Helen Zille and Eastern Cape Education Crisis

by Unathi Kondile

As the education crisis in the Eastern Cape takes its toll, there are some in our midst who have seen this as a proverbial gold mine. They have adorned themselves in all sorts of mining gear and headed on a looting spree – feeding off the miseries of our children’s education plight.

It was a sunny Tuesday morning (20/03/2012) as birds chirped outside and humans tweeted on Twitter when I came across a rather questionable early morning exchange between Premier Helen Zille (@HelenZille) and @Vuyisaq – the discussion was on education. I think it was around 7am. Two responses later Zille dropped the R-word. Now I am not implying that @Vuyisaq was in cahoots with Zille on deliberately igniting this campaign so early in the day. I’m not.

That was the beginning. I, personally, did not take offence to the use of this word, as its straightforward interpretation reflects reality.

As the day progressed, the R-word suddenly became a bone of contention. It then dawned on me that something was happening on Twitter. A ploy of sorts was panning out and working in favour of Helen Zille. Soon this R-word debate was going to hit mainstream media and pave the way for Helen Zille’s by-elections campaign trail in Port Elizabeth today (27/03/2012). As predicted all papers and online news sites were running this R-word spat, even the Eastern Cape’s Daily Dispatch ran it here.

Thank you Twitter. You’ve been darlings. One of the things we undermine about our politicians is that they possess the ability to think ahead – some employ thinkers and digital strategists in their teams, when the thinking gets tough. It would be stupid to think politicians are stupid.

The DA – working with all that young talent, backed by the University of the Democractic Alliance (UCT) – has found the pulse of social networks like Twitter.

Nothing Helen Zille says on Twitter is a mistake.

I repeat, nothing Helen Zille says on Twitter is a mistake.

Pleas like “can someone get that woman off Twitter!” or “Helen Zille must apologise!” are misguided and miss a crucial element of her strategy – that Twitter has become the shortcut into mainstream media for her. Helen Zille knows this and has used it on several occasions to her advantage.

Example 1: At a time when the City of Cape Town was being tarnished with another R-word (Racist), Zille deflected all this attention on Cape Town’s racism with two words: “Professional Black” – all anger was redirected to her, instead of Cape Town’s racism. Thus putting Cape Town’s racism to bed, once again.

Example 2: The Eastern Cape Education Refugees. Calling people “education refugees” was Zille’s well-timed way of gatecrashing the Eastern Cape education crisis whilst showcasing better education on offer in the Western Cape. It worked. Get noise on Twitter and the media (which seemingly camps on Twitter) will notice and put this in their papers.
However, news of a Twitter “Refugee” brouhaha reaching the Eastern Cape take on a different form of meaning once they’re outside Twitter. A different audience that is not privy to the pigsty that is Twitter will interpret these events differently.

To the eyes of the poor and those enduring the Eastern Cape education crisis Helen Zille is deadright. “Education is better in the Western Cape – we would like it too, maybe if she led the Eastern Cape we would have her kind of education” is a possible thought avenue.

Three days after her R-word utterance, on Twitter, guess where she was? Port Elizabeth. In blue shirts the DA marched against SADTU there. Needless to say the media saw this as an opportunity to interview her on her use of the R-word. Bear in mind that at this same time there was a massive racial war between coloureds and blacks in Grabouw, Western Cape. Yet again (as in Example 1), she was successfully deflecting attention from her province’s race problem with the simple use of a word: “Refugee.” The media’s writings and questioning remained pinned on her education comments, not so much on Grabouw. I believe the term for this is: Winning! For Zille this further became an opportunity to get onto TV – for free – and campaign via the media. The aim: Advertising that she cares and that she was now there to reassure potential Eastern Cape Education Refugees that she would take care of them. If they vote for her. Remember all it took was a tweet at 7am with @Vuyisaq. It boils down to thousands and thousands of rands worth of FREE campaigning. So well orchestrated was this plan that at the end of her campaigning in Port Elizabeth she took an Eastern Cape Health Refugee along with her and dumped ‘it’ in Khayelitsha hospital. She gloated and gloated about this on Twitter too – that the Eastern Cape Health department had failed this woman, hence she’d taken her to the Western Cape for treatment.

What does this all mean in the minds of the desperate?

It means Helen Zille is indeed the white messiah they’ve all been waiting for – she will give them a better education as well as transport them to better hospitals.

Do not underestimate Helen Zille’s use of Twitter.

