107-year-olds pass reading test at last

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

KwaZulu-Natal residents gathered at the Cecil Emmett sports ground in Vryheid yesterday to salute thousands of people who are now able to read, write and count .

More than 6000 pupils, aged between 18 and 107, graduated at the Masifundisane function attended by dignitaries who included Premier S'bu Ndebele.

Menzi Xaba, Bemisile Shabangu and Fanele Mncube, all aged 107, were among the graduands of the Masifundisane literacy campaign but were unable to attend the ceremony.

Goneni Mhlongo, 105, who is bed-ridden, was also unable to make it to the graduation.

But Ntombizikhathi Zulu, 86, from Ntandakuwela in Ulundi, who has 12 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren, received her certificate.

"Mainly, she can now read, write and count," Ndebele said.

"She heard about the Masifundisane campaign from a facilitator who was doing door-to-door recruitment."

Zulu said she was interested in learning to read, write and count because she did not get the chance when she was young and girls were not allowed to study.

She said they were raised only to get married.

Zulu is now able to write her name and surname and read the date for her next grant from the calendar.

Ndebele said he was very impressed to hear that Zulu reads her Bible and hymn book as well as newspaper headlines.

Zulu said that she was extremely grateful for the opportunity to be one of the Masifundisane adult learners.

She said she survived many years because she had stuck to the basics - eating natural food, loving her family and living an active life by collecting wood and doing subsistence farming.

Ndebele said he was impressed that though Zulu can no longer walk she can still hear, talk and make jokes.

Ndebele said it was a humbling experience to pay homage to elderly citizens and particularly to salute the veterans of the provincial Masifundisane literacy campaign.

In 2006 about 271300 pupils enrolled for the programme through the department of education.

Last year 30000 pupils enrolled for the programme through the Ndebele's office.

Out of the initial department of education intake, 87 percent were women, 13 percent men and 32 556 were people living with disabilities.

A total of 70 000 people have graduated so far.