We’ve come a long way

2019-04-09 14:33

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After some years of frightening near-death experiences because of the political violence that was rife in the township of KwaMashu in 1986, my parents decided to take me to Dargle in the Natal Midlands.

I did not understand why my parents would move me from the township to a rural area, but they explained to me that they were doing it so that I could get an education without experiencing disruptions as the volatile situation in KwaMashu meant that our education was always being disrupted.

In Dargle, my grandfather Malumbo Mlotshwa was a foreman at Mr Kohly’s humongous farm Avenol, which had a large number of cattle.

In 1986, at 11 years old doing what was called Standard Five at the time, I found myself having to travel about 18 kilometres every day to and from school, which was torture for an 11-year-boy from the streets of KwaMashu.

This gruelling daily expedition was because of the long distance from “our” farm to Dargle Farm School, which was the only school in the area. Getting a lift would depend on the mood of the farmers or the drivers of their trucks — when they were feeling generous, they would give us a lift in their vans or on their trucks, where we would share the back with cows, sheep and all manner of vegetables.

I share this insignificant history of mine to show how far we have come as a society in improving the lives of the people, especially when it pertains to education.

We often hear lobby groups like Equal Education and Section 27 waxing lyrical and making political statements about how dismal this government is when it comes to the provision of pupil transport and social justice in general.

Some of us know exactly how it feels to be an 11-year-old, leaving the house at 5 am to travel about 10 kilometres in search of education. We know the difficulty of starting the first lesson with your body numb and your tiny feet enflamed because of fatigue from the daily long walk to school. For us it is not an issue to be made into a political football — it is an emotional issue.

I must add that in 1986, as in all the years before 1994, there was a government, but there was no pupil transport programme for black children like myself. This is because the children of those who voted for the government of the time were attending beautiful whites-only schools in places like Howick, Nottingham Road and Pietermaritzburg.

Many white children from Dargle were attending school in those areas and were being transported to and from school by their parents in their nice comfortable cars.

I did not mention that Dargle Farm School had only three classrooms, which meant that weather permitting, sometimes we were taught under a tree.

It is important to mention that when the democratic government took over, it did not stop the pupil transport programme — the programme was non-existent. The democratic government did not take over and demolish the good infrastructure in schools designed for black people — the school infrastructure was not in good shape.

Therefore we can’t help but think twice when organisations like Equal Education want us to believe that this democratic government is doing nothing to improve education for everyone.

We would be lying and driven only by political motives if we said this government does not have weaknesses and challenges when it comes to education, but we would be ungrateful if we did not acknowledge that this government has covered a lot of ground to improve education and take care of many things that affect the provision of quality education, like pupil transport.

Our ungratefulness would be akin to that of the children of Israel yearning for the onions of Egypt while on their way to the promised land.

I say this first as someone who knows how it feels to get an education under difficult circumstances.

I also say this as an employee of the Department of Education who knows what the department is doing within the current economic climate to improve education for all racial groups.

As we speak, 55 000 pupils are beneficiaries of a pupil transport programme. Even though a further 42 000 pupils are in need of pupil transport in KwaZulu-Natal, the current provision to 55 000 pupils is indicative of the political will to deal with the issue of pupil transport. Even when it comes to the most talked about issue of school infrastructure, which is unfortunately also made a political football, this government has done a lot.

The fact that over five years, 43 new schools have been built, is no mean feat. This means that learning under a tree, as was the case with me in 1986, is a thing of the past.

Even though we do not need to treat this government with kid gloves; even though we need to exert pressure on this government to move with speed in the realisation of an ideal system of education, we need to tell the truth that a lot of ground has been covered.

The promised land is much better than the proverbial Egypt where we come from.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is the KZN Department of Education spokesperson.
Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  scholar transport
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