It’s a strategy to get votes, backed by a serious team of social network savvy kids. If it means using the Eastern Cape’s education crisis as a ladder to votes then so be it. Heck, it’s an additional opportunity to mock the ANC’s poor governance in that province anyway. Just use Twitter – the medium of mass thinking and mass gullibility – and the media will do the rest for you.

It would be wise not to get distracted by such techniques. And focus on the real problem:

The Eastern Cape has an education crisis on its hands and we need to mobilise parents and communities to engage government themselves. Our people must learn to do things for themselves. They must get angry and do something about that anger. The sooner our people feel and understand that they too can effect change with their voices to government the sooner we can begin to have an active citizenry that will claim its share of this country.

Mother Tongue Teaching Boost

For all the problems in the Eastern Cape, recent developments in the province suggest ways to surmount persistent problems regarding language use in the classroom.

In South Africa the official language-medium policy for schools rests on what is termed mother tongue-based bilingual education. In essence, this policy advocates that pupils acquire high levels of proficiency in African languages as well as in English and it is aimed at developing bilingual and multilingual citizens.

However, there is insufficient political will in South Africa to implement a language in education policy across all provinces that is sufficiently based on the mother tongue.

Legislative and policy frameworks such as the South African Schools Act (1996) and the language in education policy (1997), among others, empower education departments and school communities to provide mother tongue-based education — the optimal learning environment. But speakers of African languages — and this category includes low-prestige varieties of Afrikaans — generally have only three years of schooling in their mother tongue, whereas mother-tongue speakers of English and many Afrikaans-speakers experience what language expert Neville Alexander has called “mother-tongue education from cradle to university”.

The Eastern Cape education department is now taking the project of multilingual education much further than many other provinces are.

Last year it launched a project to advance mother tongue-based education to the first six years of schooling. With the sustained initiative of two successive Eastern Cape education ministers, Mahlubandile Qwase and Mandla Makupula, the department now has an office that has implemented this project to run to 2016. Its aims include using isiXhosa primarily and, in fewer schools, Sesotho for the first six years of schooling and introducing English from grade one onwards. Implementation is being conducted incrementally in 23 school districts and should cover all public schools in the province by 2016.

The project is complex for a number of reasons, not least widespread prejudice against African languages. This is shaped by the hegemony of English, which conditions many to feel sceptical about the power of African languages to function in a knowledge-based society.

As a central policy, the project therefore includes ongoing advocacy that all African languages are capable mediums for the highest of any society’s functions, such as education.

History bears this out. Any language is able to evolve to national or international significance if, for instance, it is girded by military and political force.

I am not, of course, advocating military action but instead, self-determination and linguistic expansion. The history of Afrikaans provides a good example because it entailed a counterhegemonic movement against the power of English, launched in the first half of the 20th century. At the time, it carried low status in the public domain, but it was elevated to a symbol of national power and became an instrument capable of highly sophisticated scientific and cultural expression.

Similarly, the broader intention of the Eastern Cape project is to contribute to the intellectualisation of African languages so that they eventually function alongside English in high-status functions such as teaching and learning and in complex scientific innovation.

The historical rise of Afrikaans contains a significant irony when it is compared with the Eastern Cape initiative. Mother-tongue education became official apartheid-state policy with the Bantu Education Act in 1953. This Act was framed by a separatist ideology and was geared to exclude African-language speakers from participation in the economic and political domains of life.

Schooling and language policy were used as instruments to keep the oppressed backward. Primary schooling in the mother tongue was extended to eight years as part of the apartheid intention to keep people within demarcated boundaries. Kathleen Heugh, a scholar of language policy in South Africa, has shown how this language-medium policy eventually led to better schooling results for all — including those discriminated against by the apartheid government.

The pass rates of matriculants who were African-language speakers increased from 43.5% in 1955 to 83.7% in 1976, her research, which was published in 2003, found. Using African languages and having committed teachers made academic success possible for those cohorts of matriculants.

Heugh’s research also observed that apartheid architects were (naturally) unaware that, three decades down the line from the 1950s, international research would reveal that the way they had applied their language in education policy was precisely what produced good academic results and bilingual citizens.

Textbooks in isiXhosa and other languages were produced, children were taught in their mother tongue for eight years and they were being taught English very well as a subject. Matriculants emerged proficient in both the mother tongue and English.

The post-apartheid government turned all separatist policies on their head and legislated a multilingual language policy that, when applied to education, meant a mother- tongue approach. But, as a nation, we underestimated the aftermath of moedertaalonderwys (mother- tongue education) in one central way: it symbolised backwardness for most people because of the history of Bantu education. And so English became the language of aspiration, liberation and politics.

