Nkululeko Zulu spent Mandela Day cleaning at St Patrick’s Hospital in his home town of Bizana in the Eastern Cape.
Zulu has returned home from Cuba, where he is studying medicine. He cannot wait to give back to the community as a way of thanking Nelson Mandela for ensuring that he completed his schooling in a proper classroom and not a mud structure.
Fourteen years ago, Madiba used his charm and goodwill to lure cellphone giants Nokia and MTN to spend R3.5 million on nine classrooms and an administration block at the Nongeke Senior Secondary School in the area.
Madiba officially opened the renovated school on October 9 2001. It was a proud moment for the community and the school’s pupils and staff, including Zulu.
Zulu (25) studied at Nongeke between 2007 and 2009. He hopes to return to Bizana once he has graduated and work there as a doctor as a way of giving back.
“I have always wanted to do medicine. This became clear to me when I accompanied my grandmother to hospital and saw the long queues in the public hospitals, where hundreds of patients were being treated by one doctor. I realised there was a shortage of doctors,” he said.
There are 152 such “Mandela schools” around the country, with 60 of them in the Eastern Cape.
The former president was famous for coaxing corporates and individuals with deep pockets to build new schools or renovate dilapidated ones. One of those individuals was talk show queen Oprah Winfrey who, after a discussion with Mandela, decided to open an academy for girls in Joburg.
But Nongeke needs further improvements because some of its classes are still held in dated structures.
School principal Velile Tikisa this week said although the community was grateful to the late former president for his efforts to improve the rural school, a lot still needed to be done.
“The construction of the structure, which was facilitated by Madiba, was only a first phase,” explained Tikisa.
“A second phase, which includes a science laboratory, library, computer lab and additional classrooms, is not there 14 years after the first phase was completed.”
Tikisa said “somebody” should have stepped up to finish “Tata’s vision for the school”.
The school – painted in bright yellow and on top of a hill in Redoubt Village at the Imizizi administrative area – remains a prominent landmark in the village. It is located about 15km from Bizana.
Inside the classrooms, broken desks and chairs are crammed together. The roof is unstable and often blown away when there are strong winds.
Nelson Mandela convinced two cellphone giants to rebuild the Nongeke Senior Secondary School in Bizana, Eastern Cape. Picture: Leon Sadiki
There is no running water at the school, thus the toilets do not flush.
Nongeke Senior Secondary School doesn’t even have a landline phone or a fax machine. The entire school of more than 1 000 pupils relies on one laptop.
“It’s so unfortunate that Tata is no longer with us. Maybe he would have made a plan to get phase two done,” said Tikisa.
“We thought that someone, even the department of education, would have taken the baton from Madiba and finished the second phase, but we are still waiting.”
He said for the school to function properly it needed at least 600 desks and 1 200 chairs.
“We have asked the department for help in the past five years but were told there was a backlog, so we are still waiting,” he said.
Tikisa added that the school had not received 80% of the pupil-teacher support material for this year, even though it had placed an order for the books in October last year.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Despite its challenges, the schoolyard is well maintained and boasts pine trees that surround the perimeter of the fence.
Even more impressive have been the achievements of its pupils, some of whom have been counted among the best in the province.
Last year, the school achieved a 73% matric pass rate, up from 66% in 2013 and 70% in 2012.
Oyama Cele (17) is a Grade 12 pupil and deputy president of the learners’ representative council. She wants to be a pharmacist so she can come up with new innovations to help people.
“I am very proud to have been part of this school, not only because of the association with the Mandela name, but because it is a place where you can get decent results and a good education. For a rural school, it is doing very well. We just wish government can help us with desks, chairs and books,” she said.
Cele and Zulu spent yesterday cleaning at St Patrick’s Hospital.