Imbila Yaswela Umsila Ngokuyalezela

By Unathi Kondile

It’s 4am.

I’ve been asleep since 3pm.

I suppose this happens when you spend an entire week on the road.

5446 kilometres travelled in one week – distributing Isigidimi SamaXhosa, talking to chiefs, teachers, ward councilors, rural community dwellers, shebeen patrons (oolova baseKasi) and my favourite – children.

The overall experience: I am gutted by how our people have resigned themselves to a life of dependency. It’s as if we’ve become addicted to help. Drive past any SASSA office in the Eastern Cape and you will see hoards of iinkonde neenkondekazi (the elderly) queuing there all day long – for grants and grants to be granted by grantors.

“Bhuti, sicela usiphe imali yedrinki!” were the words three Thembalethu High School girls uttered as I drove past them, in George. I stopped. Gazed at how short their uniform was.

Thought was not: “Damn, that’s sexy!”

Thought was: “All school girls must wear long gray school trousers!”

This thing of showing so much thigh at school is distracting, to put it lightly.

“Andinayo!” was my response, “imali yam igqitywe leliphepha lesiXhosa lam” as I showed them a copy of the newspaper.

“Kodwa uhamba ngemoto entle kangaka!” said one pointing to the rented I20 I was driving. “Sicela usiphe ilift ke; uyosibeka ekhaya!” That’s another thing about our township and rural communities – a car attracts attention like faeces attract flies.

I caved in, gave them a lift but along the way gems came out of their mouths – things like “poverty is inherited bhuti, maybe we will stop asking for things when we are older!” and more was said by these girls. As they got out they asked for copies of the newspaper and promised to write about what’s going on in Thembalethu. I am not going to hold my breath for that.

Throughout my travels in the Eastern Cape one theme kept reasserting itself: girls are easy prey there; especially if you’re driving whatever you’re driving. If you have wheels and can afford a six pack of Red Square or Hunters Extreme you are a woman’s dream-come-true waiting to happen in some parts of this country.

My conclusion: If only all those feminists in big cities would take a break from conferences, art and Twitter, and head down to rural areas and townships to empower young girls there; perhaps change would come.

On the subject of conferences, Twitter and being busy I have further concluded in my head that change will not come from people who are busy presenting in conferences, speaking at breakfasts or people who are locked down in 9-to-5 jobs. Change will come from people who are prepared to down tools or commit career suicide (as Nomalanga would put it). We are not going to change anything in this country if we are resigned to this thing called work. We have to resign first.

This trend of young people finishing school, getting a job, buying expensive wheels and committing themselves to buying things they can’t even pronounce must come to an end. People who are committed to creating debt for themselves cannot possibly be the same people who can commit to changing any society. If there are people in this country who can live on R1200 per month grants I think anyone who earns above that is overpaid and surely can make an effort in terms of saving their money. By this I mean anyone earning above R1200 is in a good position to resign after a few years and go do some good with their savings. This however requires a culture of saving and divorcing the what-will-people-say complex, first.

I have seen many such young professionals gracing activist initiatives like the Education Stokvels and other similar black empowerment initiatives. The reception is great. Everyone comes and pledges their support to initiatives that promise to improve the lives of the majority. A launch is done. Canapes and wine are served. All attend. Within a week it’s as if nothing ever happened. Promises. Promises. Pledges. Pledges. But nothing.

People are way too busy being busy. Busy servicing debt. Busy working towards enriching their employers. Such that doing side social gigs become difficult for them. Look at the dead end jobs we’re in – who do we serve? Do our employers allow us time to go and fix where we come from? No. You’re working, working, working from one pay EFT to the next – never a moment to spare to go do some community work, build a school with friends or so on.

No such.

Tough cookies.

And when it becomes hard for you to do social work it becomes easier for you to look to government. Blame government. You easily develop the Government-Must! syndrome many liberals suffer from. This syndrome blinds you to the reality of “I too, can make a difference, with the little that I have.”

Sadly, it becomes the empowered, well-positioned, too-busy-being-busy types who consistently put the blame on government’s foot.

I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about government. The problem is not government; it is us. We are the ones who vote. How on earth do we “employ” someone then call them “boss” or a leader soon thereafter? We are the employers. That’s like employing a babysitter and thereafter treating that babysitter as if they were the parent that is you.

