Beyond all the noise — the politics and the Twitter spats between politicians — are South Africans who are grappling with serious difficulties and few people are paying attention to their plight.
This week, the Mail & Guardian visited the area near Weenen in KwaZulu-Natal. This is where Sahlumbe village is situated. It’s a village that has been grappling with the violent behaviour of schoolboys who fight dangerously among each other on school grounds and turn these battles into impi yezigodi (faction fights). The parents were forced to take the hard decision of shutting down Sahlumbe High School for three months. This gave them time to put their heads together to find solutions for the fighting culture among learners that is slowly eating away the good record of the school — the matric pass rate has dropped from 96.30% in 2002 to 32.6% last year.
The school was closed because of children fighting. Let that sink in. In those three months young people, whose only ticket out of that village is education, were starved of it. They loitered on the streets of their village with no sense of purpose. This is three months they will never get back.
The KwaZulu-Natal department of education has essentially washed its hands of this, saying that there is little they can do to intervene in that situation. The school was finally reopened last month, at the start of the third term. But parents, schoolchildren and teachers are on edge; they don’t know when the war will start again.
Have we become a society that is so hardened that we no longer care about the future of our children? Do we no longer care about the marginalised and disadvantaged? Are we willing to watch children kill each other over nonsensical things and we don’t even make noise about it?
Government officials always say that education is a societal issue and that when there is violence at schools those involved need to come together to find lasting solutions. But the people of Sahlumbe are alone in this fight. They have come together as parents and relied on their inkosi for guidance to try to bring stability to the school. The provincial department could bring in social workers to try to understand what issues these learners are dealing with. The department of community safety could also intervene.
Instead, the provincial education department held one imbizo with parents and then drove away, leaving no lasting solutions behind.
Adults also need to do better. It’s true that the violence that plays out at Sahlumbe High and other schools mirrors what is happening in society. When parents use violence to address problems, children do the same in the schoolyard.
When we do react to this kind of thing, it is after the fact. This year it was to a learner who was killed by another child at a Johannesburg school. But learners have been killing each other at least as far back as 2011 in KwaZulu-Natal villages in alleged faction fights.
Why have we not been outraged by that? And why have we not found ways to interrogate this phenomenon in the province and nip it in the bud?
History will judge us harshly for being preoccupied with the battles between elites when our children — the future of this country — perish in front of our eyes.