Article by Mosibudi Mangena

It is one of the most basic instincts of adults to protect their children against harm. In fact, almost all animals are at their fiercest and most dangerous when trying to protect their young against any real or perceived danger.

What kind of adults have we become that use children to fight our battles? Whereas common sense and instinct dictate that at the first sign of trouble we shepherd our children to the background and face the problem as adults, we deliberately put our children in harm’s way.

The latest in this rather bizarre behaviour on our part is the Vuwani debacle. Anyway, how does the Demarcation Board suffer from the community burning 24 of their schools and preventing children from going to school? What kind of logic is this? Are we cutting our noses to spite our faces?

My fondest memory of Vuwani was a visit there several years ago in my past capacity as minister of science and technology to open a science centre. I wonder if it has survived the mayhem.

Vuwani is not the only community infested by this queer disease. Neighbouring Malamulele did the same a while back while campaigning for the creation of their own separate municipality. So did a community in the North West that closed their schools and torched a few in an attempt to put pressure on the authorities to tar some road. In that case, the children lost a whole year of schooling. It is doubtful that community has fully recovered from that madness.

It is common these days to see children being taken out of classrooms and used as cannon fodder and a source of energy and noise during protests. In the process, the future of the children is compromised.

Information at hand indicates that the children of Malamulele did badly in the Matriculation examinations last year. With so many schools reduced to ashes in Vuwani, together with all school records, our children in that community will take many years to recover educationally and emotionally. The minister of education suggests something in the region of R500m would be required to rebuild the schools. The records are gone forever.

Considering our history of value for education, one wonders where this weird disease comes from. Even during the dark days of oppression, our people fought tooth and nail to have a good education for their children. Eminent teachers such as Es’kia Mphahlele and Zeph Mothopeng left teaching in protest against the introduction of the inferior Bantu Education system.

Even during the mayhem of the 1976 student uprising, where hundreds of people were shot dead or maimed, not a single school was burned. The protesting students torched beer halls and other government structures in the townships, but left schools and clinics alone.

Compared to the issues and struggles of June 1976 where death and loss of limb were in the offing, what is a dispute about municipal borders? Certainly, the people of Vuwani should protest if they believe they are being wronged, but they should leave our children alone. Those kids are the future of our country and they deserve a good education.

Statistics SA has just released a survey that painted a damning picture of black youth in our country. One of the contributing factors to that dismal situation is the poor education we provide to our young. Instead of us redoubling our efforts to support our children and give them the best education possible, we seem to be declaring war against them. How else could we describe the burning of their schools by their parents and communities?

Thabo Ndabeni, one of the leaders of June 1976 student revolt, recalls an episode where the leadership had instructed students at every school in Soweto to burn one textbook as a symbolic rejection of Bantu Education.

However, students at Madibana High School misunderstood. They took out all books in their school library and made a bonfire of them. The entire student leadership was so distraught and horrified by this development that they successfully asked the late Aggrey Klaaste to help them raise money to restock the library. That’s just fantastic!

It seems we have regressed as a society. What we are doing these days might be the manifestation of the worst form of self-hate. Can you imagine any self-respecting society anywhere in the world going out of its way to harm its children in this way?

We know that our municipalities are generally under-performing and that some are cesspools of corruption and sleaze, and that the relevant authorities in our land are not always as responsive as they ought to be. We also know that some of our democratic institution do not always serve the people as well as they should. But that’s no excuse to destroy the future of our children whenever we are unhappy about this or the other thing.

The Vuwani community approached the courts and lost. They can appeal and take other steps to solve their problems. But they should not only leave our schools alone, they should protect them at all cost.

No Boko Haram tendencies here, please.