Two MECs fail to understand their harmful blunders

Politicians never miss an opportunity to be embarrassing and make you question the criteria used for them to occupy the important leadership positions they hold. 

This week, many South Africans tried — with no success — to make Debbie Schäfer, the MEC for education in the Western Cape, see what was wrong with what happened at Brackenfell High School, where a matric function organised by parents was only attended by white learners. 

Schäfer stuck to her guns that she will not dictate who people should invite to their private functions. She blamed the Economic Freedom Fighters for “sowing divisions” after members of the party had attempted to hold a peaceful protest outside the school but were attacked by parents. 

Even before her department had investigated the matter, Schäfer had already taken a side and blamed the EFF and said no action would be taken against teachers who had attended the matric function. 

She failed to deal with the fundamental problem and allegations of racism that had been raised against the school and instead saw this as a way to attack the EFF and dismiss anyone who wanted her, as the MEC entrusted with the wellbeing of all learners in the Western Cape, to at least address a clear case of racism. 

As if the Brackenfell incident was not enough to deal with in one week, the North West department of education posted pictures on its Facebook page of MEC Mmaphefo Matsemela taking off her sneakers at an informal settlement in Magaliesburg to give them to a young man who did not have shoes. 

Fifteen pictures — mostly of this young man — with his face exposed were posted. It started with pictures of Matsemela taking off her sneakers and putting on sandals and then giving her sneakers to the young man. There were also photographs of him putting on the sneakers. 

The caption on the Facebook post read: “A blessed hand is the hand that gives.” 

I wish I could insert the rolling eyes emoji here. 

There is nothing wrong with Matsemela giving the young man her shoes if she was really touched by his situation. But there is everything wrong with stripping the dignity of people who are poor by broadcasting their faces on social media for likes. 

(By the way, that post has since been deleted.) 

Matsemela was visiting the informal settlement “to attract learners to register at school and not to resort to working in farms”. 

But it is disingenuous for Matsemela to run such a campaign when learners, who do want to study, ended up going to work on farms under her watch because her department failed to get them back to school when the lockdown regulations eased. 

The Mail & Guardian has reported that some learners at Onkgopotse Tiro Comprehensive school in Mahikeng have now gone to work on farms because the department failed to get them back to school because the school’s hostel was not Covid-19 compliant. 

These learners have waited and waited for months to be placed in other schools or have a plan devised for them to get an education with no luck, which was when they decided to join their parents on the farms. 

What Matsemela was doing was just a publicity stunt. Next year, or whenever she decides to embark on that sort of campaign again, she must drive with boxes of shoes in her blue-lights convoy to give to the many young men and women she will meet who have dropped out of school to work on farms or are unemployed because she failed to keep them in school. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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