It was while at Sunday school that Busisiwe Mahlangu’s passion for teaching was ignited. Her father, a teacher and pastor, had roped her in as an “assistant” Sunday school teacher.
“He asked me to help the other children memorise Bible verses.
So, I would read out the verses and help the kids remember them,” she says. Recalling the memory fondly, she laughs and adds: “I really enjoyed it.”
For more than five decades later, Mahlangu ﾑ now 60 ﾑ has stuck to being an educator and, in 2011, became the principal of Hlolisisa Primary School in Ikangala.
But her road to heading the school was no walk in the park. Forced to leave school after completing grade 10 (“because my father felt he couldn’t take me further ﾉ to matric”), she attended Middleburg Botshabelo Training College. That was in 1976, “during the riots”, she says.
Immediately after securing her first teaching post in 1978, she registered to complete her matric. “Three subjects one year, three the next”, and the full-time teacher finally got her matric pass.
Fully aware of the challenges so many like her have in achieving a good education, Mahlangu is determined to improve the lives of the children in her care.
“You know,” she laughs, “at school they call me the social worker. I am so passionate about children — vulnerable children from child-headed families, orphans —that is where, eish, I am finding comfort: helping those learners.”
By way of illustration, she adds: “Last week, a child who is diabetic came to me saying he wasn’t feeling well. I took him to the clinic, where we were told that he was not getting the correct food. I decided from that day, I am going to bring something every day for this child. Now, I am buying apples for him and give him one of those two-litre ice-cream containers with food in it. I am focusing on those kinds of learners. They will come to me and say, ‘Mam, at home there is no food’ or ‘Mam, at home things are like this or like that’. My heart is there, in making sure these kids are helped.
Trying to meet this challenge is no mean feat, especially given the high unemployment rate in rural areas. “There are industries there, but most of them are closed down,” she says of the lack of employment opportunities for many of the school’s parents.
As to why she continues doing what she does — despite the challenging environment she finds herself in — Mahlangu simply says: “Women are the ones who really know how to bring up a child. Generally, we feel for these children better than men.
“As people who know the difficulty of carrying and giving birth to and raising a child, I think we are the ones who can do better in changing our society. Because we know how important it is to bring these children up in a way that they are going to bring about change in our society. As women, we are the ones who will cry if the child is not doing well.
“As women, we are the ones who have the kind of contact with children that is stronger than any other person. I believe we are the ones who can really change our country’s situation from the way it is now.”