The future starts here

The vice0chancellor of the North-West University, Professor Dan Kgwadi

The vice0chancellor of the North-West University, Professor Dan Kgwadi

I

It’s a Saturday. His eyes are screwed up while he meticulously counts the coins in his hand. The previous night’s rain is unrelenting — it refuses to leave the sphere where Wandile and Xander find themselves on the street corner. It is hot and muggy.

Around them Ikageng is waking up. A minibus taxi’s horn echoes through the tin houses as it calls its passengers. A dog, grey, spotted and scraggy, barks-barks-barks shrilly as it scampers past them, tail between its legs. It was naughty and from the sound of it, very naughty.

From his spot under a rusted street name sign, Wandile pays no attention to the commotion. No, his attention is focused on Xander, his look pins him down. He can see Xander is feeling uncomfortable; it is working. Excellent. And then: the corners of his mouth turns up as he hears his mother’s voice.

“It’s time to go,” she tells him and the entire neighbourhood. Now Xander has to make a snap decision. Judging by Wandile’s mother’s plea, becoming progressively more high-pitched, his time is running out.

Hurriedly, and with a touch of impatience, he puts his hand in his trouser pocket, grabs a few more coins and shoves them into Wandile’s hand. In turn, he slowly lifts the object of Xander’s desire — a parcel wrapped in a plastic bag —and holds it under his client’s nose.  Xander grabs it and scoots. Wandile can’t keep a straight face any longer. Yes, he thinks to himself, it’s costly to be love-struck.

The idea came to him quite unexpectedly a few months before. His mother is involved in the North-West University’s (NWU’s) FLAGH project in Rysmierbult where women from the surrounding community are empowered to earn an income from sewing. They learn, among other things, to do beading and his mother is exceptionally nimble-fingered in this art. In fact, sometimes it seems as if her creativity knows no boundaries. So, what’s a man to do if small-change pocket money has to impress the girl you have your eye on? You give her something unique, something affordable but at the same time something special. He, Wandile, the grade 10 pupil, decided he would be the go-between in this exercise. He became the youngest jewellery distributor in Ikageng.

His mother’s words, by now uncomfortably close, stop his fit of laughter and bring him back to reality. It is Saturday. It is Ikateleng. The minibus has arrived and he has to go to the Potchefstroom Campus.

Empower yourself 

Ikateleng (Setswana for “empower yourself”) was founded on the Vaal Triangle Campus 26 years ago. This programme for grade 10, 11 and 12 pupils starts on the first Saturday after the April break and lasts for 18 weeks until September. It serves 102 high schools from less privileged areas across North West, the Northern Cape and the Free State. In 2013, 2700 pupils were involved in the programme and 94% of them passed matric. In addition, 326 distinctions were achieved.

Since its inception, more than 15000 grade 12 pupils matriculated as part of the Ikateleng programme.

Ikateleng comprises a maths and science stream as well as a commerce stream. Wandile chose the latter. His subjects include maths, accounting, business economics and English. These are underscored by a life orientation programme that prepares learners for their final examinations and provides HIV and Aids education, career orientation, study techniques and early pregnancy.

More than 50% of Ikateleng’s pupils have gone on to study at the NWU. They include people such as Mbulelo Ntantiso, head of human resource management at Sasol’s head office, Ayanda Nzo, a senior engineer at Eskom, and Dr Kwame Aszatia who is saving lives at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.

Wandile’s future looks promising indeed. However, this is not only due to the NWU.

What is the NDP and where does the NWU fit in?

Turn the clock back to November 2011 and a document of approximately 500 pages is released by Trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency. The National Development Plan: Vision 2030 (NDP) is a framework, a road map that charts a new course for South Africa with the aim of making poverty and inequality something of the past by 2030.

The role played by universities to achieve the objectives of the NDP is invaluable.