That is why addressing language attitudes is one of the fundamental tasks faced in projects such as the one the Eastern Cape is pioneering. Using African languages for the highest functions in society is a prerequisite if democracy is to reflect the social and linguistic realities of South Africans.

More concretely, working towards education based on the mother tongue-bilingual model is essentially a nation-building task in that it seeks to evolve a society that develops confidence and competence in the majority of the population.

The Eastern Cape project’s concurrent activities take place in schools, districts and the policymaking spaces in the provincial government. These activities include eliciting support from publishing houses to produce textbooks in African languages, considering how to train teachers afresh, orienting officials on how to support schools, guiding schools’ language policy processes and bringing parents on board to play an active role.

The language of teaching and learning is not the only factor that has a bearing on educational outcomes but, with knowledgeable, disciplined and caring teachers, it is probably the most significant variable. This is a provincial project but it has nationwide implications: it seeks to address systematically a national dilemma of language-medium practices in schooling.

The following first appeared in the Mail & Guardian (16 March 2012), written by Daryl Braam – an education specialist in the Eastern Cape Socioeconomic Consultative Council

Ubuhlanga beeDyunivesithi


Ndikhe ndathi tshe isibhalwana esimalunga neengxoxo ze –“Admissions Policy” yalapha kwiDyunivesithi yaseKapa. Umongo wesisibhalo ibikukumema abafundi, abaqeshwa kunye nabakwisidlangalala ukuba bathathe inxaxheba ekutshintsheni indlela le Dyunivesithi ingenisa ngayo abafundi abasuka kumasapho awawephantsi kwengcinezelo yocalu-calulo.

Sithetha nje umntwana omnyama uyakwazi ukungena eUCT ngamanqaku asezantsi kunawomntwana omhlophe, okanye owangaphesheya kolwandle. Lento ke ikwasiso nesilungiselelo sabo bathe bangcamla imfundo yezinga eliphantsi kwizikolo zaselokishini nasezilalini, kodwa benempawo zobukrelekrele. Kunjalo nje, mna andiboni ngxaki kolundlela-ngeniso.
Ngoba akukho bulingani-manani bobuhlanga kuleDyunivesithi. Uninzi labantwana abanyama, baseMzants’ Afrika, abakwazi ukungena ngenxa yokufumana imfundo engacacanga kwizikolo ezazidalelwe ukuba zenze njalo – zinike umntwana omnyama imfundo engacacanga. ‘de kulungiswe ezozikolo kwaye nemfundiso yazo ibekumgangatho olingana noweeModel C andiboni ukuba singazitshintsha njani iindlela zongeniso kuleDyunivesithi. Singxamele phi mhlawumbi? Ubulingani singekabufumani?

Bambi bathile bathi, “kodwa bakhona abantwana abamnyama abafunda kwezizikolo zamabhulu okanye izikolo zobuModel C. Bona bangabalingani nje!” Kulapho ke mna ndinokuthi endaweni yokujonga uhlanga lomfundi ofuna indawo kwiDyunivesithi, kunganjani ke ukuba singakhe sisebenzise iingingqi namahlelo ezizikolo abaphuma kuzo ababafundi? Endaweni yokuthi “umnyama, uzakungena lula!” kutheni singaqwalaseli mhlawumbi ukuba “usuka eTranskei okanye kwiilali zakwaZulu Natala okanye ebugxwayibeni baseLimpopo njalo-njalo – ngoko wena ungakwazi ukungena ngamanqaku asezantsi kunawabanye!”?

Ay’pheli apho ke – ngoba asakungena loomfundi umnyama, unamanqaku aphantsi, ingaba yona iDyunivesithi le imenzela malungiselelo mani ukuze akwazi ukufikelela kwizinga labo bebefunda kwizikolo eziphucukileyo? Yheke! Ayibenzeli nto! Tu! Suke kuthethwe ngeenqubo zeeExtended Degrees nton’ nton, apho umfundi ezibona ethatha iminyaka emibini ukwenza isifundo ekumel’ba sithatha unyaka omnye qha. Osogqiba kothukwe xa engaphumeleli. 

