Effort to improve quality of education should serve as inspiration to others

Bonginkosi Thusi wades through Kosi Bay on his way to school. Some children who live in the area have to cross crocodile- and hippo-infested waters to get to school. /Thuli Dlamini
Bonginkosi Thusi wades through Kosi Bay on his way to school. Some children who live in the area have to cross crocodile- and hippo-infested waters to get to school. /Thuli Dlamini

It took a lot of work, vision and chutzpah to build the first school in Natal, a place called Umlazi Mission School.

The school, according to Rule of Fear, a biography of King Dingane, opened its doors on February 22 1836 to 12 pupils - one of them white. The school was merely the shade of a large tree and the earth - the letters written in the sand, for an A-B-C book.

These were tough times. King Dingane, who had granted the missionaries Charles Adams and George Champion permission to start schools in Natal, and later in his own backyard in Zululand, would later change his mind and burn them down, these fledgling citadels of enlightenment.

He would later kill black people who had embraced Christianity and Western education.

King Dingane had suddenly woken up to the realisation that religion and education could be the ploys the colonialists used to lull indigenous people into submission - before taking their land.

He had been told by one Jacob Msimbithi, originally from Xhosaland, that's how the colonisers had conquered and subjugated the various Xhosa kingdoms.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge. Indigenous kingdoms no longer exist. Even the British Empire that smashed them is but a shadow of its former self. That's how history works - it has a wheel that keeps turning. At any rate, while the colonialists were still in charge, the indigenous person felt their presence. He was at their mercy.

Just when the indigenous people thought colonialism was coming to an end, a more insidious regime took over in 1948. The National Party's ascendency to power took the violent, racist rule started by the British colonialists to a new, evil level.

Reeling from these combined blows, indigenous people - in the absence of any other viable alternatives - began to embrace Western education as their salvation from the jackboot of oppression.

Yes, they fought that the education being given to them be meaningful, and not be yet another means to make them semi-literate drawers of water and hewers of wood. These thoughts came to me just as soon as I'd finished reading this Peter Becker biography on King Dingane.

I couldn't help but ruminate on my people's long, drawn-out struggle for a better, meaningful education. The lives we have lost in this struggle.

It is painful that almost 200 years later, thousands of black children are still learning from under trees.

One of the weekend papers ran a touching story about children who live on an island in Kosi Bay and have to cross crocodile- and hippo-infested waters every day to get to school.

Yes, the story in the paper has a nice ending: the KwaZulu-Natal education department has just unveiled an aluminium ferry that will get the children to and from the island. Let's give praise where it is due. Well done.

One hopes that this success story will be an inspiration to other local government agencies to step into the breach - build schools, repair schools that need to be repaired, help with the transportation of the needy.

Education, as I keep saying, might just be this country's salvation. We ignore it at our own peril.