CLASS OF 2022
KZN celebrates top matriculants who triumphed despite floods, Covid, blackouts
Friday’s ceremony to celebrate the top-achieving KwaZulu-Natal matriculants, an 83% pass rate in the province, and growing the number of bachelor passes despite trying circumstances that included Covid-19, floods, and rolling blackouts, was an occasion for happy tears and laughter from the best of the schooling bunch.
There was a definitive theme that ran through the event, held at the Bethsaida church in Southgate, a suburb of Phoenix, on a clear but sweltering day.
The devastation of the April floods loomed large, as did the horrific Pongola accident that claimed the lives of 19 schoolchildren and a teacher in 2022.
There was also a direct appeal to parents to “guard schools” from destruction caused during service delivery protests, with suggestions that protests could escalate as the country’s energy crisis deepens.
Despite these sombre realities, a sense of hope filled the hall, where the ideals of meritocracy and healthy competition were rewarded and celebrated.
Nationally, KwaZulu-Natal was positioned among the top three provinces in South Africa with its 83% pass rate, a 6.2% improvement over 2021’s 76.8%, making it the most improved province in the country. The Free State again achieved top spot (88.5%), with Gauteng second (84.4%). KZN and Gauteng were responsible for the most bachelor passes.
The overall public school pass rate for 2022 was 80.1%, almost a 4% increase over 2021. This number, however, excludes the estimated 420,000 pupils who dropped out since being enrolled in Grade 1.
There were no schools in the province that recorded a 0% pass rate, and the number of schools that obtained 100% passes rose from 145 in 2021 to 212 in 2022. Bachelor passes increased from 61,856 in 2021 to 69,849 in 2022. Five of the province’s “special schools” obtained a 100% pass rate.
KwaZulu-Natal premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube said at the ceremony that the province had 198,866 full-time and part-time matriculants in 2022 and that the provincial education department managed the largest exam system in the country. This consisted of about 1,700 exam centres and more than 6,000 invigilators. The education system in the province comprises more than 2.8 million pupils spread across 6,000 schools.
“In April and May last year we were, as the province, under siege with the floods that pummelled KwaZulu-Natal and caused untold damage and destruction to lives, infrastructure and disrupted the education system. This also resulted in more than 824 learners being displaced. We ensured that these learners were given a fair chance, and were not prejudiced by the impact of the flood,” said Dube-Ncube.
More than 600 schools – including early childhood development centres – were affected by the floods. Of those, 124 were seriously damaged and 70 rendered inaccessible. The damage to school infrastructure was estimated at more than R400-million.
Fifty-seven school pupils died as a result of the flooding, mudslides and building collapses that accompanied four days of torrential rain. Many more lost parents, siblings and friends. Some pupils in the province have yet to return to their schools because of the flood damage, and have been learning in mobile classrooms or accommodated at other schools. Some are still living in shelters.
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The class of 2022 was the first cohort to start its Further Education and Training (FET, grades 10 to 12) phase at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which resulted in lockdowns and remote learning.
‘Protect our learners’
At the awards ceremony, the political power dynamic of the province was also on display. While Ncube-Dube gave the address as premier, it was the leader of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Siboniso Duma – who is also the MEC for economic development, tourism and economic affairs – who took centre stage when prizes were presented.
In her address, KZN education MEC Mbali Frazer said the destruction caused by the floods was “still being felt today, in some quarters”.
“Dealing with flood damage in our schools is fast becoming a moving target for the department due to the unpredictable weather patterns resulting from the impact of climate change,” said Frazer.
She appealed to parents to protect schools from looters and service delivery protests that often turn violent and end in vandalism, fire and theft.
“I’m once again appealing to all of you today, and the people of KwaZulu-Natal, to protect our learners from the selfish individuals who think they have a right to disrupt and vandalise the schools during service delivery protests.
“Last year we even went as far as going to media houses appealing to and begging parents to guard our schools, because each time there are complaints about service delivery, they will take it to our schools,” said Frazer.
The provincial education department told a parliamentary education committee in August 2021 that during the July 2021 riots, 137 schools and offices were vandalised, with one school burnt to the ground.
Frazer said the provincial environment must be “conducive and safe for teaching and learning to happen”.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Are safer schools and health facilities possible in unsafe South African communities?”
There had also been an increase in “criminal elements bringing weapons into our schools” and attacking pupils and teachers.
“Some of these violent attacks have taken the lives of great educators such as Bongani Sibiya, who was the principal at Msunduzi Secondary School. We also lost learners such as matric candidate Thabani Vilakazi, who was stabbed to death.”
Vilakazi (21) was stabbed by a Grade 10 pupil at Mandlenkosi High School in Ntuzuma, north of Durban, in November 2022. He died at a nearby clinic.
Sibiya was shot and killed by the estranged husband of a colleague after he tried to intervene in a quarrel between the two in September 2022.
‘You must be change agents’
In his speech, eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda told the high-achieving matriculants that the “whole nation was rooting for you to succeed”.
“As you chart a new path towards securing your careers, we hope you will not lose focus. Remember, as future leaders, you carry the hopes and aspirations of a whole nation for a better life. You must be change agents wherever you go and represent us very well.” DM