The Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, told learners they are fortunate to live in a constitutional dispensation that protects their rights, unlike before, when Black people had no constitutional rights.

“Shut up was the order of the day to us from our parents, who just instilled discipline in us,” said Ms Mapisa-Nqakula to learners who complained that parents take them for granted when they demand things that are due to them as children.

Ms Mapisa-Nqakula was responding to a complaint from a learner from Makhanda, participating in the Speaker’s Parliamentary Constituency Office’s (PCO’s) Back-to-School outreach programme, which began on Monday and concluded yesterday. The learners, who came from various schools in the Makana Local Municipality, told Ms Mapisa-Nqakula and other Members of Parliament that neither the government nor their parents take them seriously because of their young age.

They also called on Ms Mapisa-Nqakula to ensure that their schools are properly equipped. They also mentioned that poor school maintenance makes them vulnerable, especially when the grass is long, as this raises the likelihood of snakes hiding there.

They told Ms Mapisa-Nqakula that it is a gross contradiction to call learners back to school, yet there are no teachers in classrooms and substance abuse is rampant. Drugs are a more dangerous virus than Covid-19 they said, because the latter is preventable. Ms Mapisa-Nqakula assured learners that her PCO will assist with these challenges.

Deputy Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Ms Nocawe Mafu called on Makhanda learners to learn and internalise the values of persuasive engagement in a tolerant and highly disciplined way on all issues. “Always promote the spirit of conversation among yourselves and between yourselves and other role-players,” stressed Ms Mafu. She said learners are agents of social change and a bright and glorious future.

Ms Mafu was the programme director of the morning session of day two of the Back-to-School programme. The session provided an opportunity for MPs and government departments to respond to learners’ statements from the previous day.

Ms Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, said the PCOs are an extension of Parliament and a mechanism by which Parliament goes to the people and decentralised. She called on young people to be activists and to speak out about their challenges. She advised learners to listen, as listening is the biggest part of leadership.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture, Ms Beauty Dlulane, welcomed the way learners spoke about their challenges. “You demonstrated that you are learners who reason [by] not being emotional. Please be like that forever, as challenges require thinking to find solutions, not emotions and disruption,” said Ms Dlulane. 

She went on to say that committee chairpersons must ensure that infrastructure grants for municipalities are used appropriately, after learners complained about the crumbling road infrastructure in the Makana Local Municipality. “It doesn’t make sense that infrastructure crumbles, yet there is budget for it,” she said.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Ms Nonhlanhla Ncube-Ndaba, spoke about gender-based violence (GBV), as learners highlighted this as one of their challenges. She told learners that Parliament has prioritised GBV and has an ongoing engagement with the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities to combat the problem. She said there is a clear role in the Makhanda PCO for the National Youth Development Agency.

The Department of Basic Education told learners that it was handicapped by budget cuts in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years, which is why it was unable to meet some of its responsibilities in schools. However, it has sufficient budget this year, and infrastructure issues will be addressed. The department also said that it has launched a GBV programme in schools.

Mava Lukani
12 April 2022