t giggle like the other girls when asked if she’s missing her boyfriend or has met someone special at the camp.

“Boyfriends are a waste of time. Ask me – I fell into that trap.”

She fell pregnant late in 2010 and gave birth three weeks before the June exams last year.

But when the exams started, she was back at school – and she passed.

Now, Susan has just one goal: to pass matric well enough to qualify for a bursary.

“My aunt is looking after my baby while I am here making sure I am prepared for the final examinations.”

She’s applied to the University of the Witwatersrand using her Grade 11 results.

“I used those results because we were not allowed to write the June examination.”

One day she wants to be an electrical engineer.

“Here in the camp we can socialise with other learners, we have a lot of time to study and we get three meals every day.

“Home is different. I have to look after the smaller kids, do my chores, like doing the washing, and I get constantly interrupted. It is not easy.”

Just more than 350 matriculants from eight schools in the John Taolo Gaetsewe region are attending the camp.

The camp manager, an official from the Northern Cape department of education, said the department had realised towards the end of July that the situation was worsening.

It came up with the idea of the camp to help pupils catch up.

There are 26 teachers working with the pupils, and the camp was designed to get pupils up to speed with their preparatory exams, which they are now writing.

Once these exams are done, the pupils will move on to another camp, which the department is calling a
spring school.

Some parents, eager to help their children pass, are volunteering as supervisors at the camp and police are permanently on patrol after protesters threatened to burn it down.

Meanwhile, in the Kuruman region, the situation remains tense.

The home of one of the pupils at the camp was petrol bombed on Tuesday night.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was supposed to visit the area this week. She had not done so at the time of going to press.

*Not her real name

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