Ingaba iDyunivesithi ithatha manyathelo athini okuqinisekisa ukuba lomfundi, umnyama, uziva emnkelekile? Ngoba maxesha-maninzi ingxaki ayizozifundo ezohlula umfundi waselokishini okanye ezilalini xa eseDyunivesithi. Ixesha elininzi into eyohlula umfundi omnyama yingxaki yobuntu beeDyunivesithi – ubuntu beDyunivesithi bumhlophe kuqala, abukhathali, umntu uzimela ngenkqayana yakhe elangeni, njalo-njalo – andithi ke umntwana omyama ufuna ukukokoswa, abanjwe isandla kodwa ndizama ukuthi olutshintsho lwendlela yokuphila nokuthethathethisana nabantu abadala ngongathi ngabalingani nokunqaba kwezinto ezifana nembheko nezimilo zakha ekubeni umntwana omnyama azive elilolo okanye indwendwe elingamnkelekanga. Nditsho neelwimi zokufundisa – isiNgesi esi sikhe sithande ukuba yenye nje ingxaki kubo ngoba kaloku wofika iiDyunivesithi ziqesha abantu baphesheya kwamalwandle abakhumsha ngeendlela ezingaqhelekanga. Ufikise ukubana umfundi omnyama uyayazi lento kuthethwa ngayo kodwa akazithembanga ngokwaneleyo ukuba abuze imibuzo okanye asabelisise xa ebhidwa sesisiNgesi. Ingaba na iDyunivesithi le yenza malungiselelo mani ukuba ilungise ezizinto?

Phamb’ kokuba sithethe ngokutshintsha ii-“Admissions Policy” zeDyunivesithi yaseKapa, kunganjani ukuba siqale sithethe ngalemiba ndiyiphawule apha?

Kwaye kwalento yokugibisela ezingxoxo zimalunga nongeniso kwabafundi kwiDyunivesithi, esidlangalaleni ndiyibona iyingxaki.

Ngubani isidlangalala?

Kwaye ngoobani abazakukwazi ukuthatha inxaxheba kwezingxoxo, kwesisidlangalala? Ngababantu bafikelela kumacing’omoya (i-internet) nabantu abafunda amaphepha-ndaba – uninzi lawo lomaphepha abhalelwa abantu abamhlophe ngesiNgesi sabo. Lilonke ke xa sithetha ngesidlangalala kulomba wongeniso kwiDyunivesithi, sithetha ngesidlangalala esimhlophe. Uninzi lwezimvo kulomba wongeniso zizakusuka kubantu abamhlophe, kubantu abahleli bengayixhasi yonke lento yokulungisa izivubeko zamandulo. Abantu abakhala ngoo-“get over the past already!” qho xa kuthethwa ngemiba edibene nobuhlanga.

Ingaba ke iUCT iwusa esidlangalaleni lomba ngeenjongo zokuba esisidlangalala (ebesenditshilo ukuba luninzi lumhlophe) luzakuyiguqula yonke lento? Kubuyelwe kundlela-ndala olungiselela abo bafunde kwizikolo eziphucukileyo kuphela? Yingxaki leyo. Kwaye iyakhathaza into yokuba le-“Admissions Policy” ingasiwa nakwiilali, emaholweni asekuhlaleni nasezilokishini – izakuphelela kwii”Online submissions” nakwabo bathe bathenga lamaphepha-ndaba athetha nohlanga olunye kuphela.

Ingaba iUCT yenza ngabom’ xa isenza kanje? Ingaba mhlawumbi yona kuqala ifuna ukutshintsha ezindlela zongeniso? Zibuyele kundlela-ndala olungiselela abamhlophe kuqala?

Ndicinga njalo.

The Politics of Bread

On the week of 21 February 2012 we embarked on a cyber campaign – in which we got young professionals within our networks to email the following email to the Premier of the Eastern Cape as well as the office of the minister of basic education.

Over a hundred (or more) emails were sent. The gist of the emails was concern over the  poor state of education administration and teaching in the Eastern Cape. It was a direct call to the Premier, Noxolo Kiviet, to take up more action in the fight for a better education for black children in the province, as well as fully implement a Section 100 intervention. The email also made a light plea for a probe into how the department pays R25 (in some schools) for a loaf of brown bread as part of their school feeding scheme. Email concluded by pledging support for the premier and department of basic education.

In sending these emails we didn’t anticipate that all would be attended to and that perhaps a general response for one of two might be forthcoming. However, no response has been forthcoming from the Premier’s office. There were however a few responses from the department of basic education, along these lines:

From: Department of Basic Education
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2012 10:47:40 +0200
To: Us
Cc: Department of Education senior members

Subject: Your enquiry to the office of the Premier -Eastern Cape

Dear Sir/Madame

Your enquiry to the office of the Premier and MEC for Education in Eastern Cape refers. The National Department of Basic Education received your enquiry from the office of the Minister and wish to further investigate the report on the price of bread at R25 in the school nutrition programme.