This happens. Nannies become the real parents and parents end up bowing down to the very nannies they employed. Why? Because we are too busy being busy. And that being too busy of ours slowly breeds a culture of help and dependency. It breeds a culture of looking up to nannies like president Jacob Zuma for everything. We no longer know how to do things for ourselves. If it itches, we don’t scratch. That’d be too much effort. Get a masseuse to scratch the itch.

If you can’t even scratch yourself or raise your own child, how on earth can you help entire communities? You will inevitably end up looking for nannies to help you with your own problems.

We work, get paid, start debt and leave the rest to nannies called governments.

What on earth is that all about?

Government cannot do much for us. As I travelled the length and breadth of this country it became clearer that government is trying; but we – the parents of our problems – are not. The solution to this country is not a new government or nanny. The very same problems will persist irregardless of which nanny we employ; the problematic child will still be a problem child, even to that new nanny.

For things to work; we must nanny our own problems ourselves.

I have seen communities get together and build mud schools and thereafter roping in the services of retired teachers to teach for free in some rural areas of this country.

I have seen retired nurses coming out of retirement and converting their homes into clinics.

I have seen people who earn close to nothing taking care of the elderly and sick.

I have seen and learnt that no money is needed to help others.

We only need human capital, human care and human time.

How do we raise these three?

It was around 1986, in Cala – 46 kilometres from Queenstown, when learners burnt down Mazibuko Senior Secondary School.  Actually, many a school has been burnt down in our illustrious past. This culture of destroying libraries, schools and other services that benefit communities has long been with us. Its roots are firmly entrenched in defiance. You destroy that which is essential in the hope that it will grab attention. Attention Seeking 101 has never been easier. So when this destructive culture persists in 2012 protests we shouldn’t act surprised nor ask “why?” – that is the only working form of yanking attention, for some. And it works. Why stop doing something that works?

So anyway. 1986. Mazibuko Senior Secondary burnt down. Who rebuilt it within a month? The very same community whose children had burnt it down. Parents, teachers and farmers got together and rebuilt that school within a month. Children were back to school.

There are many more such schools in the Eastern Cape. They were built by the hands of the community with little or no support from government. That was in the 80s. Before 1994 we rarely ran to government when we had problems, we sorted things out ourselves, yet in 2012 we struggle to do anything for ourselves. Even though it is claimed we are free?

What on earth is that all about?

What exactly are we too busy doing? Busy being busy?

Anyway. Back to the Calas. Upon building those schools those that have cars went out and got textbooks from government departments. If said department had none they made photocopies of textbooks until government had. At times they approached the publishers direct and made deals. The point is they did something.

Moral: Just do something. Anything, but protest and running to courts. That is time wasted.

This dependency tendency towards Mr-Delivery-Will-Do-It simply leads to no textbooks getting to schools. In Xhosa we say “imbila yaswela umsila ngokuyalezela” – “the rock rabbit has no tail, because it chose to send someone else to get it for it” – this culture of having someone do something for you is foreign to us Xhosas. We cannot have situations where communities are obsequious to nannies and Mr Deliveries. To get things done, you do them yourselves. Government eventually responds and adds on a few buildings to what you have already built. That is called active citizenry. Especially where education is concerned. Those are our children. If the nanny refuses to change our children’s nappies, we have to be the ones that change them. We’ve become the parents that don’t mind children being in soiled nappies the whole day. Our problems in this country are our responsibility. We cannot sit and wait for things to get done on our behalf anymore. Those that have bakkies must go and get the textbooks for their community schools. What kind of nonsense is this that when a problem emerges no one does anything about it except to point to the nanny that is government?

What kind of culture is this that prefers to sit back and pontificate over its problems?

We all know what our problems are. Listing them and and establishing bitch-and-moan NGOs achieves nothing. We “Do” or “Doing” people. Enough with talking good English and asking the right questions. Do.

What kind of culture is this that is complacent with writing good articles and organizing marches for its own problems?

What on earth is that all about?

Is it because we are too busy? Too lazy? Or that we do not care anymore? The future of education in this country will not be resolved by government. The future of education in this country will be resolved by the resolve of communities like Cala who still are hands-on on the education of their children. If you, the parent or young black, do not care about the education of the future then I am afraid you should be afraid of the future.

Caring or activism is not marching to government buildings. Especially in 2012. Why on earth are you marching against someone you employed, yourself. The employer doth protest against the employee?

