Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Education Crisis is a Disgrace to the Nation

A Young Ayanda Kota
The Education Crisis is a Disgrace to the Nation

The ANC‘s hatred for poor black people can never be forgiven
As I set my foot in the prison cell I am confronted by two men in their late thirties and five young boys who seem to be between seven and thirteen years old. I reach up to them in horror and assure them of their safety as long as I am around. They immediately tell me that they are being sodomised by the two men. I ask them why are they are in prison and not at school. They tell me that they dropped out because their parents are unemployed and broken, that the school is short of teachers and those that are employed there spend most of their time outside classroom. They tell me that they were arrested for burglary, caught eating inside a house. I wake up crying. Yes this was a dream. A nightmare that is all too real in this country where the lives of people who are poor and black count for nothing – this country where strikers are massacred by the police, people die trying to find work, people die in shack fires year after year, lesbians are raped, beaten and murdered and activists are chased from their homes by the thugs of the ruling party. And millions of children are denied a decent education and condemned to lives of unemployment or occasional bits of degrading, exhausting and always precarious work.

As I woke up I felt pain in my heart as if something was piercing through it and penetrating through my soul. From my eyelids I wiped a tear. There was such a strong feeling of pity – pity and fear and shame.  If we turn these feeling inwards we give up hope and fall prey to depression. We have to turn these feelings outwards and channel our anger into challenging injustice.

Our country is grieving. Each child who has been slaughtered belongs to each of us and each slain adult is a member of our family. It is impossible to explain the horror to ourselves and to our survivors. We need to hold each other's hands and look into each other's eyes and say, “I am sorry."
- Maya Angelou

In 1953 the apartheid government introduced the Bantu Education Act. This act was meant to perpetuate the reduction of every black person’s life to being nothing more than a kind of a slave to white people. This act was a corner stone of the evil of apartheid. If there is one thing that we all thought a democratic would do it would be to ensure that every child in this country had a decent education.

 In those days, against all odds, we had some really committed teachers. To them teaching was not a career but a call. They had a passion for a future of black children. They were deeply respected in our communities. At NV Cewu we had Ms Ngqingili , Ms Magqabi and other teachers. The school commencement time was 07:50, but we would always be there at 07:00 for two reasons:

         Some of our parents had to be at work as early as 07:00. They made it a point that they left us in the loving and caring environment of our guardians. Before we started with our morning classes, they prayed for our parents, for the school and for the political leadership of the struggle for a democratic South Africa.

         They made it a point that every kid understood the school work. They taught us with such love and deep commitment.

Yes we defied the odds. As a result we produced accountants, mathematicians, lawyers and other people who could become professionals of the highest quality and standard.

Teaching was revered. We had utter respect for our teachers and they had deep loving umblical cord for their learners. The school belonged to the community.

The writing was on the wall that apartheid was soon going to be defeated.  That writing was not written on the wall by MK. It was written by the black woman that kept our families together and the black teachers that gave our children dignity and hope. The apartheid state condemned us to a life of inferior racist education and we emerged on the opposite side with our fists high ready to fight for our rightful place under the sun, committed to a fight of just society.  We produced Robert Mangaliso Sobukhwe, Steve Biko, Abraham Tiro, Muntu Myeza and countless heroes including those who are only remembered in their own families and communities. We watched Hendrick Verwoerd tossing and turning in agony in his grave. Yes he was defeated.

There was also a time that was marked with controversy caused by the ANC’s reckless slogan of ‘Liberation Now and Education Later’. This was met with convincing critical intellectual opposition by the Black Consciousness Movement that argued, on the contrary, for education for liberation. The ANC saw poor and working class people as cannon fodder to be exploited in their march to power. The Black Consciousness Movement thought that every black person was important.

When I joined the Azanian Students Movement the slogan was ‘Educate to Liberate’. Black Consciousness critical analysis forced its way through and through without any compromise. Black Consciousness was the intellectual home for renowned South African intellectuals like Gomolemo Mokae, Nkosi Molala, Strini Moodley, Aubrey Mokoape, Lybon Mabasa, Rubin Phillip, Itumeleng Mosala, Mandla Seleone and Muntu Myeza.

After the dawn of political independences in 1994 there was a national call that everyone must go back to school. The Government of National Unity committed itself to education. The nation had hope that from the ashes of apartheid, and the ANC’s exploitation of the people in its march to power, a new nation was to be born and that this could only happen through education. The government and the nation knew that trying to address the inequalities in education was going to play a critical role.

Now it’s eighteen years after political independence.  In 2010 I was teaching life skills at one local school in Grahamstown. Some grade 10 learners were struggling to write and read while one teacher was selling sweets in a grade 10 classroom. It was quite frustrating to watch a grade 10 learners struggling to write and read. At that level we could do both with ease in my day – which was under apartheid.

