School rekindles dashed dreams

2011-06-25 12:51

Only one of Nonezile Mdaka’s seven children was lucky enough to get a high-school education. Mvezo, where Mdaka (40) lives with her children does not have a high school of its own.

Instead, when children pass their primary education, they have to be sent away to boarding school in Mthatha or other neighbouring towns approximately 100km away.

But in an area crippled by unemployment and poverty, a high school education is an expense many families can’t afford, leading to children dropping out of school in grade 7.

This has been the tragic tale of Mvezo and its surrounding villages for generations.Even former president Nelson Mandela, who was born here and raised in neighbouring Qunu, was sent away to Healdtown – a boarding school in faraway Fort Beaufort – where he matriculated in the 1930s.

This state of affairs has led to a seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty and the disintegration of family life.

It leaves those without a high school education with the unenviable choice of being forced to seek employment as labourers in cities, or to live out their lives as poor subsistence farmers in the villages.

Mvezo lies in an area of great hills that tumble down rugged gorges and ravines, dotted by colourfully painted earthen rondavels that cling precariously to the hilltops looking like they would be blown away during a fierce storm.

Dusty roads meander through the villages in twisting, gentle and sharp curves so that from a distance they look like works of art deliberately added to beautify the landscape.

Kwenkwezi Senior Primary School lies on the edges of a valley at the bottom end of one of these meandering roads.

It is here – where in 1995 villagers built a rondavel that served as a school for the local children – that Mvezo’s first high school is expected to be built soon.

The Mandela School of Science and Technology – a partnership between Siemens, the Mvezo Development Trust and government – will cater for 700 students.

Professor Siegfried Russwurm, of Siemens, says that the school will be designed according to principles of sustainability, and it will incorporate state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly solutions such as water-purification systems, and will also be powered by solar energy.

“The learners in the school will be exposed to this cutting-edge technology and will hopefully get excited about technological solutions and the fascinating world of engineering.

“South Africa and the rest of Africa needs engineers to find answers to the continent’s infrastructure challenges and to create jobs,” says Russwurm.

To villagers like Mdaka, news of the school has brought excitement and renewed hope that some of her young children, who are still in primary school, will not suffer the same fate that dashed the dreams of many others before them.

“Not many people here have a high school education. But this school is going to raise the standard of living here because if people are educated, they can get better jobs. It’s hard sending children to school if you are poor,” she says.

Noncedo Mgidlane (32) said her son, who is in grade 7, was full of smiles when he learned about the upcoming school.“It is very sad here. When children reach grade 7 they lose hope. Many of them are just sitting at home with no jobs.

But this school makes me happy. Even my son could not stop talking about it,” says Mgidlane. Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the chief of Mvezo, says the school’s presence will help address many of the social challenges faced by the community.

“Because students are forced to leave home from grade 7 to attend high school, the lack of parental supervision exposes them to many dangers such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and HIV.

Alternatively, they drop out of school in grade 7.“The presence of a high school based in Mvezo will allow our children to complete their matric, giving them the opportunity for a tertiary education and a rewarding career,” says Nkosi Zwelivelile.

His great-grandfather Henry Gadla Mandela was deposed as chief of the area after defying a magistrate’s order to attend a court hearing. The family was forcibly removed to Qunu where Zwelivelile’s grandfather, Nelson Mandela, grew up.

But in 2003, the Mandela clan reclaimed the chieftainship of Mvezo with Zwelivelile appointed chief in 2007. His father, the late Makgatho, was Madiba’s second son.

His offices in Mvezo Komkhulu are perched on a hill overlooking a great gorge where the Igwatyu River runs through on its journey to join the Mbashe River.

Despite its beauty, Mvezo, like many rural villages in the country, still faces serious challenges such as a lack of running water, proper roads and other basic services.

“At the moment, Mvezo is isolated. We do not have access to a clean water supply, healthcare facilities or sanitation. “However, as my grandfather always says: ‘With education you can save the world.’

We are hoping that, through education, the youth of Mvezo will connect with the global community and equip themselves to address the challenges we are facing,” says Nkosi Zwelivelile.

At a sod-turning ceremony to mark the official launch of the project, Nkosi Zwelivelile told an enthusiastic crowd of villagers about his grandfather’s passion for education and how he forced his children and grandchildren to educate themselves.

“My grandfather was full of smiles when we told him Mvezo will finally have a high school.”


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