Acts of sabotage

2008-10-23 00:00

Sometimes our noble efforts as the government of South Africa are frustrated by the very people we are supposed to serve. The citizenry can sometimes be involved in acts that are an affront to our development projects.

Perhaps, let me start by being positive. South Africans have, in the recent past, displayed a laudable measure of maturity, optimism and faith in their own democracy. When, in the recent past, it seemed as though the centre was not holding, South Africans took all that was happening in the government and the ruling party as common challenges in any thriving democracy.

They went about doing their everyday stuff — washing their cars, taking their little ones to kindergarten, loving their wives and kissing their boyfriends. They even found various rib-cracking jokes about what was happening in the country as a result of the recalling of former president Thabo Mbeki. We are indeed a very thick-skinned and resilient people. Perhaps the protracted years of human suffering and struggle for human emancipation has a lot to do with it.

It is disconcerting, however, to note that the very same people who are renowned the world over for being people of hope can be the same people who contribute profusely to many of their country’s devastating maladies.

Political columnist Justice Malala made an interesting observation as he watched the premiere of the award-winning film Tsotsi. He said that many people in the cinema found something to laugh about in the violent scenes that would have brought “normal” people to tears. He then concluded that maybe as a nation it is not that we don’t know when and when not to laugh, it may be that we are so hardened that we have forgotten how to cry. We are hardly outraged by anything. Perhaps again, the protracted and painful struggle against human oppression has a lot to do with it.

As a nation we are so used to pain, violence, suffering and sometimes lawlessness that we are not moved, sometimes even by blood gushing out of the squirming body of a compatriot. We are not moved by lawlessness, poverty, the calamity of HIV/Aids and, not surprisingly, sometimes we are not even moved by death. We even share jokes about it — or is it our strange way of coping with the realities of our times?

Two recent newspaper articles better encapsulated the role of the citizenry in helping the government govern and the role citizens play in making it difficult for the government to govern and deliver services as per its contract with the people.

I was first moved by the story of Mlungisi Wosiyana, who single- handedly made a positive contribution by alleviating the crisis that almost saw Zibukezulu High School closing down at the beginning of the year. As an employee of the Department of Education, on many occasions I visited the school at Section 2 in Imbali township. I witnessed how children’s rights to quality and accessible education can be sabotaged by the very communities who are first to point fingers at the government if something goes wrong. Vandalism and a general culture of recalcitrance nearly cost the Imbali community the school that was once a beacon of hope and a progressive institution.

Then along comes Wosiyana who provided us with an illustration that things can go terribly wrong when good men do nothing. Worse still, things tend to get worse when many bad men do something and a few good men do nothing. It is encouraging therefore to note that by the deeds of one Wosiyana, Zibukezulu High School is regaining its former glory — results are now improving and pupils recently won a prize at an inter-provincial maths olympiad.

A day after reading the positive and inspiring story of Zibukezulu High School, I was outraged by the reports of Siphosethu Primary School in Ntuzuma township. A man broke into a classroom and stole 16 desks so that he could make a makeshift shack for himself.

The school governing body chairperson, Nomathemba Zungu, reported that a few weeks before the desks were stolen, seven computers were stolen and had not been found. Well, the computers did not evaporate into thin air. The community knows about them and it is no big deal. It won’t be surprising if the Department of Education becomes the whipping boy of the very community that allows this kind of lawlessness to thrive.

There are many examples of the role communities play in making the work of the government difficult and of the Department of Education in particular, even more intricate. The stories of school vandalism, theft, violence, selling of drugs to pupils and other anomalies, are told with a bizarre sense of normality. Examples abound where acts by the citizenry can best be described as sabotage of the state. Are we saying that the department has not achieved all it set out to achieve because of these reasons? Absolutely not. However, the shenanigans stated go an incredibly long way in frustrating our efforts and negating the many gains we have made.

Recently, the Department of Education held a school safety summit with the intention of finding ways to deal with violence in schools. After many deliberations, it be-came clear that since schools are a microcosm of the societies in which they are located, there is no way the department can deal with violence and lawlessness in schools if this is not dealt with at the level of communities. Once again, communities have a huge role to play.

Instead of looking for sound bites and catchy newspaper headlines, the media can play a meaningful role in educating and helping our society re-establish a culture of ubuntu, of neighbourliness and responsible citizenship.

To borrow from Evita Bezuidenhout, we need to be reminded that education and the future of our republic are about our little ones —their dreams and their hopes:

“One child inspired, one child educated and one child saved could save the whole world.” We need to be reminded still that we did not inherit this country from our forefathers, rather we borrowed it from our children.

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