Education in South Africa: A tale of two tragedies and our response as reformers

Do you see them?

The beginning of a new school year – for most teachers and learners – is accompanied with excitement, hope, the intention to do better than the last and of course a bit of fear of the unknown. This phenomenon is true throughout all types of schools across the country. Rich or poor, public or private, big or small, fee-paying or non-fee paying. These schools are filled with hundreds of eager learners who dream of better things for themselves and their families. The irony, however, is that for only a fraction of these learners, dreams will become a glorious reality. The large bulk of learners who start the year excited and filled with hope quickly realise that the year will be just the same as previous years.


This realisation is different for each learner. Some realise that their teacher will not be in class for half of the year, despite earning a salary. Others realise that they will still have to make use of the pit latrines across the field to relieve themselves. Others, still, realise that they will have to share two books and five pencils with fifty-six others in their classroom under the big, barren tree outside. Some realise that their hunger pangs are not quenched by hope and excitement and others realise that violence is going to be the only after school activity for the year. These tragic circumstances are by no means the fault of any of these learners. This is the unjust system of historical inequality at play.

These inequalities have been written about and studied for years by multiple organisations. The World Bank, for example, has written a 2018 report, titled ‘Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: An Assessment of Drivers, Constraints and Opportunities’[1], which highlights important aspects of South Africa’s unique socio-political-economic climate, but fails to recognize its own role in the advancement of inequality by encouraging a neoliberal agenda. More holistic and realistic reports on South Africa’s gross inequality would be Pam Christie’s 2010 book ‘Landscapes of Leadership in South African Schools: Mapping the Changes’[2] as well as the work done by Ahmed and Sayed ‘Promoting access and enhancing education opportunities? The case of ‘no-fees schools in South Africa’[3]. These works testify to the fact that there are serious inequalities in South Africa’s education system and go further by pinpointing causes for our current problems.

P3Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that the moral test for any society lies in the condition of its children[4]. When I consider the above injustices in light of Bonhoeffer’s quote, I realize that South Africa suffers from a bi-polar moral disorder. A fraction of our children are protected, provided for and encouraged to succeed while the majority are left defenceless and without any hope for the future. If only a fraction of our children finds themselves in conducive conditions, then our morality as a nation is seriously lacking. It is not enough for 1/10 learners to succeed, while the other 9 are forgotten.

My personal challenge at the moment has been to navigate the experience of our nation’s bi-polar moral disorder and its varying spectrum. I have worked at less-advantaged private schools and now at an elite public school and the challenge remains the same. What do I do with my skills, knowledge and power to change the reality of our nation’s morality? The answer, as I see it now, is to take up space amongst people that tend to easily forget about those unwanted and undesirable learners. It is to disrupt what is considered a ‘sanctified space’ for a wealthy, predominantly white and exclusive group of people by reminding them of our injustices – past and present. This reminder is to make known the realities of learners across the country so that they are never forgotten or disempowered. It is to ensure that those who seek hope – find it and finally, it is to break down barriers so that all our learners, in this great country, can be empowered and find success no matter where or who they are.


The isiZulu greeting ‘Sawubona’ means ‘I see you’. This is a profound statement that goes far beyond the greeting. It literally means to acknowledge, to understand, to empathise, to recognize and to appreciate. My challenge to everyone reading this is to remember to see others, especially those that do not have the same privilege as you. I intend to make this a mainstay for my 2020, to see (acknowledge, understand, empathise, recognize and appreciate) learners from all walks of life, I hope you will join me in this challenge!

[1] World Bank (2018) – Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa: An Assessment of Drivers, Constraints and Opportunities, Washington DC.

[2] Christie, P. (2010). Landscapes of Leadership in South African Schools: Mapping the Changes. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 38(6), pp. 694-711.

[3] Ahmed, R. & Sayed, Y. (2009). Promoting access and enhancing education opportunities? The case of ‘ne-fees schools in South Africa. A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 39(2), pp. 203-218.

[4] Henry Giroux (2015) – Education and the Crisis of Public Values: Challenging the Assault on Teachers, Students, and Public Education, Page 10.

Educational reformer promoting appropriate pedagogy and policy

Education as a public good: is it any good for the public?

Born in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga in 1988 to two loving parents and two caring older siblings. I completed my schooling in Piet Retief (now known as Mkhondo) and was the first Indian/Black student in the local and previously staunch, ‘white-only’ Primary school.

After completing my BEd, I moved to Cape Town, SA. It’s here that I noticed the massive injustices that are still prevalent in the majority of our schools and neighborhoods. These Educational injustices can be explained by severe inequalities between the poor (usually black) and the rich, and a strange Economic dependence on Neoliberalism & Capitalism, which only furthers these inequalities.


My experiences have made me realize that South Africa’s segregated past has played a vital role in our current situation and cannot simply be forgotten or erased. With this motivation (i.e. to understand our complex and unequal education system), I enrolled in and successfully completed my Honours in Educational Management (Cum Laude) in 2017 as well as my Bachelors of Theology degree in 2018. These academic experiences have encouraged me to enroll for a Masters degree in the Educational Policy, Leadership & Change stream at UCT (University of Cape Town).

I am Pro-poor in my worldview and outlook in life, meaning that I am an activist for those who have been side-lined and neglected by years of discrimination and hatred. I wish to contribute to the improvement and success of South Africa by making sure that each and every one of us have equal access and opportunity to our most basic necessities, namely a quality education, quality healthcare, an honest means to make a living and the freedoms to live and worship in the manner and ways in which one chooses. These basic necessities are rights that, according to our constitution, are afforded to every South African citizen. In reality, however, it is plain to see that in today’s unequal South Africa these necessities are seen as privileges that only a select few can possess.


Education, being a case in point, is – according to article 29 (1) of our constitution – considered a public good in South Africa (a good provided by the State for the benefit of its citizens). The actual outworking of this however, shows us that Education is a commodity that can be bought and sold, often leaving out the majority of people who do not have the resources to afford an education that is usually of a much higher quality than what is provided by the State. Examples of this are the vast majority of private schools, the fact that public schools have the option of charging school fees (of which some charge more than private schools) and the newly implemented Public-Private-Partnership project, known as Collaboration Schools in the Western Cape.

My educational journey and research is focused on the above mentioned oxy-moron and specifically how the notion of Education as a Public Good has changed over time; how it has been affected by Neoliberalism, Capitalism and Privatization; and monitoring how it has warped into something that does not benefit society, but actually causes more harm than good by increasing the dangerous inequalities that have plagued South Africa since before 1994.


In the weeks to come I wish to explore (through my blog posts) this idea of Education as a public good as well as my own personal enigma and journey of working in one of South Africa’s most prestigious public schools, I do hope you will join me for the ride!