The High Road: (To Vuwani)

I recently watched a documentary on one of the SABC channels on the hardships that school children in Nicaragua have to go through as part of their daily school going routines. The documentary made me reflect on how advanced South Africa is and how fortunate our kids are, that they didn’t have to face even a tenth of the hardships that some of the kids have to go through before sitting in a classroom in this South American impoverished country.

Whilst feeling pity for the plight of the Nicaraguan kids, I felt good and proud that not even our children in the poorest villages in Limpopo or the Eastern Cape would experience anything remotely similar to the Nicaraguan experience. The documentary showed 3 young girls aged 5 ,7 and 9 walking and then canoeing for an hour and a half very early in the morning every day to go to school and back in the afternoons. On this occasion, the girls had to empty their canoe, which was full of water, before paddling against the currents of a full and raging river.

On the other side of the river, they still had to pass the snake terrain – a stretch of land full of dangerous snakes attracted by the coconut trees in the area. The kids also had to contend with wild animals. On some days, they must manoeuvre and take a long round-about route if their usual path was blocked by a herd of buffaloes. Their school starts at 7am and before leaving home in the morning, the kids would have put in an hour and half’s worth of house chores such as washing clothes and feeding the family animals – 2 pigs and a few chickens.

Their school, a modest building in the jungle represents the hopes of the parents and society for their kids to escape a life of subsistence menial work in the Nicaraguan jungle. That jungle school doesn’t have security fences and security gates and burglar doors. It doesn’t need these security features. Neither is it equipped with sophisticated and fancy security alarms, nor is it manned with security guards at night. All these security features are unnecessary. The community values the role of the school in society, the future progress it represents and the hopes of their kids to escape a life of abject hopeless poverty in the jungle.

The security of this modest school stems from society’s appreciation of the school. The school may have been built with government funds but the community wouldn’t lose sight as to whose benefit the school was built and as such, the school would be protected at all costs and remain functioning at all possible times.

This” jungle community” has a sense of ownership of the school and would have guarded the school with their lives against any senseless damage, including arson, if it were to be necessary. If the unthinkable were to happen, such as a crazy mob burning the school during protest action, the community would have unhesitantly and quickly pointed out the arsonists for appropriate punishment of the culprits for sabotaging the future of their kids.

Given the comparative state of art of our South African schools – costing an average of R15 million each – over the Nicaraguan models and many on our continent, it is of great concern and disconcertingly worrisome that through violent protests 17 schools have been torched and razed down completely in Vuwani and a further 6 partially damaged – disrupting and in some cases undoubtedly halting forever the education of the affected kids. It would reportedly cost over R400 million to rebuild these schools. The question is, what kind of societal values do we subscribe to and what sort of society have we become that sabotages the education of its children because of some disagreement over the demarcation of municipal boundaries? No amount of legitimate grievances against the government or authorities should justify these senseless and crazy acts of arson and damage of public institutions that serve our children.

South Africa is a young vibrant democracy that’s in the throes of moulding a cohesive culture and building post-apartheid institutions to redress the imbalances and injustices of the past dispensation. Notwithstanding the validity of the grievances, lawless mob action and violent protest tendencies that seek to derail the building of a service centred society and institutions should be dealt with decisively, while engendering a sense of institutional ownership of public buildings. Whilst abhorable, the incident should be a wakeup call to authorities to expedite the implementation of mooted plans for a public discourse on the type of society we want to shape for our country. Of course it doesn’t help that the conduct of our elected and appointed officials has not been a shining beacon and a standard for society to follow. Lack of responsiveness of authorities coupled with a general distrust of public officials is a recipe for disaster. The high road to educational excellence requires a supportive societal culture that encompasses valuing education and appreciating academic institutions above tribal intolerances within a value system that fosters and is conducive to the rule of law and respect for property rights and public institutions.
By: Lucas Bambo is a marketing and communications specialist.

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