Kindly provide us with more information to do in-depth investigations with regards to:

1.       Names of schools affected

2.       The District/s

3.       The name of the service provider/s or supplier of bread

Should you have additional and detailed information at your disposal, please do not hesitate to communicate this to us. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.  We will make an effort to investigate and give a response on the matter.  

You may contact … at your earliest convenience.

Kind regards
National School Nutrition Programme (part of Department of Basic Education)

Straight after this response we got another email from another official with the subject line reading: “ALLEGED PRICE OF BREAD IN THE EC PROVINCE” In caps, yes. This next email promised that the NSNP (National School Nutrition Programme) Directorate in the Department of Basic Education is prepared to do a thorough investigation on the alleged conduct where we allude to the fact that there are instances where schools pay as much as R25 for a loaf of bread. However, for this Directorate to properly and speedily investigate they will need at least the name(s) of school(s) where this practice is taking place.

And in the name of politics there had to be some denialism thrown in there, when we were told a meeting was held with the Provincial office of the NSNP and this office did not know anything of the sort (bread pricing). Thereafter we were asked to provide details.

Now. Going back to the initial email sent out by various young professionals voicing their own concerns – it appears the only subject worth responding to was that of bread pricing? Bread politics? Fair enough. We are reasonable people. So we write back thanking the department for its prompt response, provide a link to the Minister of Finance’s budget speech which actually highlighted this bread pricing matter, here. Thereafter we tried to tow the subject back to our main concerns – the rot of education in the department, particularly in the Eastern Cape. We begged that something be done about this and not only reduce this to the politics of bread. Response came in the next day:

From: Department of Basic Education
Date: Wed, 29 Feb 2012 11:19:30 +0200
To: Us
Cc: Department of Basic Education

Subject: RE: ALLEGED PRICE OF BREAD IN THE EC PROVINCE

[Greetings]

Firstly, let me start by saying [the department official], who made the inquiry about the “price of bread” [in first response to us], is not an official from the Office of the Premier in the Province of the Eastern Cape, but is one of the officials responsible for the management / coordination the National School Nutrition Programme in the Department of Basic Education.  His interest on the “price of bread” emanates from his line function duties, and was not an attempt to trivialise the important and real issues you have raised in your e-mail.

Secondly, we were quite aware of Minister Gordhan’s statement in 2009 as well as the reality on the ground at that time. The high pricing of bread at that time was not only a phenomenon which only affected the Province of the Eastern Cape, but was more pronounced in that province. 

The Department of Education did act on these allegations. The current model of decentralising the National School Nutrition Programme to deserving schools, in place of the old procurement model, was an attempt to address gross management and administrative anomalies related to the National School Nutrition Programme.

Thirdly, while we recognise that your e-mail (and those of many of your colleagues) was forwarded to the executive authorities in the Province of theEastern Cape. Therefore it is fair to expect a response from theEastern Cape executive authorities. 

Be that as it may, the Department of Basic Education still has a vested interest in normalising and stabilising the Eastern Cape Education Department.  Hence [department official] made the inquiry on the “price of bread” because we thought the old habits which dogged the National School Nutrition Programme before, were coming back to haunt us.

We applaud members of the communities in theEastern Cape, like yourselves, who have actively responded to the challenge posed by the Secretariat of the ANC Alliance Partners that parents and communities must play an active role in the education of the children of theEastern Cape.

If [department official’s] inquiry was read as trivialising the issues you had raised in your e-mail, we wish to extend our sincerest apologies.

Kind regards 

Chief Director: Planning Oversight & Delivery Unit
Department of Basic Education

So once again we find ourselves discussing bread. No clear resolutions or at the least promises to step up efforts from within the department. Nonetheless we appreciate the time taken to respond. However we are still awaiting a response from the Premier’s office. What is the office of the Premier doing about the education crisis in the Eastern Cape? And in what ways would it like us, concerned citizens, to assist? We do not in the least bit see ourselves as some form of opposition coalition, but rather we are here to assist government, particulary the department of education. This is not a war. We await a response and will be sending out reminder emails to the Premier’s office…

If you would like to take part in the next round of this cyber campaign, send an email to imfundo.easterncape@gmail.com