Crime against poor children

BLEAK FUTURE: AW Barnes Primary School in the dark last year after since Buffalo City Municipality cut off the power supply to the school because the Eastern Cape education department had not paid the electricity bill of several schools. Photo: ALAN EASON.
BLEAK FUTURE: AW Barnes Primary School in the dark last year after since Buffalo City Municipality cut off the power supply to the school because the Eastern Cape education department had not paid the electricity bill of several schools. Photo: ALAN EASON.

FOR SOME years now a ghastly spectacle has been playing itself out in the Eastern Cape.

Aside from an extensive list of corruption scandals which have shown no signs of abating, the province has also stood out for its failure to educate its children.

Open air or under-the-tree classrooms, crumbling buildings, single digit matric pass rates in many schools, undelivered school textbooks and a litany of other problems lead only to an ominous conclusion.

It is that the administration of education in the Eastern Cape has never functioned.

The effects of this amounts to crime against poor children.

This disgraceful attitude towards education reached its tipping point last year when the government instituted a Section 100 intervention, which the local politicians promptly rejected without a wink.

They have continued to undermine the authority of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who appears not to enjoy the political support required to make a difference.

Compounding matters was the apparently dubious nature of the man tasked with leading that intervention, one Matanzima Mweli. He has since been charged with corruption in the North West province, a serious offence that carries a jail term of 15 years if he is convicted.

How did we get here? Why are we in a situation where the "rescuers" are themselves so tainted that law enforcement agencies haul them before the courts?

We cannot just blame the ANC and its cadre deployment system for the lack of competence in administration.

The ANC does not exist in a vacuum. It does what it believes is right, and if voters do not say it is wrong, it will continue deploying who it believes will serve its purposes.

The real culprits are citizens themselves. In successive elections in the Eastern Cape, the ANC has been returned to power with an overwhelming majority.

We have to assume that citizens weighed up improvements in their material conditions and concluded that they are better off than the previous election, and therefore the ANC and its allies must continue its handiwork.

That handiwork is paying superb dividends, we must believe, because most citizens in the province seem content.

Unlike Balfour, Khutsong and Ermelo among others, Eastern Cape citizens blissfully go about their business because they have the future they voted for.

When it comes to education, the lack of activism by parents, traditional leaders, councillors and others can only lead us to conclude that they are excited at the school results the province produces every year.

There is just one problem with this type of excitement, and that is they share it with the late apartheid zealot, Hendrik Verwoerd, who is now smiling from his grave.

Verwoerd is smiling because the conduct of SA Democratic Teachers Union (for politicising education), the ANC (abject lack of leadership) and SACP (part of the mess) in the province means that his deepest wishes are being fulfilled with passionate dedication. Verwoerd firmly believed blacks did not deserve a quality education because their role was to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water".

He once declared: "There is no place for the 'Bantu' in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd.

"Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live."

It is hard to imagine how, under the current circumstances, the children of the province will not grow to fulfil Verwoerd's wishes.

Given the despicable quality of the schooling an entire generation of mostly black children have been getting in the Eastern Cape, let us explore the kind of opportunities that await them when they finally leave the school system.

Let us keep in mind that half of them drop out without finishing school, while the rest are told they have passed even though they only obtained 30% in half the subjects they wrote an examination for.

The thousands produced every year who do not qualify for either university or technikon will almost certainly never obtain a professional qualification.

Scores of others who dropped out cannot even hope to get the kind of training that gives them opportunities in the formal economy. So what kind of future can they excitedly look forward to?

Many will loiter in their villages and townships with no hope of ever finding employment. Some of these will resort to crime and end up in jail.

The fortunate ones will be employed as security guards, tellers, construction site labourers, domestic helpers and many other unskilled tasks.

Thousands will trek to other provinces like Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal where they will live in squalid squatter camps.

Every day they will wake up in heavy rain, the bitter cold or scorching heat to sit forlornly on street pavements and occasionally lift a weak finger at passing cars, begging for work - any work.

This is the reality and the future being bestowed upon the children of the Eastern Cape by those with the political power and privilege to play God over their futures.

As their parents, leaders, brothers and sisters, our silence means we are now willing accomplices in this crime.

We say and do nothing to make it intolerable to turn innocent children into a political football despite being battered by years of abuse. We have decided to be absent from our own children's future, and have allowed a few with their own sick motives to destroy it as they wish.

On reflection, this is the real problem not just with the Eastern Cape but with a large part of South African society.

We are absent citizens who drive and walk unconsciously like zombies while our collective future is relentlessly being destroyed before our own eyes by elements who only look after their own immediate interests.

We no longer care to call things by their name and demand some accountability from those we pay to act on our behalf.

We expect a bright future to just happen, and will feign surprise when one day we become a nation with no prospects but blames foreigners for taking it over to steal our natural wealth while our children continue to work as servants.

  • Zibi is a member of the Midrand Group