Mandela's Children, Angie's Orphans.

2012-10-24 07:37

This is a family affair infused with 18 years of familial niceties and blunders. The ties run deep, yet these very same ties have been gradually severed over the years. The family is in tumult and the ties seem difficult to mend.

Education in South Africa is a familial affair in 2012 as Mandela’s Children (born in 1994, those annoyingly called ‘born frees’) are set to write their National Senior Certificate exams. The archetypal figure of the family is resting in the far away land of Qunu.  Aunty Angie is in charge of educating the household and these particular kids this year, and she hasn’t had much success.

Most family members (us), watch the spectacle unfolds.

Capturing the Sentiment

2012 is symbolic for obvious reasons - the coming of age of our democracy coincides with the end of 12-year schooling for Mandela’s children. This provides us with the unique opportunity to ask interesting questions about the state, value and prospects of public education in post-94 South Africa.

It is hard not to see these National Senior Certificate Exams in the silhouette of the grand promise of 1994 South Africa. The buzz of a new South Africa brought about grand plans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme placed education at the center of the creation of a new society. Spirits were lifted, and hope was imbued.

Finally, 40 years of Apartheid education would be dismantled and somehow the kids of 1994 ought to be the heirs to this glorious legacy.

Or not?

The Unheard Voices

With no intention to sound like Captain Obvious, 2012 has been a tough year for South African education. The challenges (we know of) range from the non-delivery of books in Limpopo to the political instability and interference of schools in the Northern Cape. One wonders how these learners feel about writing their exams in light of the many challenges they’ve faced and those that continue to persist.

What is irking about the discourse around the South African education challenge, is that we occasionally alienate the voices that matter - the learners.

They are the ones affected; they bear the brunt of the chaos that has gained a sense of normalcy in our society.

Hearing these voices is particularly important for numerous reasons. When these voices are heard, it sends a clear message to all of us that our lethargy entrenches the disorder they have to live with.

For sobering reasons, hearing these voices reminds us that sometimes we need to speak less and listen more, listen more to those facing the heat of it all.

When we hear these voices, we don’t simply theorize around their apparent problems and come up with smart solutions , but we realize that these voices represent something far greater than we can articulate.

They too have something to say about this malaise.

The path ahead

Social media has been buzzing with well wishes and tips to the Class of 2012,  the goodwill of many South Africans has indeed been encouraging. Amongst the voices I have come to appreciate are those of peeps younger than me. Having worked with a few of them in a valuable entrepreneurship programme called SAGE ( , one of them, Lesego recently asked me about his prospects after matric.

I was unable to answer, not because I couldn’t mention a few options but because this question helped revealed a stark reality - we have failed to create the favorable prospects that both Lesego and I can be proud of.

These prospects, like Lesego’s voice are lost in the woodwork of South Africa’s body-politic.

Some of these unheard voices will pass matric, some will gain admission to university and a sizeable number will wander in South Africa’s desolate fields of waste  - unemployment and hopelessness.

Perhaps their birth is no coincidence at all; the grand dreams of 94 remain beyond our reach. We have betrayed them.

All the best to the class of 2012; with the very little we have given you much will eventually flow from your dreams.

We should’ve listened to your voices more, maybe Aunty Angie would listen too. We should’ve stepped in when our parents were burning down your schools and interfering with your schooling. We should’ve said more, shouted more and more importantly, done more.

We apologize for orphaning you.  Aunty Angie is not the only one to blame, we are too.

 Follow me on Twitter: @SbuTshabs


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