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Taung camp miracle for future of battered exiles from Khutsong's rowdy wars, reports Joel Avni

By unknown | Oct 12, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Take the most radically politicised matric students in the country, mix them with a group of resentful peers, and you have the recipe for an explosion.

Take the most radically politicised matric students in the country, mix them with a group of resentful peers, and you have the recipe for an explosion.

But somehow North West's education department has been able to channel these exuberant teenagers' pent-up emotions into what might well go down as democratic South Africa's most successful experiment in education.

The guinea pigs are the 430 matric students from Khutsong who the provincial authorities bused 300km to Taung for an educational boot camp in August.

Until then many of the kids had not received a complete day of formal education during the entire year. Cynical comrade teachers had used them as the shock troops in a campaign against the government's plan to hive Khutsong and environs from Gauteng and reincorporate them into North West.

The province press-ganged 37 of its best teachers into the project. They have been working day and night over the past two months to teach the troubled township's matrics the lessons that SACP-inspired political thugs did their level best to ensure were never learnt.

Despite the odds, it appears the experiment has succeeded way beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic bureaucrat.

"These kids are hungry for an education," explains a bubbly Boitumelo Mashiya.

Like almost all her peers at Taung, the animated Mashiya seldom teaches classes any more.

Since being promoted in 2004, her normal day job as a senior education specialist involves guiding the department's classroom teachers.

Now she revels being back in the trenches.

"We were a little apprehensive in the beginning, but everything has gone extremely well. We found innocent souls, not bad and uncooperative children."

Tell that to the SAPS. Many of these kids made up the rampaging mobs that were determined to make the township ungovernable unless it was returned to Gauteng.

Week after week they disrupted schools, demolished swaths of Khutsong and held off phalanxes of heavily armed riot police for the first seven months of this year.

Chanting slogans inculcated at "conscientising" sessions by the shadowy adult cowards who sent child soldiers to the front lines, these youngsters intimidated everyone in their community.

"No school until the government come to its senses," meant their dreams of an adulthood free from poverty would never be realised.

Some were arrested for petrol bombing police vans and councillors' homes.

This afternoon they cluster in earnest knots around the fenced-off campus of this former teacher's training college to discuss the morning's English paper or to brush up for tomorrow's exam.

Kids so traumatised by the battles raging back home that they were offered psychological counselling two months ago, now confidently contemplate careers as lawyers, nurses, accountants, actors and political analysts.

"We came here with a very negative perspective. But they brought in motivational speakers and excellent, highly qualified teachers," says Daddy Marumole.

The 18-year-old is confident he will sail through his matric exams, pick up a bursary and go on to university next year. He has no doubt that he will graduate to become a choreographer or actor.

Raymond Njiji, 20, thought of dropping out of school a few months back.

"We returned to school in July full of hope. But after the fresh disruptions my hopes of passing were dashed."

Now he hopes to pick up at least one distinction. He says the group has eaten, drunk and slept education for the past two months with nothing to disrupt them.

They have been studying 10 or more hours a day, in classes and smaller groups.

Like every one of the scores of students we interviewed, he is confident of his future. He plans to study for a bachelor of science next year, "and in five years I will be driving a black Hummer".

Though isolated from the troubles back home, they are never far away. The kids have made a conscious decision to avoid discussing politics and many are uncomfortable giving us their names in case their families face repercussions.

Kenneth Gill is a multi-degreed teacher of Setswana at the camp. He attributes its success to the students and teachers' high degree of motivation.

Sequestered from the troubles back home and provided with their every need from textbooks to solid meals, Khutsong's kids have been able to concentrate on their studies.

"We acted as surrogate parents. They trusted us and we opened them up to their future," says Gill.

He says the mixture of highly motivated teachers and students was a heady mix that he believes will spell success for just about everyone.

His colleague Ngoako Malatji, a specialist in accounting and business economics, believes that the holistic approach incorporating the students' psychological needs, study skills and directed studies made the difference.


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