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“Children bear the brunt” by if i could… intern Kyle Hiebert

20 November 2013

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Creative Consulting & Development Works internship placement service, if i could…, brings talented international students and graduates to Cape Town to support South African NGOs. On 15 November, Impumelelo intern Kyle Heibert wrote an impassioned call for better education in South Africa, pointing out that South Africa certainly won’t reach Vision 2030 at the rate it’s going. Step it up for South Africa’s children!

 

Children bear the brunt

Over the past couple of years the media has been ablaze with how South African children with great potential live and die on a daily basis in dire conditions devoid of any prospects for their lives.

In the 20 years leading to next year’s election, there have been a lot of mistakes by those in power. Unemployment, dependence on social grants, low university graduation rates and 30% and 40% benchmarks in education have helped cultivate a culture of learned helplessness. This has been combined with a culture of impunity, mismanagement, corruption and a parade of blunders by decision-makers.

Life expectancy has dropped by 13 years since 1994. In South Africa there is no longer just a socioeconomic divide, but rather a precipitous, gaping chasm between the rich and poor.

Huge swathes of the first generation to have equal political enfranchisement are watching a small group – predominantly middle-class white and black people – jostle up careerist ladders in politics and business.

They find themselves living in a South Africa with an economy still partially punch-drunk following the 2008 crisis, a degenerative infrastructure, burgeoning unemployment, one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV/Aids and one of the most violent societies in the world, where reportedly 29% of all those under 10 years old are victims of sexual abuse.

The dream for South Africa’s future that was born in 1994 has now been replaced by a precarious reality that offers no hope for the children born into it. Children make up 37% of the entire population. Ten percent of the country is under nine years old.

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This number grew by one million between 2002 and 2011. Yet at the moment, 70% of children live in the poorest 40% of households.

They bear disproportionate burdens of disease, food insecurity and violence. Meanwhile, they are being taught in an educational system that has recently been ranked as one of the worst in the world. It’s hardly hyperbole to say that a multitude of children in post-apartheid South Africa are effectively being relegated to a permanent underclass. Whoever is elected next year needs to face an onslaught of public pressure to remain accountable for providing a future of hope for SA’s children.

The late American scientist and historian Stephen Jay Gould once said: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

This talent is what we should be nurturing with an urgency that rivals preparation for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The technocrats and politicians that drew up Vision 2030 have made many laudable promises in what is otherwise a very ambiguous, and awkwardly all-encompassing, plan.

If South Africa has any chance of achieving them, it is going to need a capable, rejuvenated labour force and civil society. This obviously involves education. But it is also grounded in the current generation of children being healthy, nourished, safe and cared for at home.

South Africa can find its own solutions to its problems. One good place to start would be to demand the needs of children and caregivers be given absolute priority.

Written in conjunction with Impumelelo Researcher Kyle Hiebert

(this article is a reprint from The Citizen’s Rhoda Kadalie column, 15 November 2013)

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