As we listen to the sound bites of elected public representatives and analysts on radio news, read the eyebrow-raising details of one scandal upon another in newspapers, and watch the gripping scenes from Parliament on our television screens, that question about where South Africa is headed becomes somewhat unnerving. And when the Minister of Finance is forced to issue a statement to, amongst others, call on South Africans to protect the National Treasury, it is clear that behind all the drama in view of the public eye, there is a dark and dirty game unfolding behind the scenes. The consequences for our country are dire and potentially disastrous.
Yet, there is hope. In spite of the gloom, there are millions of South Africans who are toiling to keep our country going. You will find these hard-working people on the trains and taxis and busses at the crack of dawn. You will find them sitting in the daily traffic jams to and from their offices. Indeed, you will find many dedicated people in government who subscribe to the “Batho Pele (People First)” principle. You will find these individuals on factory floors and farms, underground in the mines, in office blocks, and across the productive sectors of the economy. And you will find yet others working in non-governmental and community-based organisations, doing their utmost to help the less fortunate with education, healthcare and crime-fighting, amongst others.
In Mitchell’s Plain, a corner of Cape Town where horrific stories about drugs, gangs and crimes against women and children all too often dominate the narrative, there is a small organisation which recently announced it had awarded R1.26 million worth of bursaries to 56 students who would otherwise have had an uphill battle paying for their tertiary education this year. With R22,500 being paid directly into their student accounts, these aspiring professionals can focus on their studies instead of worrying about how they’re going to pay for it. As a testament to what it means in real terms, many tears were shed at Glendale High School last Saturday, 14 May, when the recipients, their parents, relatives, principals and community leaders celebrated the fact that they were awarded these bursaries.
The Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust (‘the Trust’) is but one example of a community-based organization which is working to assist young, talented individuals to realize their dreams. Registered as a non-profit organization (NPO) at the end of 2010, the Trust was established by Trevor Manuel and is run by a small group of community activists, preachers and professionals who dedicate their spare time to ensuring that deserving students from Mitchell’s Plain and surrounds are able to afford their studies at universities, technikons and colleges.
The recipients have a common thread which qualifies them to receive financial aid from the Trust: they have a proven track record of academic achievement, excelled in their matric examinations and come from households where tertiary education is unaffordable.
Jayson George is a good case in point. Now 20-years old, Jayson matriculated from Glendale High School in 2014 with eight (8) distinctions. He received a bursary from the Trust which helped him to register for his first year studying law at the University of Cape Town (UCT) but has since been awarded a full scholarship. In spite of the fact that he lives on residence on campus, Jayson is active in his community and returns regularly to motivate others who are following in his footsteps.
Growing up in Beacon Valley was tough for Euline Poole but she matriculated from Oval North Technical School in 2012 and, with financial assistance from the Trust, enrolled for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Now 22, Euline became one of the Trust’s first graduates in 2015 and is currently studying toward a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education at UWC. She has been offered a post at Oval North next year, and will return to her roots with a clear message to those she will be teaching: ‘I sat in those benches and now I’m standing in front of the class; if you work hard and stay focused, anything is possible.’
Yolande Tshililo, now a final year Bachelor of Social Sciences candidate at UCT, matriculated from Glendale High in 2012 and fondly recalls the ‘lifeline’ from the Trust which helped to fund her studies. She takes great pride in returning to her alma mater to motivate the learners who marvel at her story.
Jayson George, Euline Poole and Yolande Tshililo are role models, and when students accept a bursary from the Trust they also agree to go back to their schools to help show the way for the next generation. The Trust is actively encouraging its recipients and others to establish alumni societies at their high schools. At schools such as Beacon Hill and Mondale, there are dedicated groups of former learners who are doing sterling work in assisting their schools with fundraising, mentoring, arranging matric camps and taking young people from Mitchell’s Plain to universities to help them construct a dream – and help them work toward realizing that dream.
The 16th of June will mark the fifth (5th) anniversary of the Trust’s first awards ceremony. Youth Day will also witness commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the 1976 uprising, a turning point in South Africa’s history which illustrated the youth’s resolve to bring the Apartheid state to its knees. From Soweto to Mitchell’s Plain, young people played a significant role in making the country ungovernable, eventually forcing the National Party to unban the African National Congress, release Nelson Mandela, allow Oliver Tambo to return home, and pave the way for democratic elections, amongst others.
No doubt, the gains since 1994 are significant. But, as we approach Youth Day and take stock of the last four decades since that famous picture of the slain Hector Petersen was taken in Soweto, it is clear that we have to do so much more to ensure that our youth stand a chance of becoming productive citizens.
The Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust, supported by individuals and corporates alike, is making a difference. We are aware of similar initiatives in Bonteheuwel, Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Ravensmead and other townships. All of us must do more, urgently.
** Jeremy Michaels is a Trustee of the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust. He matriculated from Beacon Hill High School, holds a Master’s degree in International Journalism from Cardiff University, is a former Political Correspondent for Independent Newspapers and works as a public affairs advisor. He writes in his personal capacity.