Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Recently, Discovery Invest hosted a Leadership Summit under the theme ‘Knowledge is the new currency’. South African businessman Johann Rupert, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Wall Street dissident and derivatives trader, and Rudy Giuliani, New York’s former mayor, all attended.
After the seminar, Carte Blanche asked these influential leaders what advice they had to offer South Africa. Mr Giuliani made the following remark: "What this country is like 20 years from now is really being determined in the schools in this country, not in the political arenas or the business arenas."
These words are a stark reminder that many students, and indeed South Africa as a whole, face an uncertain future.
With only four weeks to the 2010 matric exams, students are in a race against time to catch-up on the many teaching hours lost during the World Cup and the recent public sector strike. Most have not yet finished the curriculum, even as they review for exams. We have failed to prepare our children for one of the most important exams of their life; the exam that will determine their own futures, and that of South Africa.
Our failure is compounded in Government’s laudable recovery plan that never got off the ground. The Department of Basic Education and teacher unions failed to agree on payment for teachers for the extra hours. The Department left it to schools to come up with their own recovery programmes, while teacher unions told their members not to work the extra hours without agreeing on pay.
The inevitable sense of betrayal and helplessness among learners has spilled over into violence. At Moletsane Secondary School in Soweto, members of the Congress of South African Students created chaos, disrupting exams. In Limpopo, exams were written under police guard as "striking learners" barricaded gates, trashed furniture, smashed windows and created anarchy in the classrooms. In the Free State, violent protests resulted in the death of Grade 10 pupil Nontsikelelo Nokela.
All this is reminiscent of the 1976 student uprisings. This is unthinkable, sixteen years into a democratic dispensation. But I have warned before that we are reaping the culture that was sown by the ANC during the liberation struggle. When they incited supporters to burn schools and march under the banner "Liberation Now, Education Later", a philosophy was born that learning is not a serious pursuit compared to politics or social justice. The teachers of today are the students of yesterday who acquired that mindset.
The ruling Party is not as pure as the driven snow in the education tragedy. What have they done concerning their members of SADTU who neglected their profession and abandoned our children? While I support every teacher’s right to fair remuneration, our education system is in crisis. Clearly the mechanics of the system are not working.
Since attaining democracy, South Africa has increased access to education and health care dramatically. But for a country that spends proportionally more of its GDP on education than the international norm, somewhere, we have gone wrong.
International studies place the quality of education in South Africa on the bottom rung. In maths and science, we rank below Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Last year, 506 schools only managed to achieve a pass rate of 0-20%. For 19 of these, it was 0%. Last year’s 60.2% matric pass rate was a drop from 62,5% in 2008 and, with the current crisis, we dare not hope for an improvement.
In her book "Chasing the Rainbow: South Africa’s Move from Mandela to Zuma" Dr Anthea Jeffery analyses South Africa’s ten critical policy areas, which the South African Institute for Race Relations has termed the "Ten Pillars of Democracy". Dr Jeffrey sheds some light on our education disaster.
According to her, what the poor need most in post-apartheid South Africa is to be helped to stand on their own feet by earning their own income. This requires liberation from ignorance and disease, and help to enter the labour and other markets. Dr Jeffrey writes, "Basic schooling has become worse than Bantu Education, if only because outcomes-based education (OBE) has undermined the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic."
The problems we face are by no means insurmountable, provided that Government acts on its pledge to make education a top policy priority.
I believe the pre-eminent responsibility of any government is to ensure that its citizens receive a quality education. Without it, other policy goals will suffer.
Emerging from its National General Council last week, the ANC admitted that some government departments and policies are not functioning optimally and need to be overhauled. Surprisingly, I did not hear too much on the education front. While Government has committed itself to a 2025 action plan for improving basic education, surely targeted interventions are needed now.
Rural schools are struggling to provide basic education. Vacant and unfilled teacher posts, especially in our poorest communities, speak of the struggle to attract qualified teachers, especially for mathematics and science. Inevitably, this leads to poor results.
Interventions are needed now.
The IFP has made numerous suggestions on how to rescue the ailing education system. We believe in a diversified system that properly caters for the vocational, technical and academic needs of the country; we believe that education should be free up to and including Grade 12; OBE must be discarded outright; we must develop a highly qualified, well-paid and highly motivated cadre of dedicated educators; we need to reopen the teacher training colleges that were closed; we must provide far more bursaries in targeted subjects such as mathematics, science and technical subjects, while prioritizing these subjects at primary school level; and all institutions of learning must be properly resourced.
Civil society organizations working in the formal education sector within South Africa’s most vulnerable communities have come together under the Education Coalition of South Africa (EDCOSA). In recognition of my lifelong commitment to education, I have been invited to become its Patron. Sadly, I am unable to attend the launch of EDCOSA in Cape Town tomorrow, as I am introducing the Oxford isiZulu-English School Dictionary in KwaZulu Natal.
My commitment to "Education for Liberation", which I championed during our liberation struggle, continues today. Education is as valuable for strengthening democracy as it is for overcoming oppression. Knowledge is power. Indeed, as the Leadership Summit put it, knowledge is the new world currency.
When The Times published its 2010 rankings of the world’s top 200 universities, the University of Cape Town took pride of place. This shows what we can achieve. For the sake of our children, our nation and our future, let’s do what needs to be done right now.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510.