Recently I was with kids from my community. They are doing grade 1-3. Grade one kids could not write their own names while grade 3 kids could not write my name or other names.  My nephew who is doing grade 11 at Nombulelo High School has passed her grade 11. To my surprised she failed both Maths Literacy and Accounting. How come she passed? Under Bantu Education you could not fail both your main subjects and pass. The ruling party has made it so easy to pass to create the impression that things are improving. Now a child is said to have passed when they get 30%! This is all just smoke and mirrors. They are reducing the level at which children are examined instead of raising the standard of education. It is a disgrace.

My friend Dumisani Gqibela has a kid who is doing grade one.  Lerato is learning in the former model C Schools. Lerato can read fluently and write well. Pedro Tabensky is a Professor at Rhodes University. His son Noah can read and write well. Noah has not even started grade R but he can write my name and my friend’s name well. We still have a tow tier education system. Those in former white schools get a good education. Those in former black schools get a shocking education, one of the worst in the world. We are producing class apartheid. And race is part of this too because most teachers in former white schools are still white and so black children are growing up thinking that only whites can teach us.

Our education is in a state of what Charles Dickens called the worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, the season of darkness, the winter of despair. We have nothing before us but unabated continuity of colonialism and slavery for the majority.

There are kids in this day and age who are learning under the trees, who don’t have electricity, libraries or toilets in their schools, who wait the whole year for text books that were never delivered, who miss the first two periods because their teachers must first drop off their kids to white former Model  C Schools or are attending SADTU meetings during tuition time.

We are coming from a history and racist education where good was associated with whiteness and bad or evil with blackness. Our own teachers and government are entrenching this racist mentality. They take their kids to white model C schools and show no commitment to the education of their own people. And SADTU is also trying to keep this racist poison alive. They do all that they can to protect the inferior education that most black children are receiving. In one school SADTU had the nerve to defend a teacher who had missed classes for 10months without a medical certificate - the teacher was drinking.

The government does not only drop the standard but takes a year to deliver much needed textbooks. This is incredible. It shows that for them we are just not people that count. This is the politics of contempt – we are just waste to them. More than 100 000 learners in the Eastern Cape lose their daily nutrition because R10 million rand has gone into the black hole of corruption. Principals are inflating the number of learners because they want to a certain percentage of that money to go into their pockets. Education has become a site of plunder when it should be a site of care and nurturing. And COSATU protects SADTU.

Yes I acknowledge the frustrations of teachers, the low salary, the way that the profession is no longer commanding respect. But their actions are tantamount to holocaust. They might always be at loggerheads with the government but they have something in common with this government – they both deny the black child his or her fundamental right, a right to education, his future. They are perpetuating the life of slavery, the life of a garden boy and kitchen girl, a life in prison, a life that turns a black boy into a criminal, a young black girl into a prostitute. They are condemning us black people to a life of slavery, a life of subordination to a white master, a life of black inferiority complex, a life misery and poverty. This government is as corrupt as that of Mobutu Seseseko and it holds the poor and working class black child in the same contempt at Hendrick Verwoed.

Unemployment is sky rocketing, the government always uses the flawed argument that millions of us are unemployed because we lack of skills. But what is it that they are doing to address this skills problem? The FET colleges are a sick joke.

We are living in a world where education is a must, a world of technology, an industrialized and complicated world where skills are needed. The space for manual labour is quickly closing down. The only way to survive in this new world is through education. Children in India and China are getting a very good education. They are being prepared for the future. Our children are being prepared to be turned into waste – to never find work - or, if they are ‘lucky’, to be exploited in low paying and insecure jobs.

We want to change the world, we want to heal South Africa, we want justice and freedom, we want to know our history and culture. Capitalism has destroyed humanity, white racism has created a person who is not aware that s/he is a human. We are engaged in a struggle for an egalitarian society, a struggle under the banner of love, a struggle to heal our country and the continent, a struggle to be full human beings, a struggle for justice, a struggle to fully apprehend and appreciate African history. For all this we need education. Education that will help us connect with our culture and values. Through it we will liberate our country and continent from corruption, patronage, power through impunity, hatred for humanity and nature, profit and greedy.

We can no longer be blinded and kept drunk by the ruling party on the memory of the past struggle. What is wrong is wrong and it must be said. The ANC like most liberation movements in Africa is committing atrocities – there is such a high unemployment rate, there is a high rate of curable diseases like TB, there is rampant corruption and for most of us education is a disgrace. Like most liberation movements in Africa the ANC is under the thumb of the IMF and the World Bank. They have no regard for poor and working class black people.

As things are we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is a tragedy! We can no longer fold our arms across our chests and close our eyes while the future of most back children is destroyed and their dreams, which are also our dreams, are cruelly dashed. I weep to the flower. This is a grave injustice and disservice to the black nation. Our poor country continues to weep and bleed and we are reluctant to raise our hands in her defence. Let her children torment us in our graves for our indecisiveness to take action and our refusal to take their side against the tyrant of capital and its managers who are bleeding our country. We need to stand against Zuma as others stood against  Mobuto, against Mubarak and against Idi Amin.

Ayanda Kota
Unemployed People's Movement (Grahamstown)
078 625 6462