In the coming few days, the last group of the grade 12 class of 2017 will be sitting for the last national examination paper of the year and the anxious time of waiting for the exam results will begin.
This has never been an easy time for all those who have been fortunate enough to present themselves for grade 12 national examinations. Fortunate in that it is estimated that half of those who enrolled in grade one in 2006 never made it to matric in 2017.
When I was a high school teacher, I used to refer to school dropouts as casualties of the education system. More than 10 years later, I have seen more and more young women and men becoming casualties of a largely dysfunctional public schooling system.
I still adhere to some the tenets drawn from the old school of thought on public education, namely that pupils either pass or fail and that there is nothing wrong in ranking them into the top 10 in a grade.
And those who fail grade 12 will have a second opportunity to try again. In any way, life is about second, third, fourth (it can go on and on) opportunities. But there are so many other challenges matrics will face after writing their final exams.
Some of the difficulties have existed for a long time, such as finding employment immediately after completing school. This will become worse in 2018, given the deteriorating economic situation of our country.
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba informed the nation in no uncertain terms that we must prepare ourselves for the worst before the economy turns around and make it possible for job seekers, including school leavers, to get work.
The sad part is that not all those who pass matric, for all sorts of reasons, will gain entry into universities or colleges. Once more, those who have nothing meaningful to do after matric will be casualties of our failing public school system.
I fear these casualties because some of them end up becoming criminals just to put food on the table. But the greatest threat to the 2017 matric class is that they will be trying to find life opportunities in a morally eroding society.
The challenge of rapidly decaying moral values could not escape the awareness of the post-apartheid political leadership, which quickly acknowledged it as one of the biggest threats facing South Africa.
On a daily basis citizens wrestle with decaying morality, which manifests itself in the form of violent killings and drug abuse (in particular nyaope and the practice of bluetoothing).
When matriculants walk out of the safe confines of school premises, they will, daily, have to make moral choices that will determine whether they become productive members of our society or end up being statistics — casualties — of our dysfunctional public schooling system.
The fact that many South Africans are unaware of the existence of an office for the Moral Regeneration Movement is a clear reflection of the reality that issues of morality have been removed from our society’s public discourse.
One of the reasons for this is that the very premise for the institutionalisation of moral regeneration was fundamentally flawed.
The mammoth task of renewing our society’s moral values and principles was handed over to politicians, who are not necessarily the best custodians of morality.
It is common historical know-ledge that politicians may even go to the extent of sacrificing universal principles of morality in pursuit of political power, hence the failure of the Moral Regeneration Movement.
South Africans need to demonstrate strong moral leadership in our social institutions. No matter how difficult the socioeconomic circumstances may be, we need families that will act as torchbearers to show the way towards good moral values for our young people.
The poverty and economic hardship that many South African families experience is no justification for allowing our moral values to degenerate.
When we destroyed the structures of the apartheid system we mistakenly also decimated social structures that helped to anchor our moral values and principles. For example, during apartheid, sections of the townships were divided into blocks. Blockmans (men of high moral standing in a particular section of a township) would be responsible for providing moral guidance to families that were experiencing challenges to morality.
During the intensification of the struggle against apartheid rule, we replaced the blockmans with street committees and later we trashed street committees.
These committees not only served as launching pads for anti-apartheid political activities but also provided support to families faced with moral crises of whatever nature. They served as pillars of morality for families that were torn apart — not only by the violence of apartheid repression, but also by ordinary issues of morality that affect any family at one time or another.
Community structures also come in handy during times of distress. It came to my attention how important community burial schemes are when my mother died. A section of township residents had a funeral scheme called “ponto mpate” (one British pound will bury me). Members would contribute a small sum of money each month, which would be used to help with a family’s burial costs.
These funeral schemes were managed and sustained by township folks and promoted moral values of caring and support in times of distress.
There are other social and cultural structures that served as the bedrock of good morals for young people — jazz clubs, sports clubs, township theatre, stokvels and organisations such as Youth Alive (associated with veteran actors Jerry Mofokeng and Caesar Molebatsi).
What structures are there in our communities that could help the matrics of 2017 to adopt a set of moral values, which would guide them to become productive and socially balanced individuals in this mad, mad world?
Maybe the starting point should be with each one of us. Simple acts of speaking and acting for what is right can help to inspire the 2017 matrics to find ways of upholding good morals in the face of the adversities that lie ahead.
Moral renewal should begin with each individual; each one of us must undergo what Nelson Mandela called the RDP of the soul and then spread it to our young people, so that they make sense of a world in which good morals have been sacrificed on the altar of individual greed and power.
Tutu Faleni is a Democratic Alliance member of the North West provincial legislature. These are his own views