One of my colleagues here observed, "When Africans are mournful they sing, and when they are joyful they also sing." I'd say that's seems to be true. My first clip here is of Sandisulwazi students entering school on a Monday. Not sure if that counts as mournful or joyful, but the students spontaneously burst into song as they entered the school compound.
This second clip is from the equivalent of a student of the quarter presentation this last Wednesday. Not a lot of teaching was accomplished this day. It started with a song, then some of the students started dancing, then some of the parents (several of whom are wearing traditional Xhosa dress) got into it. My camera unfortunately ran out of gas just as the whole ceremony devolved into a dance party. The principal was trying to restore order, but eventually he gave up and joined in. Okay, not enough furniture, teachers, books or calculators, but a lot of spirit. That counts for something.
Vincent, Enoch, Joseph and Ray. Can you spot me?
When I visited Oukasie I was able to reconnect with some of my former students from 10 years ago. As a teacher it is very gratifying to see that some of my students were able to use their education to “escape” a life in the township. Only about 20% of the students who enter Botlhabelo high school in 8th grade are able to complete their education and pass their exams at the end of 12th grade. Without at least a high school diploma the future is bleak. Unemployment in South Africa is officially about 30%, but this only counts people who are actively seeking jobs. Many people in the townships have simply given up, and in Oukasie the unemployment is estimated to run about 75%. So sticking out high school, getting a diploma, and getting a job is a big deal. Most of the students in these pictures have gone on to college.
Kealeboga, a truly inspiring former student and a good friend
Sadly, life in Oukasie has gotten worse, not better over the last 10 years. Crime, drug and alcohol use, HIV/AIDS, and a recent influx of refugees from Zimbabwe have all served to destabilize what was once a very focused and committed community. All the students with whom I reconnected commented on the deterioration of the township. In some ways the struggle against resettlement had been a galvanizing force. Now, in the "vacuum of freedom” many youths lack role models and motivation. It is easy to give up hope and slip into the mire of township life.
Malebye, David and Joseph making plans to motivate students at Botlhabelo.
As we toured the township, my former students, now in their late 20’s, made plans to visit the high school to try to encourage and motivate the students. “Plowing back,” is a phrase often invoked by South Africans – giving back to your community when you are lucky enough to catch a break. It is important for current students to see that education is the best way out of township life.
A few old pictures (of the same students).