South Africa is failing its children and compromising their right to access education, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said in his weekly newsletter, From the Desk of the President.
Ramaphosa’s statement on Monday comes in the wake of the deaths of three school children, all since South Africa’s school year started in mid-January.
Enock Mpianzi, a 13-year-old grade 8 learner at Parktown Boys High, drowned while attending the school’s annual orientation camp in Brits in the North-West province.
Meanwhile, two learners at a Lekgolo primary school in Sekgosese, Limpopo, were killed after a wall fell on them when it was hit by a food-delivery truck.
“All of those young lives, and the lives of many others, need never have been lost. It seems to me that, as a society, we are failing our children,” writes Ramaphosa in the letter.
He adds: “Too many children find themselves in dangerous situations, whether it is on a makeshift raft on a river or being left alone in a shack with a paraffin lamp.”
“When contractors leave excavations unprotected or school infrastructure is not maintained or school transport is overcrowded, the lives of children are put at risk,” he says.
Safety while accessing education remains a challenge in South Africa. The issue has come under increased scrutiny in recent years following the deaths of several pupils who fell into pit toilets at their schools.
Meanwhile, the South African Government News Agency in February 2019 called the country’s schools "death traps" following deadly confrontations between learners, including a primary school student who was stabbed by a classmate at Mateane primary school in Diretsane, North West.
Ramaphosa highlighted in his letter that “there is a proverb common to many African cultures which says that it takes a village to raise a child” — and called for the country’s broader community to take responsibility for the “development, well-being, and safety of each child.”
He further urged that South Africa, as a society, needs to “build a culture of responsibility.”
“We need to be responsible for ourselves, for our children, and for others,” Ramaphosa adds. “Just as we need to ensure that children are able to grow up in a safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment, so too must we feel a duty to protect and care for all those who we know and interact with.”
Ramaphosa again highlighted the need to eradicate pit toilets and improve school infrastructure, and said that the government had launched the SAFE initiative in response to the deaths and injuries caused by pit toilets — with the aim of providing “appropriate toilets” to all schools in the country.
Ramaphosa also used the letter to speak about other important issues that South Africa is grappling with, including gender inequality and health, particularly highlighting HIV.
“A culture of responsibility means that fathers need to be present in the lives of their children,” he adds. “Too many women have to raise children on their own, which often limits their prospects and those of their children.”
“A culture of responsibility also means that we should practice safe sex and not expose ourselves or others to HIV,” he continues. “We should not abuse alcohol or use drugs. We should seek to live healthy lives so that we avoid diseases that are largely preventable and live longer lives.”
While he urges that this culture should include everyone in South Africa, he particularly calls for it to be embraced by those in positions of authority and influence: religious leaders, politicians, traditional leaders, and celebrities.
“This country has witnessed far too many tragedies. Too many young lives have been lost, too many children hurt and traumatised,” he finishes. “We can bring these tragedies to an end if we all, each one of us, take responsibility for raising the children in our great South African village.”