A Passionate Nation

What does the youth of 1976 have in common with today’s youth?

As we commemorate Youth month and specifically Youth Day on the 16th of June, I have been trying to search for similarities between the youth of 1976 and the youth of today. The students that led the march against the Bantu education policy must have been extremely courageous and passionate. They knew that their actions would result in severe consequences, yet they still soldiered on. The repercussions of their actions lead to some of the educational privileges African pupils have today.

Even though the older generation has labelled us as the ‘doomed generation’, the passion of the historic Soweto Uprising generation still strongly drives the youth of today. You can see it in the artistic videos that are shared in social media, the faces of our national sports team players, and the students and rise against all odds and excel in (previously exclusive) academic fields such as science. Although sometimes misdirected, passion is alive within us and will drive us to greater victory.

In this blog, I will share stories of young South Africans that truly inspire me and give us a glimpse of the South Africa we can become if passion is harnessed and maximised.

Earlier this year I was invited to the Spirit of light event, hosted by the renowned mama Gcina Mhlophe; I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I would be sharing the podium with Major Mandisa Mfeka. I had read much about her and watched her documentary; her story was truly inspiring. She radiated passion as she narrated her story that night. A young girl from the township of Ntuzuma in KZN who fell in love with airplanes as a result of frequent visits to the Virginia airport in Durban.

In 2008 she joined the  SAAF and was enrolled at Central Flying School in Langebaan, Western Cape, in 2010, going on to get her wings in 2011. Early in 2019, she became South Africa’s first black female fighter pilot and in May, she was one of the pilots who flew at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration. Her tagline is ‘the sky is the baseline’, indeed her passion defied all circumstances and launched her in the sky. 

As an astronomy fanatic, I had always fancied having a celestial body named after me, even if it was a mere shooting star (Meteor). Hence, when I heard about a minor planet named after a young science enthusiast, Siyabulela Xuza, I was instantly intrigued by his work. Xuza, born in Mthatha Eastern Cape, is an energy-engineering expert and entrepreneur with a passion for clean affordable energy.

At the age of 16, propelled by passion, Siyabulela Xuza began experimenting with rocket fuel he made in his mother’s kitchen. After numerous failed launches, his experiments lead him to launch a homemade rocket, The Phoenix, which achieved an altitude of over 1 kilometre. This earned him the junior South African amateur high-powered altitude record. Xuza’s project on solid rocket fuel won gold at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists in 2006, along with the Dr Derek Gray Memorial Award for the most prestigious project in the country. In 2007, his other brainchild, “African Space: Fueling Africa’s quest to space”, was entered into the International Science and Engineering Fair where it won the “Best of Category” award and a “First Award” in the energy and transportation sector. His work has earned him several leadership positions and awards, including a scholarship to the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

I often get a glimpse of how passionate young South Africans are when I attend career exhibitions. Earlier this year I was part of a team of UKZN staff and students that attended the KZN High Achievers Seminar which was co-hosted by UKZN and the KZN department of education. At this seminar, top achieving learners from schools ranked quantile 1-3 were invited to listen to career talks. During the exhibition, two particular students approached my stand and started asking questions about astronomy and career opportunities. They passionately shared their love for astrophysics and started asking questions about wormholes and space-time dynamics. I was fascinated with the level of knowledge they possessed regardless of the shortage of facilities in their schools. I am certain that these learners, given the support and opportunities, will become the next Einsteins. This conversation left me beaming with pride, indeed, with these kinds of minds our future is in safe hands.

These stories are a testimony of the depth of passion in our youth and how, if cultivated and harnessed, it can significantly transform our nation. ‘Inkunzi isematholeni’; directly translated this isiZulu proverb means that the bull is among the calves. Indeed, the future of this nation is in the hands of the youth; hence, as a community, we need to synchronise our efforts to ensure that the young generation lives to its full potential. This will require the parents to be fully aware of their children’s talents and support them unreservedly, for teachers to impart their knowledge gracefully, and for the government to create a conducive environment for these young minds to flourish.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!