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Education – the nadir amid Eastern Cape’s litany of low points

Mandy de Waal is a writer who reports on technology, corruption, science, the media and whatever else she finds interesting. She loves small stories and human narratives, and dislikes persistent evangelists, bad poetry and the insane logic that currently passes for political rhetoric. Back in journalism after spending time in the corridors of corporate greed, de Waal has written for Mail & Guardian, Noseweek, City Press, Rapport, MoneyWeb, Brandchannel (New York) and a number of other good titles. She now writes for The Daily Maverick because it’s the smart thing to do.

The ghosts of those who suffered from apartheid’s evil Bantu Education system should haunt the useless bureaucrats in the Eastern Cape who are being paid for robbing South Africa of its potential. The provincial education system is a shambles and the youth are being taught in shameful conditions, but there’s a Constitutional Court case that will hopefully challenge this.

One of the many great tragedies of the apartheid system was the Bantu Education Act with its evil plan to diminish people according to race by denying them the right to a real or meaningful education. Apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd gave voice to the malevolence of this plan when as minister for ‘native affairs’ he said: “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.” 

Bantu Education centralised a schooling system that up to then had been largely independent or run by missionaries into an ideological abomination that would prime people for labour to support a white-owned economy. It was education cruelly devised to support white supremacy and its intentions made manifest in this utterance by deputy minister of bantu education, Punt Janson in 1974: “I have not consulted the African people on the language issue and I’m not going to. An African might find that ‘the big boss’ only spoke Afrikaans or only spoke English. It would be to his advantage to know both languages.” 

It’s shocking to read those thoughts in a democratic, post-apartheid South Africa. But it is important to never forget that malignance and to acknowledge that the best way to pay tribute to those who suffered because of that shame is to deliver a public education system that is functional, accountable and works. 

What a disgrace it is then to read about the waste, mismanagement and complete disaster that is the current Eastern Cape education system. Media reports say that the provincial management of education is in chaos, while treasury reports show appalling financial mismanagement. 

If things weren’t bad enough, seven schools from a district called OR Tambo near Mthatha are taking the national and provincial governments to court, along with the local municipality, because of their failures. 

Business Day reports that the impoverished district’s schools are looking for their day in court to fight for the constitutional right to basic education. The schools say the government’s failure to deliver adequate facilities is unconstitutional. According to the report, school classrooms are built from mud, made from cinder blocks and there are ongoing shortages of desks, chairs and even water.   

The schools want the court to declare the national and provincial government’s failure to provide proper facilities unconstitutional. They have also taken the OR Tambo municipality to task for failing to provide water to the schools. 

These are schools that have no ablution facilities, where desks and chairs are a luxury and where classes are conducted out in the open. In a City Press article entitled “Schools of shame” journalist Melanie-Ann Feris describes the conditions under which children are being taught: “Our GPS leads us to an open field with a small mud structure. Surely this can’t be the school? Then we hear the drone of pupils following a teacher as she recites a lesson. ‘For 17 years the school has been like this. At one time I taught under that tree’, grade 3 teacher Nocwaka Nongalo says.  

“The rest of the school is housed a few kilometres away. Staff had held a concert a few years ago to collect money to build a permanent structure. Teachers pitched in with the work. ‘It was a tough job. We had to stop teaching and make bricks. It took us more than a year to finish,’ says teacher Ntombodumo Jiba.” 

Feris goes on to say that pupils get little protection from rain, wind or cold, that buildings are not safe and that often there’s no water for children to drink. What’s remarkable is that the Eastern Cape department of education didn’t even respond to the story. It is likely that they were too busy with a treasury report that chronicles the disastrous financial affairs of the collapsing provincial structure. 

The provincial treasury report showed that the education department was R1.9 billion in the red, and suggested that education spending be radically curtailed to make up for the deficit. TimesLive reports the reason for the loss is mismanagement and overspending. 

The Eastern Cape yields the second worst matric pass rates in South Africa, a country that despite spending huge amounts on education managed to come near the bottom of the class for education in Newsweek’s recent country survey. South Africa was fourth-last out of a list of 100 countries, dropping past many nations who are poorer or who have fewer resources. 

Whatever way you look at it the Eastern Cape department of education is an insult to every human being who suffered because of bantu education. The ghost of that legacy should shame the corrupt, lazy, ineffective bureaucrats who are paid for stealing the opportunities that should rightfully be afforded to every child in that province. More so, they are robbing this country of potential by denying young people in the Eastern Cape a decent or proper education. 

The watershed Constitutional case brought by the OR Tambo district will hopefully break open the rot and fully expose what is a national stain, and has become one of our government’s worst failures. DM

Read more: “Schools sue state over lack of resources” in BusinessDay,  “State opposes mud schools’ court bid” in Mail & Guardian, “Disastrous effects on pupils’ lives” in Daily Dispatch, “Schools disaster” in Weekend Post.


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