“There are various criteria against which a university can measure its relevancy. I can confidently say that one of these is the research outputs that contribute towards the NDP. The research pertaining to water and air pollution, recyclable energy and agriculture conducted at the NWU contributes immeasurably towards the improvement of the lives of our country’s people. The students play a huge role in the community in respect of maintaining, for example, Aids clinics and crèches,” says the political analyst and special adviser in the office of the vice-chancellor at the NWU, Theo Venter. “The NWU’s other important task that supports the NDP is, of course, expertise training.”

Professor Raymond Parsons of the NWU’s Potchefstroom Business School, special policy adviser to Business Unity South Africa and author of the book Zumanomics and its follow-up Zumanomics Revisited, says: “The best way to stamp out inequalities, with reference to labour and increased labour productivity, is the long-term investment in education. Education and technology are make-or-break determinants of salary levels.” However, this is only one side of the coin.

Communities and potential

“Although the NDP heavily emphasises the importance of higher education in the development of the country, the advantages of community engagement is underestimated as it can contribute hugely to transformation, to nation building, to the dissemination of knowledge and expertise in a community, as well as to collective problem solving,” says Bibi Bouwman, director for community engagement at the institutional office of the NWU.

She points out that once-off contributions to the community bear little fruit. Instead, attention should be paid to how sustainable, long term, positive contributions can be facilitated in a community. “Think about the ripples on the water when a stone is cast into a dam, except that in this situation every ripple must be bigger than the one that has preceded it.”

For Wandile it may be the Pick-a-Leader project offered at Resolofetse Secondary (Ikageng) and Boitshoko (Ikageng), as well as at Potchefstroom Secondary (Mohadin).

“Through this project we help pupils to realise their leadership potential. They know better than anybody else what the needs are in their community and by empowering them with the necessary leadership skills, they will be at the forefront of change within their communities,” says Jean-Marc Stidworthy, a project manager at the NWU Potchefstroom Campus.

The NWU Potchefstroom Campus alone boasts more than 200 community projects, of which 87 are managed by the Student Rag Community Service (SRCS). Roughly 4 000 residents benefit from them. In 2013 in excess of R1.4-million was raised and distributed in the community.

More than 23000 residents of the village Madibogo in the Ditsobotla district benefit from the Mafikeng Campus’ Madibogo Water Nanofiltration Project that aims to purify their potable water. The Vaal Triangle Campus offers everything, from the Khazimula Project where young people from violent and disadvantaged communities are helped, to the Fezile Dabi Education Project. Between the three campuses the projects are legion.

Wandile is 16 years old. In 2030 he will be 32. The building blocks for the future that he needs are in place, the structures to support his objectives are there. Everything is in place, but ...

Why the NDP’s objectives are important to the NWU

“Time is not on our side. Politicians and other leaders responsible for driving and implementing the NDP must realise that there is very little room for error. Major decision-makers view the NDP as an essential bridge for South Africa between now and the future,” says Parsons.

“It simply can not be treated like various previous socio-economic programmes where policy and implementation went to die. The problem is that South Africa’s record pertaining to implementation stinks, but we now have an opportunity to do it differently and better. We dare not allow this opportunity to fall by the wayside. We must rather ensure that it is grabbed with both hands by the public and the business sector.”

The vice-chancellor of the NWU, Professor Dan Kgwadi, says the institution will do everything in its power to ensure that Wandile and all other South Africans reap the promised fruits of the NDP.

“It is our privilege to be able to play such an integral role to ensure that the NDP achieves its goals by 2030. What we envisage here at the North-West University is the same as what the NDP envisages: a South Africa with an economy that exceeds its current growth rate, a South Africa where equality in all sectors is the norm, a South Africa that campaigns for job creation. An optimistic South Africa where every citizen has reason to smile about the future,” says Kgwadi. “Imagine a South Africa in which it doesn’t matter where a child is born, in which it doesn’t matter which school he or she attends. Imagine a South Africa in which all children can hold their heads high because there are no hindrances on their horizons. One where their visions are not stunted, one where they can look as far as their dreams stretch.  This is the South Africa towards which the NWU is working — this is where we want to be. And we will not stop until we have reached it.”  

For Wandile and thousands like him, everything starts at the NWU.