Somafco pupils wait to come home

High-level negotiations between government and the African National Con­gress are continuing over re­-settlement from the Solo­mon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco) in Tanzania, while hundreds of pupils there eagerly await the next plane to South Africa.

ANC sources confirmed this week that the empty Hillview School, close to the centre of Pretoria, had been se­cured for the more than 600 students until March next year, amid right-wing protests. But, they said, the school was not entirely suitable because it had no dormitory facilities, and government was bickering over how much to contribute towards the pupils’ return. “We can say categorically that the ANC has no money to contribute to airfares,” a source said.

“The government owes it to every­body to foot the bill. After all, it is only because of them that these people left the country.”Somafco – which has pre-primary, primary and high school components – was established in 1979 to provide education for pupils forced by violence and repression to flee South Africa. The college was closed at the end of last month after pupils wrote mid-year ex­ams.

Education at Somafco was of a fairly unique nature and, from all accounts, its pupils would find it difficult to ad­just to conventional South African schooling. They prepared for five ‘O’ level subjects, with English and mathematics as compulsory subjects learnt in secluded and peaceful conditions and the college was well-equipped with a library, science and biology laboratories and audio-visual equipment. Their teachers were either locally recruited Tanzani­ans or South African exiles, and most primary school pupils speak “SwaZu­lu” – a combination of Swahili and Zulu.

An early May assessment of the pu­pils’ educational needs – commis­sioned by the education task force of the National Co-ordinating Committee for Repatriation (NCCR) – says at least half of them would not cope with the demands of equivalent private school levels in South Africa The report stresses though that a very strong culture of leaming exists at Somafco

The report, say ANC sources, has been “distorted” by government officials to cast aspersions on the quality of education offered at Somafco and un­dermine its efforts. “They say we are always fighting for a better education system, but look at the school we had – pupils won’t even fit into DET edu­cation.”

But, the sources say, the report mustbe tempered by its context. The aca­demic testing done was measured according to the standards of private schools like St Barnabas and Sacred Heart, the assessors were unfamiliar with the pupils, and spent only three days on their task.

“Most of the pupils who arrived had been messed up by Bantu Education, and we had to try and bridge all those years of academic waste,” said the source. Ninety percent of pupils, he said, had to be put in lower standards when they arrived for assessment at the education orientation centre. So, for example, at Somafco there were 25-year-olds in the Form 2 class.

“The maturity and high levels of moti­vation of these pupils suggests they would make better use of a more infor­mal adult-oriented type of preparation for school-leaving certification,”‘ says the report. “They have been treated largely as adults and would be ill-prepared for the authoritarian form of education in most South African schools.”

A government/ANC delegation visited the school yesterday and a South African team – including social workers from both sides – is due to fly out to Tanzania to assess the situation. No fixed date has been set for the relocation, although two special jumbo jet have been arranged to fetch the pupils. Disputes over funding for the returning pupils could be speedily resolved if the United Nations were to get involved, but its participation is hindered by government refusal to grant a general amnesty to political prisoners.

According to the ANC, administra­tion at Hillview will be a joint affair, but it will determine syllabi and staffing. Good teachers with community concerns have been asked to avail their services.

The ANC is adamant though that the school not be regarded as divorced from the education crisis. “These pupils need reorientation and special attention, but not at the expense of the education crisis,” the spokesman said.

Government comment could not be obtained at the time of going to press.-  Portia Maurice

The article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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