“If I succumb to cancer and go to the next world, the first thing I will do there is look for the ANC branch, then for billionaires like Nokia, so I will continue to build schools and clinics for poor people in that world.”
These were the words of former president Nelson Mandela addressing a cheerful and ululating crowd as he officially opened Nongeke Senior Secondary school in rural Bizana, Eastern Cape, on Tuesday.
The Finland-based Nokia and RF Group’s joint investment in the school equals R3,8-million and the school was built under difficult conditions in a community so isolated that it does not have running water, electricity or easy road access. Thus the school will now boast a huge electricity generator, a water-catchment system, nine added classrooms, a workshop, library and computer room.
Mike Myers, Nokia’s Southern Africa CEO said the investment in the Bizana school is an indication of “the seriousness with which we take our corporate social responsibility”.
A message of gratitude came from the local chief, Mwelo Nokonyane. “We the Pondo people of this land are very grateful to Tata Mandela and Nokia for what they have done,” echoing the message of the school choir’s earlier on: “Besingakwazi ukuthi usithanda kangaka [We didn’t know you (Mandela) love us so much]!”
Mandela emerged from his helicopter amid tumultuous cheers, ululating and whistles. To be around him, one school teacher said, is to be overwhelmed by a great spirit of humanness: “It’s inexplicable!”
If Mandela takes any physical battering from gracing such ceremonies, he hides it well. He insisted on walking into the tent, ignoring the armoured Mercedez-Benz waiting for him.
His opening words were in poetic Xhosa, ironically reminding everybody that he’s not “a good speaker” and that “even an old man of more than 100 years” like him, was still learning.
This point settled well with the pupils, whom he then exhorted to “study very hard and pass with honours and distinctions”. It was very significant, Mandela said, that Nokia came from many kilometres across the seas and chose Nongaka to be their friends and partners. “The community must look after the school and protect it against thieves,” he said.
Mandela expressed his gratitude to both local and foreign business, and Myers responded in fluent Xhosa: “Ndingowase Mzantsi Afrika. Ndikholelwa kuMzantsi Afrika. Futhi ndikholelwa kulutsha lwethu ukuba lungakha ilizwe lethu, apho umhlaba wonke ungabonela kulo. [I am South African. I believe in South Africa. And I believe in our youth in building our country, from which the whole world can learn].”
A lot of thought went into building the school, he said. “We painted it yellow, as opposed to white, to create an atmosphere of joy and excitement and one that we think is conducive to learning. And our job does not end today. Through the Nelson Mandela Trust, pupils who excel through these schools will be ensured of the best prospects in both furthering their education and career assistance.”
A visibly elated Solly Cele, principal of the school, promised “nothing but quality education. Though I am only a month-old in the school, my target is a minimum of 60% pass rate in matric, at least.”
The festive occasion was characterised by spontaneous outbursts of praise-singing, at times out-staging tightly scheduled proceedings that included traditional dancers, a choir and other solo pieces. The guests were later treated to a sumptuous meal prepared on traditional three-legged pots.
The final words came from Mandela, who enthused “occasions like these make me go to bed with a feeling of goodwill and that’s a secret to my health”.
The ocassion was graced by several guests, including Finnish ambassador to South Africa, Kirsti Lintonen; David Stoneham, Nokia’s international director of corporate social responsibility; Matti Parkkinen, general manager export Europe and Africa; Erkki Turanlahti, area manager Europe and Africa; and the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.