34 years on education still in doldrums

LIBERATION, once achieved, fills all of us with an incredible sense of fulfillment. Not so long ago in 2004, our doyen of hope, Madiba, pleaded with the world football controlling body, Fifa, to accord us a first - on behalf of the continent - to stage the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

We are no longer feeling it. We are playing it. We are host to all the citizens of the world on this soil that 34 years ago saw the ruling apartheid community practicing target-shooting on me. I was an 18-year-old matric pupil at Sekano Ntoane High School in Soweto, and many of my classmates everywhere in Soweto were chased and shot at by police.

I remember many Tony Leons of white South Africa in their army and police hippos darkening the whole of Soweto with tear gas, so that young children could be easily maimed and finished off by their machine guns. We were guilty of simply saying we wanted to be taught mathematics, science, history, geography and accounting in a language easily understood by us. And that language was certainly not Afrikaans.

They perfected their shooting so that within a short time many children in Soweto paid the ultimate price with their precious young lives. For them, the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson, a boy of 13, meant promotion to a higher rank. Little did they foresee that young as we were then, we would employ the natural God-given stones at our disposal to retaliate and defend ourselves.

In the process, another doyen of hope loved by the black community, especially those he served in Central Western Jabavu in Soweto, Dr Edelstein, like Hector Pieterson, became the victim of circumstances caused by the apartheid security forces.

The pain of seeing the young Pieterson and the old Edelstein's bodies - one black, the other white - on that fateful Wednesday on June 16 1976, lives with me daily.

Together with other student leaders like Douglas Ramaphosa, Danny Montsisi and Pat Seboko, who we laid to rest a few weeks ago, we led this peaceful student march against the use of Afrikaans in our black schools as part of the June 16 1976 Class under Tsietsi Mashinini.

Seboko, as the most recently departed student leader, has probably reported to the Pieterson, Edelstein, Mashinini, Jefferson Lengane and Khotso Seahlolo ancestral village. The question playing itself in my mind, as I can only speculate, is: What is he telling them about the state of education of the black child currently in our country?

I doubt if he will be able to give a detailed progress report on this one, save to say a few student leaders, like yours truly, managed to take their children to schools outside Soweto in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg - schools in the predominantly upmarket white areas.

The majority of pupils from Soweto and other impoverished townships, if at all they have moved, it cannot be more than an inch.

School facilities in these black areas are still to be jerked up to meet the required normal standards. In most suburban schools in the so-called white areas, facilities like football or rugby fields are a norm on their premises.

Schools in Soweto still have no laboratories, libraries, soccer and rugby fields or swimming pools . Pupils have to travel to the city centre of Johannesburg when they have to do reference work. Libraries in the townships are less equipped compared to those in the suburbs.