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NWABISA MAKUNGA | Countdown to Sowetan SA Home Loans School Quiz

The Sowetan team delivers newspapers to participating schools ahead of the 1st round of the Sowetan SA Home Loans School Quiz

It must have been around 1991 or 92. I lived with my grandmother in a small, farming town called Addo in the Eastern Cape. 

My gran was the principal of the Bukani Primary School to which I went. She was a drill sergeant at school and at home. Leisurely reading was mandatory for me. That year the regional newspaper, the Evening Post, which circulated in Gqeberha and surrounding towns, ran a knowledge quiz competition for kids. 

My gran instructed me to enter it, but she was clear I would get no help from her. Every week for the duration of the competition, I would sit on our dining table, meticulously answering all the questions and then uTat’uTipa – our school caretaker who was like family to us – would go post my answers to the newspaper. 

One afternoon he returned with a letter marked for me. I had won. The joy I felt reading that letter can never be put to words. It wasn’t about the school stationery and the 50 odd rand that would come my way. It was about the psychological affirmation that winning a knowledge competition meant to me, a young girl in a rural farming town in apartheid SA. 

I’d like to believe that such moments of affirmation, although seemingly small, were important building blocks for the path I would take later in life. 

On Saturday, Sowetan will hold our first school quiz at our premises in Parktown, Johannesburg. Quiz teams from high schools across Gauteng will battle it out for prizes worth… well, a lot more than R50. 

The selection of these schools was eye-opening for me. From scores of entries, we had to choose the final cohort of 32 schools to participate in the live quiz. With their entry forms, schools had to write motivation letters for selection. 

I’ve read every single one of them and I can tell you, selecting only 32 was a tough ask. The ones that struck a chord with me were those written by the pupils themselves, at times by hand. Just pen and paper telling a compelling and authentic story.

Some told us how desperate they were to win even a small amount of money to start a food garden in their schools. Others needed shoes, stationery and other basic items. Some shared their daily struggle of learning in overcrowded classrooms where one needs near-supersonic hearing to follow what the teacher is saying. 

Worse, reading compelling motivations from schools that have previously made headlines for chaos and violence, even death, was sobering. I welled up a few times. The truth is, all of them have one thing in common – a hunger to succeed beyond the structural limitations imposed on them by the betrayal of our national democratic dream. What they are yearning for is support and an equal opportunity to showcase what lies in them. 

This weekend they will answer questions that my brilliant colleagues put together from Sowetan newspaper editions that have been delivered to their schools in recent weeks. They had to read these editions and will hopefully remember as many answers as possible from questions I will ask them on quiz days. 

On Saturday, the selected teams will compete in the first round. High scorers will go to the next round the following Saturday, and then the next, until the finals to be held on May 27. In the room on each of those days will be their teachers/guardians, cheering them on. 

All our sponsors, to whom we are incredibly grateful, have invested a combined R200,000 in cash and other prizes, including bursaries, sneakers, stationery, goodie bags and shopping vouchers for the top three winning schools. We hope these will go some way to provide immediate and medium-term support that will, hopefully, propel them to reach their long-term goals. 

Most important, we hope that this initiative presents them with an opportunity to showcases their potential on a platform that affirms their dreams and exposes them to a broader community willing to invest in who they wish to become. 

*Makunga is Sowetan editor

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