Reaping the whirlwind

2019-06-19 06:00

GANGSTERISM in our schools challenges us to return to the purpose of education — to prepare young people for life as responsible, critical-thinking and confident citizens.

The purpose of education goes far beyond the matric certificate to the heart of the task of enabling every child to develop to their full potential. Societies that fail in this noble task reap the whirlwind we are reaping right now.

Gangsterism is a global phenomenon. Research indicates that gangs proliferate when there is widespread corruption and a sense of unfairness and powerlessness among people. If the police do not protect people, the courts do not punish wrongdoers, people feel unsafe, cheated, and hopeless, they may band together and use violence for protection, security and respect. The epidemic of violence across our country, including in our schools, reflects the sense of unfairness and powerlessness of many.

The sad commentary by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi in response to the latest crisis of gangsterism and violence in our schools: “We would like to issue matric certificates, not death certificates,” should make us pause as a nation. Is it possible or desirable for us to graduate young people from our school system without paying attention to their development into responsible and self-confident citizens?

Violence has become a way of life because we have not invested enough energy into creating dignified human settlements for the majority of citizens.

A culture of impunity, the abuse of power and state resources, corruption and a lack of accountability in our public and private sectors have become the norm. In addition, grinding poverty, unemployment and the humiliation of inequalities experienced by the majority of citizens, lie at the heart of the horrific violence in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities.

The loss of our moral and ethical centre over decades, pre- and post-apartheid, is robbing children of the love and support they need to develop their self-worth, confidence and identity. In addition, 65% of children in SA grow up without a biological father, either because he is unknown or is physically or emotionally absent. How do we expect young men to develop a healthy sense of what it means to be a man, without emotional ties to a positive role model who loves them and whom they can trust?

We have to acknowledge that we have neglected the impact of our legacy of inequities on our children, including the destruction of African family life through the migrant labour system.

We also have to acknowledge that our failure to heal the wounds of that legacy has left the poorest families to fend for themselves without the psycho-social support they need to reclaim their dignity.

The crisis of violence is a wake-up call for us to address the root causes. Those implicated in corruption and state capture need to be seen as being held to account. This would help re-establish the legitimacy of our law-enforcement and judiciary systems in the eyes of ordinary people.

Fairness and equality of all before the law needs to be seen to be the reality at all levels of society.

Vulnerable communities also need to be supported by systematic investment into the physical and social infrastructure to create more dignified human settlements.

Why not gather unemployed young people in such communities and train them with the help of SANDF to become self-respecting, disciplined and skilled artisans to be the backbone of the maintenance of public goods? Sustainable employment would restore their self-confidence and give meaning to their lives away from violence.

More visible policing, and zero tolerance for the abuse of power and negligence by the police, are critical to rebuild the image of the police as trustworthy public servants. Many in the police service need to be retrained to understand the tenets of human rights policing. This would restore public trust in our institutions.

We also need to start now to utilise the Life Orientation (LO) space in our school curriculum to start conversations about problems that children have to deal with without adult help.

The Leap School system uses LO successfully to help children transcend the limitations of their home circumstances.

Identity issues are at the core of what makes for the success or failure of each of us. Children need help to explore what it means to be a man or a woman. And how to always respect others.

We need to revamp the teaching of African history so our children can learn about their ancestors’ contribution to world civilisation and become proud citizens of this ancient continent. This would help children answer the tough question they dare not even raise: What is the place of my culture in a world dominated by material possessions to determine the importance of individuals in a highly unequal society?

Why don’t we train unemployed graduates to become “big brother, big sister” teams to be deployed in vulnerable schools and communities for two years at a time?

This would serve several purposes. First, the team members would support teachers to conduct LO classes. Second, the team members would gain insights from the training and engagements with the pupils, which would help them with their own development. This would also help them be more prepared for the world of work. Finally, the team members would earn an income.

We need to stop wasting the talent residing in our youth by taking steps to transform the socioeconomic structures of society that perpetuate the wounds of division.

Children who are loved, affirmed and supported to develop their talents, are unlikely to be involved in violent criminal behaviour. It is up to us as a society to turn the situation around.

• Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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