What on earth is that all about?

Caring or activism should be about doing. Especially in 2012. Activism should be going to communities, establishing what is missing and going out to get what is missing. You will find that in all this activism that is aplenty there is actually enough money to render services or do get things done. But instead that money is spent on tea, biscuits, venue hire, speakers’ flights and accommodation and so forth. So that people can sit, talk organise a march that they will talk about for days afterwards. That’s passivism. Not activism.

What on earth is that all about?

If we are serious about getting this right, if we are serious about helping one another then we have to get over this government-must-do-this-and-that complex. Government is clearly failing in some aspects of its functioning and running back and forth to their offices expecting miracles simply won’t work. What will work is us rolling up our sleeves and doing this work ourselves. Government will join us along the way. They always do – it’s part of their looking-for-success-stories-we-can-hijack mandate.

Until then, I only have these words to say: imbila yaswela umsila ngokuyalezela. Go and get that tail for yourself.


Mother Tongue Teaching in EC

In an effort to improve the standard of education, the Eastern Cape is the first province
in the country to move towards implementing mother tongue-based teaching, learning
and assessment in the foundation phases.

Already 74 primary schools in the Cofimvaba district have adopted the model, which is envisaged to be rolled out in the other 22 education districts in the province.

This week language experts, subject advisers, education officials, members of parliament and officials from the office of premier Noxolo Kiviet met for a two-day workshop at the Stirling Education Leadership Institute in East London to craft a standardized dictionary to be used for maths, science and technology at schools.

Xhosa textbooks, other than the normal English-worded material, will be provided to pupils. Children in the foundation phases (Grades 1 to 3) in the district are also to write their Annual National Assessment (ANA) exams this year in Xhosa.

Last year, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released the country’s ANA results for foundation and intermediate phases (Grades 4 to 6) in the country.

Literacy and numeracy tests were conducted at a total of 164 schools in the Eastern Cape – and the results proved poor.

Grade 3 pupils scored 39% in literacy and 40% in maths, while Grade 6 pupils scored lower, managing only 29% in both subjects. Eastern Cape education department language policy manager Naledi Mbudeshale, who is driving the project, said the move by the district would improve the ANA results.

“I know that there are some fears that children will not know English and that these children will not have a bright future and there will not be a space for them at higher institutions of learning but these are untrue and unfounded,”
said Mbudeshale.

“These children are going to be taught English, but they will learn other subjects in their mothertongue. English will be just a resource subject.”

Mbudeshale said the Cofimvaba district had offered to teach the children in Xhosa because children were battling to understand their subjects in English. The bilingual approach would still be implemented, but Xhosa would be used as the first language instead of English.

She plans to present a report on the matter to education MEC Mandla Makupula and acting superintendent-general Mthunywa Ngonzo. It would then be handed to the Bhisho legislature.

Mbudeshale said publishers would be consulted to write books
based on standardised concepts. The department’s deputy director-
general of institutional operations management, Sithembele Zibi said the move would improve the standard of education. “It’s time to reclaim our status. In the past we were ahead compared to other provinces. We used to offer education to children coming from other provinces. Now we are behind,” said Zibi. “We have a challenge of shortages of teachers and those who are skilled in these subjects. Maybe this is the way to go and will ultimately lead to the improvement of matric results.”

The project comes as the ANC in the Eastern Cape attempts to push for children to be taught in their mother tongue and vernacular languages across the country.

The province has already had its policy proposal to have Xhosa speaking children in the Eastern Cape taught in their mother tongue accepted at the party’s national policy conference last month.

ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane confirmed that there were
plans to discuss the implementation of mother tongue education to the
other provinces at the party’s elective conference in Mangaung in

Qoboshiyane said about 90% of the subjects were currently taught in
English and children whose first language is not English were battling
to understand lessons.

He said the proposal had received a lot of support from academics and
researchers from universities in the province. “What we were
advocating [at the recent conference] was the establishment of an
African Language Institute.

“This was accepted by the plenary of the policy conference so we can
have more educators of language[s] we are talking about.

“We said these steps must be taken to ensure that the second phase of
our transition respects our mother tongue. There was a total
acceptance of our proposal” said Qoboshiyane.

The following report first appeared in the Saturday Dispatch (14/07/2012), written by its education reporter – Msindisi Fengu.

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

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



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