Come study in my shebeen

By Drum Digital
10 November 2010

THIS is the last place any parent would want to see their beloved teenager: it’s dark, it smells of alcohol, patrons squeeze every last drop out of their ingudu and over the front door is a sign that reads: “Strictly no persons under the age of 18.”

But for the past six months Mpumie’s Place, a shebeen in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, has become a haven for a group of diligent teenagers. Their makeshift classroom is a table in the corner of the shebeen and instead of being strewn with whisky tumblers and heaped ashtrays, it’s covered with textbooks and mini-laptop computers. That’s because these hardworking high school kids are here to quench their thirst – not for alcohol, but for knowledge. And their long nights spent in the watering hole have seen them produce some of the best results of their school careers.

When DRUM arrives at Mpumie’s on a Monday night, dozens of patrons are propping up the bar as they gulp down litre after litre of beer. But no sooner do the teenagers begin to arrive after 9pm than the regulars start to trickle out.

“Eish, there goes our drinking,” says one patron, clearly aware of the fact that he’s expected to leave the shebeen to make way for the Grade 11 learners who waste no time getting down to work.

“No! It’s not negative, it’s positive. It must be,” one of the kids says as he and his fellow learners enter a heated discussion about a chemistry problem. Eventually the local chemistry boffin slowly explains the correct solution to everyone and they all nod.

“It’s great here because we can learn from each other in a quiet place,” says Khanyisile Vabaza (17), a Grade 11 learner at Luhlaza High School in Khayelitsha. She says because the schools are closed at night so they battle to find somewhere to work.

“Many of us don’t have electricity at home, nor do we have the space to work there,” she explains. “It’s also safer for us here in the shebeen. We searched hard for a place where we could all get together and study. We have big dreams, and dreams demand hard work.”

IT all started in June this year when the kids approached owner Mpumie Nxazonke and asked if they could use her shebeen to study.

“It was a difficult decision for me,” Mpumie says in her stylishly decorated establishment. “I mean, this is a shebeen – and they’re just teenagers. I was sceptical at first but then they won me over and I obliged.”

Since then the learners have been coming here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening. They normally start at 10 pm and study until midnight, but when they have urgent deadlines or important tests they sometimes work until 3 am.

Read the full article in DRUM of 18 November 2010

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