The story of an ‘education refugee’

2012-03-31 16:22

Softly spoken and confident, with a ready smile and hopes of studying computer science or civil engineering at university next year, Lwando Buwa (19) is one of Cape Town’s fortunate township matrics.

Buwa’s excellent marks in mathematics earned him a place at the Centre of Science and Technology (Cosat).

Cosat is an award-winning school in Khayelitsha that hand-picks promising pupils and offers intensive teaching in maths, science and technology – all with a view to shepherding them towards tertiary education.

Buwa is not only a top student, he is what Western Cape Premier Helen Zille might call an “education refugee”.

Zille infuriated many when she suggested that pupils moving from the Eastern Cape to the province she runs were “educational refugees” in search of better schooling opportunities.

Her use of the word “refugees” angered many, who argued that it turned South African citizens into outsiders in their own country. Buwa, though, is pragmatic.

“If I stayed in the Eastern Cape, I would not have ended up here, that’s for sure,” he says pensively, looking around at the well-stocked shelves of the school’s library.

Born in Centane in the rural Eastern Cape near Butterworth, he arrived in Khayelitsha in 2005.
His school career, until then, had been patchy at best. He dropped out repeatedly and often skipped school with his friends to avoid tackling the long, tiring journey to class.

“In Centane it was hard to go to school because the school was so far away and I couldn’t get up early enough,” he recalls.

“I went for Grades 1, 2 and 3, but then I started losing interest. The walk was long and tiring. So in Grade 5 I stopped.

“I changed to another school that was nearer to my village, but this school was still far away and you had to cross a river to get there. In September, when the rains started, I stopped going. The other guys I went to school with stopped, and so did I.”

He relocated to Ikwezi Park in Khayelitsha, joining his mother, who had moved to Cape Town to work.

“In Cape Town, I don’t know what happened, but I started liking school very much. From 2005 I had no absent days and no late days.”

Buwa knows about the “refugee” spat, but isn’t sure what all the fuss is about.

“I think it’s good to go to a place where you can get more knowledge about life, and where you can get more education than before.”

Not having command of English was his biggest problem when he first arrived in Cape Town because “in Centane, they were not teaching us in English”.

“We would read an English story, but then they would explain the story to us in Xhosa. They were not preparing us for university. Here they teach us in English.”

He visits family in Centane each year and has kept track of his peers in the area.

“Most people my age are not in school. They drop out at around Grade 8. If you go to school alone and you see your peers not going, it would be hard for you to go. By going to school you might be making yourself look better than them, so then you drop out too.”

According to education department statistics, school enrolments in the Western Cape rose by 17 900 this year.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Paddy Attwell said registration figures suggested that migration from the Eastern Cape had “contributed significantly” to the rise in the province’s school-going population.

“Learners from the Eastern Cape account for about 44% of the learners who registered for the first time for Grades 1 to 12 in 2012 on our Central Education Management Information System.

“They represent 77.9% of the learners who registered for the first time from other provinces, followed by Gauteng (with 5.3%) and the Northern Cape (with 2.7%).”

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