​Restoring dignity: a case of social development

Sekano-Ntoane Secondary School is 56 years old, according to the historical stories narrated by Ntshadi Mokoena, principal of the Soweto-based school. It was established in 1962 and has maintained some dated stereotypes of the township schools of that era. Thousands of children have attended the school over the years; some have attained notable achievements. This year, 992 learners from varying social backgrounds depend upon Sekano-Ntoane for a better future. The department of social development strives to achieve the vision set out in the Constitution: to protect and realise the rights of children with regard to appropriate care, the provision of basic nutrition, shelter, health care services, social services and education. We gathered in a quad of sorts and an assembly was held — because the government came bearing gifts.

Due to South Africa’s long history of oppression and its generational repercussions, the Gauteng department of social development has indeed a Herculean task in restoring dignity to those who find themselves born into poverty. In an effort to boost the self-esteem and general development of school-attending children, the department is providing school uniform packs. Each contains a pair of shoes, a pair of socks, a pack of underwear, a vest, a jersey and a trouser/skirt/shirt/tunic/dungaree/culottes, depending on the gender of the child and the uniform type.

Each year the department rolls out distributions, which in Gauteng are launched by the MEC of social development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza. It is the schools’ responsibility to identify those learners who come from underprivileged families and their hygiene, nutrition and clothing needs. Among its many uses, the uniform serves to standardise the children and cloak their economic background and class. The financial situations of some families is so dire that just a decent uniform is considered a luxury.

Sekano-Ntoane is one of 1 015 primary and secondary schools identified in the province to receive dignity packs by Gauteng Social Development, in collaboration with the Gauteng department of education. About 145 800 children are currently benefiting from the project as the 2018 academic year begins. The purpose of the school visits is also an effort to engage with school governing body officials, teachers and community stakeholders to discuss various ways to raise funds to address other issues.

The school is the alma mater to a host of esteemed individuals: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Mamelodi Sundowns manager Pitso Mosimane, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga … and the list goes on. It could do with an upgrade into the 21st century, in terms of infrastructure and access to resources, but achieving a matric pass of 84% proves that an environment conducive to learning is being maintained.

Mayathula-Khoza leads the delegation that supervises social conditions in schools and seeks ways to resolve issues that may be stumbling blocks to attaining a decent education. She remarked on the 2017 matric results of Sekano-Ntoane, saying the teachers have shown commitment to teaching the children. Experts say a child’s education is a tripartite alliance between the parents, the child and the educators. If it is to be a success, all three parties must be willing to participate to achieve previously agreed-upon goals. But with low participation from parents — absenteeism at parents’ meetings being a strong indicator of this — it is hard to establish goals for children, let alone track progress, achievements and areas of concern.

Often it is circumstances beyond the control of the individual that contribute to decreased performance in school. Although the children are mostly well behaved, Mokoena noted there are some challenges with regards to substance abuse. She said that some children use marijuana, and that more young girls are smoking cigarettes. Hip-hop fans drink a sedative mixture of codeine-based cough medicine and Sprite known as “lean”. When she discovers cases relating to substance abuse, she contacts the parents and partners such as Sanca (South African National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse) provided by the department of social development’s school welfare programme.

Thanyani Malivhusha (16), a grade 10 learner at Sekano-Ntoane, was one of the recipients of the uniform packs; he also received an additional school bag and an essential stationery pack supplied by a partner of the department of social development. He expressed his gratitude and said he was anticipating that they will add joy to his life. He joked about branding his stationery pack so it’s easily identifiable in the event of it being misplaced or stolen. Ntsako Vuma (15) said he is more confident about tackling maths and science since receiving the dignity packs.

With adolescence comes with new hygiene complications. If these issues are not dealt with appropriately they may dent a child’s self-esteem and affect their progress at school. There are organisations dedicated to manufacturing and supplying free sanitary towels to female learners who are unable to afford them. The state is more than just a government, it is also us, and the village we create; and Africans have always known that it takes a village to raise a child.

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