Beyond the walls of Nkandla, the long walk goes on

The president of our country lives in a bubble. The bubble is called Nkandla. It’s comfortable. It’s equipped with a fire pool for who knows what, and other excessive and unnecessary amenities paid for with taxpayers’ money. He’s a free man, so consumed by his delusions of grandeur that he takes liberties he really shouldn’t.

Meanwhile, just outside the luxurious Nkandla compound to which Zuma probably travels back and forth in an expensive vehicle kitted out with air conditioning and heated seats for those chilly days, school children are travelling, on foot, for up to four hours a day to get an education.

A return trip of 28km to access a basic human right is no joke, and it is not fair. It spits in the face of government policies and the Constitution. But then Zuma is no stranger to this kind of behaviour – not when it comes to education, and not when it comes to failed delivery on several other things promised for the betterment of this country and those who need it most.

When I considered their journey and the challenges these children face daily, I was confronted with the thought that I might have quit if faced with the same problem.

But that’s easy to say when you already have an education, when that education has allowed you to take advantage of opportunities and helped you further your economic standing, making access to basic needs an almost involuntary thing. I don’t ever have to think about infrastructure, safety or a flushing toilet. Zuma, even less so.

But these children are driven. They are more dedicated and more diligent than Zuma could ever be, even if he woke up tomorrow as a different version of himself. But, to be honest, I don’t even think a transformation into someone like Mahatma Gandhi would change him.

How do those children continue to fuel their inspiration? How do they manage to wake up at three in the morning, to leave by four, start their journey, and still run the risk of being late for school, often missing some of their morning classes?

Zuma is probably having his best morning stretch by the time those kids are sprinting the last few metres of what’s left of their trek.

Their fire is kept burning by hope. The hope for freedom – freedom from the fringe towns they live in, towns with few resources and opportunities; opportunities they hope to receive once they receive an education.

They aren’t receiving lessons about how to fish, they aren’t waiting around for someone to hand it to them; they’re teaching themselves, every day, so they can feed their families and feed themselves.

If there isn’t a textbook for this, they’re in the process of writing it. Maybe Zuma should grab a page and start reading – he, an Olympic gold medallist in gladly accepting handouts, or just grabbing them at will.

Perhaps Zuma should face head on the struggle for freedom through education that these pupils face every day.

And, if he does visit, perhaps he should walk there.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee filed this week’s column from Nquthu in KwaZulu-Natal, where the Mail & Guardian is shooting a documentary on transport for school pupils.

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