FEEL GOOD | A lesson in perseverance as Manenberg night school helps dropouts matriculate

2020-02-24 06:11

Crammed into a container classroom, nearly 100 pupils listen intently to their teacher as he presents his English lesson.

The hands making notes in their notebooks are more weathered than those of the children who occupy the school desks during the day. At 18:30, most of the pupils who enter the classroom are probably older than their 25-year-old English teacher Cohen Charles.

The new Hopeful Leaders Night School in Manenberg, Cape Town has given high school dropouts the opportunity to obtain their senior certificates for as little as R1 a lesson.

Classes take place at the local Leadership College, which allows the night school to use its facilities for free.

There is no charge to attend. A mug is placed at the front of the classroom where participants can give a donation to go towards the teachers who volunteer their time.

Founder Yumna Alexander, 33, is a single mother of two who knows the difficulties of life without that "priceless" certificate.

She dropped out of school in 2002 when she fell pregnant with her son. Limited in her job prospects, it was while she was selling SIM cards for commission in a chain store in 2012 that she decided to "make things happen".

Founder Yumna Alexander with the mug in which part

Hopeful Leaders Night School founder Yumna Alexander with the mug in which participants can drop as little as R1 per lesson. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

As she worked by day and studied at night, her study buddy was her 49-year-old mother, who had decided to give herself a 50th birthday gift by completing her education.

Finishing matric while juggling motherhood and working without a basic income was the toughest time of her life, but the reward was worth it, Alexander said.

Today, she is one year away from completing her bachelor's degree in education.

"That certificate I worked so hard for was a passport out of the cul-de-sac I found myself in," she said.

Now she wants to help issue that passport to others.

Alexander, who gives free information and communications technology courses at the local library, said it was while offering the course that she discovered how many residents were desperate to complete their schooling later in life after realising the importance of their senior certificates.

Some of the pupils sitting in the packed classroom were born as far back as the 1960s, she said, although most participants were under the age of 30 with full-time jobs.

The younger pupils all have children but many are unable to help them with their homework because they don't have the knowledge to assist, Alexander pointed out.

"It's also about leading by example. How do you respond when your child tells you can't force them to go to school but you don't even have Grade 9?"

Most of the pupils registered at the night school are mothers. Of the 258, only 30 are men.

Among the more mature scholars is Colleen Charles, 51, who failed her final exams more than three decades ago.

She is unemployed after she was retrenched from her position as a secretary at a Cape Town law firm.

"I am here because I want to make myself more employable. It's difficult finding a job without matric," Charles said.

Teacher Cohen Charles during his English lesson. (

Teacher Cohen Charles gives his English lesson. (Tammy Petersen, News24)


She fell pregnant in her final school year. Charles nevertheless wrote her exams, but failed business economics and accountancy.

Determined to finally complete her secondary education, she hoped that after obtaining her certificate, she could study to fulfil her dream of becoming a paralegal.

"My son is 32 now and is so proud of his mommy for doing this. He finished his matric, so that is what motivated me," she said.

Most of the participants dropped out of school owing to teenage pregnancy, Alexander said.

"But it's beautiful seeing these mothers playing the leading role in showing the importance of education and giving their children someone to look up to," she said.

For most, the prospect of a better job is their motivation.

"A large number of them are working in factories because they don't have their certificate. Others are employed but can't get a promotion because it requires that one piece of paper."

Alexander gives motivational talks to teenage girls at schools in Manenberg where she speaks about the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy and realising your self-worth.

"It's about providing guidance. We can only help the next one if we have the knowledge, the experience and the education to do so," she said.

The night school marks Tasneem de Lange's third attempt at completing her matric.

The 36-year-old mother of two tried to do it on her own twice, but achieved unsatisfactory results.

"But here, with these teachers, I think I am going to get that distinction I am longing for," she said.

She was in Grade 9 when she dropped out at the age of 14 because of rebelliousness, peer pressure and bad influences, she said.

Pupils Colleen Charles and Tasneem de Lange. (Tamm

Pupils Colleen Charles and Tasneem de Lange. (Tammy Petersen, News24)


After years of working in the field of early childhood development, in a clothing factory and as a child minder, De Lange said she wanted more.

"My nine-year-old child, every day after class, tells me: 'Mommy, when you get your matric, you are going to get a nice job and we are going to stay in a big house'. He has dreams for us, and that is what motivates me."

Until then, she lives in a council unit in Inga Court, which is in the centre of gang violence.

"But I am not going to let [the shooting] stop me. I am doing this," she insisted.

One of the highlights of their education journey is expected to take place in July, when Hopeful Leaders Night School hosts its first matric ball.

"None of us, including me, attended their ball. And we deserve it," Alexander said.

The night school offers a variety of subjects, including maths literacy and languages.

Read more on:    cape town  |  education  |  feel good
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