Sunday, October 5, 2008
Madame Deputy President, I presume?
On the final day of last term we had an assembly to celebrate Baleka Mbete, (South Africa’s new Deputy President)’s birthday. While this may sound strange, it happened to be something that was planned long before she was inaugurated as Deputy President and held her previous position as the Speaker of the National Assembly. Gugulethu and by extension Fezeka fell under her then-jurisdiction, and she has had a long-standing relationship with the school. Recently, and while she still held the Speaker position, a decision was made to donate some computers to Fezeka. Initially the pledge was to donate 12 computers, which was then upped to 20. When the day came however, there were 12 new computers that lay waiting in the gleaming and freshly-painted lab, waiting to be christened by Ms. Mbete.
The assembly that we had to accompany this visit was wonderful. Fully catered by the office of the Deputy President, we had about 500 students in attendance, and close to 50 officials from various positions within the Government. Speeches were made by the politicians and the Deputy President, as well as by our principal and English HOD. And then the students took over. The drama club performed, as did the choir, a ballet group of which one of our students is a part, and a couple students recited poetry they had read.
The day was capped off with lunch for everyone and the Deputy President ceremoniously cutting the ribbon that had been tied across the doorway of the computer lab, which was met with flashes and applause from the members of the media et al. who were also in attendance to capture the moment.
It was during the assembly that I came to find out that Fezeka holds a unique honor of being one of very few, and perhaps one of the only township schools in the Western Cape who has been visited by both the Deputy President and the President of the Republic of South Africa (Thabo Mbeki visited during his time at the helm). It was lovely to see the students swell with pride as this fact was brought to their attention, as it was (as always) to see their smiles and hear their cheers and laughter when they watched their colleagues perform.
It was only after the assembly however, after the cameras and bodyguards had left and school had reopened and we were back in full swing that I came to find out that despite taking the time to re-tile the floor of the lab, paint the walls, fix the broken desks, and install these shiny new flat screen PCs, they had not ensured that each of the computers was online, or bothered to install Microsoft Office on any of the new machines. Roughly half of the new computers cannot access the Internet, and none of them have Microsoft Word. Or Excel. Or PowerPoint. On high school computers at a school where we are trying to encourage digital literacy. After spending a tidy sum on the whole overhaul, they didn't think it important to invest another R1500 (roughly $200CDN), the cost of that a basic Microsoft Office 2003 package.