We need to stop the criminal wastage of the talent residing in our youthful population by taking steps to transform the socio-economic structures of our society that perpetuate the wounds of divisions, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
Gangsterism in our schools challenges us to
return to the purpose of education – to prepare young people for life as responsible,
critical-thinking confident citizens.
The purpose of education goes far beyond
the matric certificate to the heart of the noble task of enabling every child
to develop her full potential. Societies that fail in this noble task reap the
whirlwind we are reaping right now.
Gangsterism is a global phenomenon. Research
indicates that the root cause of gangs is often widespread corruption and a
sense of unfairness and powerlessness. If the police do not protect the people,
the courts do not punish wrongdoers, and people feel unsafe, cheated, and
hopeless, they may band together and use violence to attain protection, security,
and respect. The epidemic of violence across our country, including our
schools, reflects the sense of unfairness and powerlessness of many in our society.
The sad commentary by education MEC Panyaza
Lesufi in response to the latest crisis of gangsterism and violence in our
schools, “We would like to issue
Matric certificates, not death certificates”, should make us pause as
a nation. Is it possible or desirable
for us to graduate young people from our school system without paying attention
to their development into responsible self-confident citizens?
Violence has become a way of life across
our country, from Manenberg in Cape Town to townships and villages of Limpopo
because we have not invested enough time and energy in creating liveable
dignified human settlements for the majority of citizens.
A culture of impunity in abuse of power,
state resources, corruption and lack of accountability in our public and
private sectors has become the norm in our society. In addition, grinding
poverty, unemployment and the humiliation of inequalities experienced by the
majority of our fellow citizens, lie at the heart of the horrific violence in
our homes, schools, workplaces and communities.
The loss of our moral and ethical centre over
the decades, pre- and post-apartheid, is robbing children of the love and
support they need to develop their self-worth, self-confidence and identity. In
addition, 65% of children in our society grow up without a biological father,
either because he is unknown or is physically and emotionally absent. How do we
expect young men to develop a healthy sense of what it means to be a man
without emotional ties to a positive role model who loves them and who they can
We have to acknowledge that we have
neglected the impact of our legacy of inequities on our children, including the
systematic destruction of African family life through the migrant labour
system. We also have to acknowledge that our failure to heal the wounds of that
legacy as enjoined by the preamble of our Constitution has left the poorest
families to fend for themselves without the psycho-social support they need, to
reclaim and affirm their human dignity and develop into self-confident
a wake-up call to address root causes
The crisis of violence and crisis is a
wake-up call for us to address their root causes. Those implicated in the
widespread corruption and state capture, both private and public, need to be
seen as being held to account. Such decisive action would help to re-establish
the legitimacy of our law enforcement and judiciary system in the eyes of
ordinary people. Fairness and equality of all in front of the law needs to be
seen to be the reality at all levels of society.
Vulnerable communities also need to be
supported by systematic investments in the physical and social infrastructure
to create more dignified human settlements. Broken windows and neglected
streets contribute to a sense of being unworthy and promote lawlessness. Why
not round up unemployed young people in such communities, train them with the
help of SANDF to become self-respecting, disciplined and skilled artisans to become
the backbone of maintenance of common public goods? Sustainable employment
would restore their self-confidence and give meaning to their lives away from
crime and violence.
More visible policing and zero tolerance of
abuse of power and negligence by the police are critical to rebuilding the
damaged image of the police as trustworthy public servants. There are too many
cases of abuse of power and disrespect of citizens within our police service. Many
in the police service need to be retrained to understand the tenets of human
rights policing. This would restore public trust in our institutions and higher
expectation that fairness is a value in our society.
We also need to start now to utilise the Life
Orientation (LO) space in our school curriculum to open conversations about
troubling problems children have to deal with without adult help. The Leap
School system uses LO successfully to help children coming from broken homes
and broken communities to transcend the limitations of their home
circumstances. Questions such as who am I should not be left hanging in the
minds of many of our children. Identity issues are at the core of what makes
for success or failure of each of us. Children need help to explore what it
means to be a man or a woman? How to always respect others simply because they
We need to revamp the teaching of African
history so our children can learn about their ancestors’ contributions to world
civilisation and become proud citizens of this ancient continent. This would
help children answer the tough questions they dare not even raise: What is the
place of my culture in a world dominated by material possessions to determine
the importance of individuals in a highly unequal society?
brother, big sister teams
Why don’t we identify and train unemployed
graduates to become “big brother, big sister” teams that can be
deployed in the most vulnerable schools and communities for two years at a time
for each cohort? This would serve several purposes. First, such team members
would support over-stretched teachers to conduct LO classes and provide someone
in the classroom for the teacher to talk to. LO in our curriculum is an
underutilised asset that should be harnessed.
Second, these team members would gain
insights from the training programs and the practical engagements with school
pupils that would help them reflect on their own personal development journeys.
This would help them to be more prepared for the world of work. Finally, the
team members would earn some income and might help them clarify their own
career goals, including the possibility of teaching as a profession.
We need to stop the criminal wastage of the
talent residing in our youthful population by taking steps to transform the socio-economic
structures of our society that perpetuate the wounds of divisions. Children who
are loved, affirmed and supported to develop their talents, are unlikely to be
involved in violent criminal behaviour. It is up to us as a society to turn this
– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.
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