Opinionista Mmusi Maimane 2 June 2014

Education helps determine our destiny

It is without question that a good education lays the foundation for any South African to succeed in life. The fight for a good education for all, is one that we must all be engaged in. It's not up to rights groups, action bodies or NGOs alone, but it is up to all of us to fight for measurable norms and standards in education, so that in the education of each and every child we see true equity of excellence.

As a parent I acknowledge that to improve a child’s lot in life, to give them the opportunity to truly unlock their potential, first and foremost, a good education is vital. This is absolutely true in South Africa today. A South African child who receives a good schooling has a far greater chance of getting a job or starting a business. For education is the key to unlocking opportunity for our children. Whether it is learning the basics of running a business, gaining a special skill or pursuing a particular profession – our education determines our destiny.

And therefore it saddens me deeply when I note how poorly the South African education system is regarded by international assessments and analyses today.

Born a child of a South African black township under apartheid, the system back then ought to have written me off. By many accounts of the time, particularly those of the apartheid government, my life was destined to consist of an apartheid-era miseducation and a life of poorly-paid labour. This was my destiny and it was a destiny that I shared with millions of young black youths. But it was this destiny that my parents consciously rejected for their children.

If we were to choose our destined path, it would be because that was our choice, not because it was our only option.

Growing up in Dobsonville, Soweto in the 1980’s was a frightening period in our history. Even as a young boy, I remember the anti-apartheid strikes that occurred in Soweto. I remember the white soldiers on armoured vehicles, scaring young black South Africans with pointed weapons, even toy guns. But equally, I remember the feeling of purpose that united our community.

I also remember the deep sorrow that was felt when one of the young men in our neighbourhood did not return home one evening. Euphemistically, one might say that we were experiencing the birth pains from which our democracy was ultimately born. And with the fall of apartheid, came the notional rise of opportunity for all in South Africa. Most importantly for me, it was the opportunity to be the first person in my family to get a tertiary education, that would ultimately alter my destiny forever.

My parents valued education. They recognized that a good education was the first step toward giving their children a better life than they had. This was one of the first places made available to black students in South Africa in schools previously reserved for white South Africans.

My parents mortgaged our home just to pay my university fees. Being at university was a gift and I will never forget the joy and pride on my parents’ faces the day that I graduated.

But the lesson that I learned from my parents’ example was that through hard work, sacrifice and a resolute will, I could change my destiny. It was their sacrifice and their uncompromising will to reject my apartheid destiny that gave me the opportunity to choose my own destiny. It is this example where I learned exactly what it takes to reject what appears to be one’s lot in life. And it was through their example that I found an organization that was equally committed to reject the destiny of poverty in people’s lives through hard work and sacrifice in order to create opportunity. That organization is the Democratic Alliance.

Much has changed in South African politics over the past month – a new Parliament, a new Cabinet, and a new Opposition caucus. However, the problems faced by South Africans remain the same. Unemployment is rife, South Africa’s economy is on the brink of recession, and poverty and crime threaten the ability of South Africans to take up the few opportunities presented to them.

History will recall the Marikana Massacre as the turning point in this struggle for opportunity, the struggle to transform our economy away from the old mineral-based economy and into a global, knowledge-based economy of the 21st Century. In the past, black unskilled workers were relegated to the depths of the earth – to tear out the mineral wealth of our soils. That was all a black man was good for in the apartheid economy. Today, it is our collective intellectual capacity that is our greatest untapped resource. It is this resource which can only be unleashed through education, and defying that destiny rooted in the past.

Far more must be done to undo the labour-sending patterns created under apartheid, coupled with empowering South Africans to be able to become entrepreneurs. The suggestion which we see floating around, that we can beneficiate our minerals without the relevant skills set, is a misnomer and distracts us from the real objective of migrating our economic output in this sector away from apartheid divisions.

By some accounts, South Africa on its current trajectory, is destined for further decline – fewer jobs, more poverty and higher crime rates. Now is the time that South Africa needs hard work, sacrifice and determination if we are to deliver opportunity to our people and reject this destiny. We need politicians and officials in government who do not simply show up to work to clock-in and clock-out, to tick the boxes and hope for the best. We need leaders who defy our destiny, and people whose commitment to this country means tirelessly hard work and great individual cost.

It is this ethos, to defy our collective destiny, that I shall encourage and cherish in every member of the DA Caucus, so that we stand as a bastion of hope for South Africa, and as a real alternative to all people.

Yesterday, I met with community members in Dobsonville who were discouraged by how far removed the ANC’s parliamentary members were from them. They were disheartened at how the ANC’s public representatives did not seem or live like them – neither their needs nor their best interests. The ANC’s perspective has changed. And with their changed perspective, has changed their priorities.

The time for electioneering and mud-slinging has passed. So too has the time of comfort in government roles. We have been elected to represent the people of South Africa, to secure their well-being and their future opportunities. We have been elected to defy our destiny, and to usher in a better future for South Africa.

Let us not disappoint. DM

Maimane is a DA MP.


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