I visited the Apartheid Museum recently.
I cannot get the image of a young boy sitting on the floor in a classroom with sweat dripping down his brow out of my head. He epitomised determination. You could see it in his eyes. He wanted to learn, no matter what barriers were put in front of him.
This determination to be educated and empowered was a hallmark of our people despite the aggressive measures that were put in place to prevent this from happening. Mr Mandela, while in confinement earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of London in 1989, 46 years after his first enrolled for the degree at Wits University.
Intellectual and moral giants emerged amidst Apartheid and led us through one of the most incredible human achievements in history by over-turning Apartheid and then guiding our nation to a near impossible democracy.
Remember what Madiba said to us:
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
Madiba’s long walk to freedom lasted 27 years and we are only 22 years into our “longer and even more difficult road”. The true test of our devotion and commitment to freedom should be measured by our real commitment to education.
Today we can choose to hide behind an almost universal “access” to basic education and other misleading statistics or we can ‘man up’ and take responsibility.
We know education is in crisis. This is not just a crisis for the students to stand up to but it is for us all, each and every citizen to play his and her part.
Where is this determination to be educated (and to educate) that led us to our democracy?
“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” and we are currently all guilty of “tapping out”. Giving up. All of us.
In 1986, my family “tapped out” of this system, and moved to United Kingdom to get the best possible school education they felt they could give me. I am grateful for the sacrifices they made for me and I realise the privilege. With great privilege, comes great responsibility.
All I know is we can’t continue to “tap out” when the system is broken. It is time we “tapped in” and asked ourselves what we can do.
Education is the key to the real transformation of our country and our economy.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of Unesco,
“The evidence is unequivocal: education saves lives and transforms lives, it is the bedrock of sustainability”
Let’s arm ourselves and our countrymen and women.
Let’s empower our nation.
Boniswa Mhlathi (who recited Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF” with such heart and conviction at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall in front of 1000s of people) , 13 years old, is one of 1,260 learners at Umsilinga Primary School in Ezinketheni just outside Pietermaritzburg, KZN.
She wants to become a doctor.
We, as Unogwaja are working in partnership with a number of other organisations and people on the ground at Umsilinga including Principal Essa and her staff, Community Chest Pietermaritzburg, Mama Ntombi’s Community Project to assist Umsilinga School become a school of excellence and a place where hope can survive. We are working in full support of our government, as we cannot sit back and expect them to do it alone. The task is too great and too important.
Boniswa we see you. We support you. You can do it.
This is a short film about the Unogwaja partnership with Umsilinga Primary School:
Saturday 28th May was an historic and significant day for us all. The 1,260 learners of Umsilinga and their teachers marched into the Pietermaritzburg City Hall alongside Team Unogwaja 2016. This symbolises the collective journey we are on together. For many of the learners despite living less than 10km outside Pietermaritzburg, it was their first time in Pietermaritzburg.