ANCWL IS IN GOOD HANDS
Angie Motshekga has the potency of a tonic for the worries of the long-suffering Gauteng parents who have to send off their children to war zones parading as schools.
The head honcho of education in the province has just returned, triumphant, from an ANC Women's League (ANCWL) conference in Bloemfontein where she was elected president.
Some of the voting delegates, part of the 200000-strong women's league, are likely to have hailed from Gauteng, where Motshekga, who speaks with a near-lisp, is in charge.
Of course one cannot fault the mothers for taking their provincial allegiances with them to Mangaung.
A former lecturer at Wits and the erstwhile Soweto College of Education, Motshekga began her professional life as a teacher at Orlando High School.
She is the daughter of Patricia Ramorola, a retired teacher with more than 40 years' experience in pedagogy.
She was a student at the famed Sekano Ntoane Secondary School in Senaoane, Soweto, when Tom Manthata, of the Committee of 10 fame, was on the teaching staff.
Among her products, ma'm Motshekga counts newly installed head of the Anglican Church Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
Not that they were necessary but with such credentials parents with children at school do not need any more persuasion to know that their offspring are in good hands.
She herself says: "I know nothing else but education."
But what, indeed, is the state of education in Gauteng, a province where, for example, a 14-year-old can pluck up enough courage to stab a fellow pupil, only 19 at the time of his death, over a gambling debt?
This is the self-same area of jurisdiction where a principal in Eldorado Park can make news for his particular dislike of black teachers!
The MEC pauses before saying: "If a black spot can sit there, it can spoil the whole tablecloth and you can't ignore it."
The tablecloth in her analogy is backstage at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, where the ANC NEC is kicking off its meeting on the Friday before they'd go, en masse, to bury former intelligence minister Joe Nhlanhla on Saturday.
"I will say that, in my assessment, 80 percent of our system works well," Motshekga says. "Our schools run well. There's lots of positives.
"You used to get children walking the streets and when you asked why they were not at school, they'd say there was no money at home. These things do not happen any more.
"We don't chuck such children out. Even pregnant girls ... we keep in school, not because we encourage them to fall pregnant but we want them to get an education."
Since they took over, she says for her regime, the retention figures have been pushed upwards, a huge improvement from the old order.
"In the old system, they built three primary schools to one high school because they knew a large number of those who started, a third, would not finish school."
In our case, she brags understandably, 90 percent of the children who start grade A finish grade 12!
"We feed them, we give them uniforms, we remove any obstacle we think might impede them in their studies," she says with the passion of a mother.
"There's no corporal punishment. In a sense I think we're succeeding. We've introduced a new curriculum, something that's not easy."
Disadvantaged schools, she says, mentioning Ivory Park, the informal settlement outside Tembisa as shorthand for her point, are able to produce an A pass the same way as suburban schools with all the resources, can.
She gives her schools a clean bill of health but is the first to admit they can do better: "We still have that 20 percent that is problematic, highly dysfunctional."
She cites examples, mentioning the schools by name. Mncube in Mofolo, Soweto, and Katlehong Secondary in Ekurhuleni "just don't seem to get out of ICU".
The Katlehong school, says the visibly upset MEC, "last year gave us 16 percent (matric pass)".
A majority of schools in Sedibeng have her equally worried: "I don't know what's wrong with Sedibeng - those schools consistently give us in the region of 24 percent."
In her view a school that can afford to fail 200 kids is a disaster.
"But unlike in a company we're constrained by law. I can't just prevail on a principal and tell him 'you see the result, so go'. You'd be unleashing the unions and by the time you've sufficiently addressed the problem the year would be gone. Children have exams to sit."
But they are doing the best they can, says Motshekga, who meets with her officials every Tuesday morning.
"We turn around a few but to some of them it's just a culture (of failing)."
She mentions a school in Residensia which, after a young principal was put in charge, moved from 27 percent every year to a high of 57 percent.
Leshata, in the same municipal area, "gives us a 100 percent pass every year".
Then there's another in Atteridgeville, Bokgoni, where the principal, Timothy Mathopa, takes his own children.
Most teachers take their children to other schools, an indictment of the system that the MEC says she's aware of.
Her own son is at Bishop Bavin, a good boarding school she says she chose because she was no longer able to supervise his homework.
While there are pockets of excellence, they have bad potatoes "we need to baby sit from time to time - they really waste our time".
But what does her ascension to the hot seat of the women's movement mean for the ordinary South African woman?
"It's not like we're starting afresh," she says. "There's always been a league. It's only a change of guard, possibly new energy into the things we're supposed to be doing."
She hopes hers will be the proverbial new broom that sweeps clean.
"I hope I'll bring humility and absolute commitment to the plight of women who are marginalised and hope that we'll hold hands to attend to the issues that plague us - poverty, unemployment, health ... even violence against women."
Her election is merely an amplification of the women's voices, she says.
The league has been able to attract young, enlightened women, 35 years and under, says the new president.
The vibrancy of the conference was amazing, she says, even to the obvious discomfort of the old guard.
While she wants to revive the internal systems of the league, she aims to "hold hands" with women outside the ANC as well in a progressive women's movement that speaks with one voice.
She's adamant that "some resolutions we've taken (in Mangaung) must find resonance outside the party".
The past president of the league was a cabinet minister, so the task of leading the ANCWL does not give her sleepless nights because there are capable young women always at the ready to help.
While Winnie MadikizelaMandela had become the face of the league at its highest point and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was at the opposite end, Angie-fying the league is not her immediate worry: "What I will want to influence is to improve on the things that we've achieved so far."
Motshekga is married to former Gauteng premier Mathole Motshekga, an avid reader who has left her no choice but to love books too.
A devout Catholic, she is currently reading a book on the significance of symbolism in religion, unmistakeably Mathole-esque.
They have six children, five of whom "I inherited from my husband's previous marriage".
With no time for television, growing up a virtual tomboy in Pimville means she loves fixing broken things.
She quips: "I'm the man of the house."
She's currently registered for a doctorate in developmental studies with the University of Pretoria.