Wilma den Hartigh
A new campaign to alleviate the infrastructure backlog in primary schools in poor communities across the country will make a significant contribution to fulfilling former president Nelson Mandela's dream for every child in South Africa to be educated.
The primary objective of the 94+ Schools Project for Madiba is to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday by giving hope and dignity to children in at least 94 schools across South Africa, through improvements to school infrastructure.
The initiative was launched by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation ahead of this year's Mandela Day, celebrated every year on the former statesman's birthday, on 18 July.
Mandela Day was officially declared in 2009 by the UN as an annual international day in honour of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The aim of Mandela Day is to inspire individuals to take action to help make the world a better place.
At the launch, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said that the new project will change the lives of thousands of pupils across the country.
The department has identified 94 schools in all nine provinces in need of urgent infrastructure upgrades.
The children and teachers in some of these schools get by with less than the basics. Children are taught in mud structures and don't have any sport facilities, any sanitation or running water.
"Former President Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday presents the DBE with a rare opportunity to do good with our school infrastructure," Motshekga said.
Basic education director-general Bobby Soobrayan said that with the project, the department wants to create an environment that is conducive to quality teaching, learning and improved performance in targeted schools.
"Public-private partnerships are one of the most effective ways to meet infrastructure backlogs," Soobrayan said.
Motshekga said that Nelson Mandela forged invaluable partnerships with the private sector towards the building of schools, particularly in poor communities across South Africa – an initiative that the education sector can build on.
Creative solutions to a big problem
Brand South Africa CEO Miller Matola said the project is a call to government, business and civil society to get involved in transforming education in the country.
"We have to find new ways to build human capital in our country," Matola said. "Our approach requires innovation and partnerships to deal with the challenges."
The new campaign is a creative response to the enormous infrastructure challenges that impact negatively on the quality of teaching and learning in many South African schools.
To date, significant achievements have been recorded in the provision of infrastructure to schools across the country: 1 206 schools and 38 664 additional classrooms have been built; 5 214 schools were provided with water infrastructure; 10 621 sanitation projects were completed; 2 847 schools were provided with electrical infrastructure and 2 655 schools were provided with security fencing.
Despite these achievements, there are still huge gaps in infrastructure provision such as a shortage of classrooms, laboratories and libraries; sanitation; replacement of mud, prefabricated and metal structures; inadequate maintenance leading to leaking roofs, broken windows and doors and sport facilities.
The DBE estimates that R66.6-billion (US$8.4-billion) is required to elevate all ordinary schools to a level of optimal functionality and this amount excludes escalating costs. An additional R20-billion ($2.5-billion) is required for maintenance and repairs to existing infrastructure.
All South Africans can make a difference
The government has admitted that it cannot solve the problem alone, and appealed to all South Africans to lend a hand.
Motshekga said that with current budget allocations, it would take the department 30 years to clear the current backlog in infrastructure and maintenance.
Matola said that the initiative is much more than a corporate social investment project. "Our contribution to this project is leaving a legacy for our children."
Nurturing future innovators
The project also forms part of the government's broader infrastructure roll-out plan to provide better living conditions for all. It will also contribute to South Africa's skills development programme by providing skills training to unemployed young adults.
CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor, said that infrastructure is just the beginning. "After that we have to make sure that our young people become the innovators that South Africa and the world needs," he said.