By: Fidel Hadebe

The Cape Town metropolitan area in the Western Cape was in flames recently when taxi operators went on a rampage about certain decisions taken by the city authorities regarding the taxi industry in the region. Buses were set on fire, cars pelted with stones, commuters could not get to work and children struggled to get to school. Some had to walk long distances to get to their schools to write their matric examinations, with some arriving late.

Recently, Sowetan carried a story of a group of pupils in another part of the country who could not write one of their matric exam papers because there had been a service delivery protest in the area and parents stopped the children from writing the exam.

There have been several other such incidents since the start of the matric examinations this year, leading to the department of basic education and quality assurance body Umalusi holding a media briefing to talk about this issue, among others.  Umalusi expressed its deep concern about these disturbances and their likely impact on the matric outcomes.

As it is often said, education is the responsibility of the entire society and not government alone. Government is responsible for its part that includes providing the necessary infrastructure, learner-support material and educators. Society on its part is responsible for ensuring that children learn in safe environments where there are no gang fights around school premises for instance, and that pupils are able to reach the centres to write their final exams.

Matric examinations and its product, the National Senior Certificate, is an important journey in the life of pupils. It is an icing on a cake that has taken 12 years to bake and it is completely unfair for adults who happen to decide on a strike action to spoil this moment and destroy the plans of these young people, many of whom just want to get their education and be able to dig their families out of poverty.

Some of the pupils who sit for their matric exams are already provisionally admitted at various institutions of higher education, including studying at overseas universities, and when they cannot write exams because of protests or strike action, it is very unfair on them.

Matric exams should not be used as leverage by striking employees or community members in registering their point, however valid. This particular cohort of pupils has had to endure a lot of pressure and suffering already due to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2019 and the subsequent lockdowns that followed.

It is possible for any strike action to wait until the pupils have completed their exams. No service delivery protest or strike action can ever be so urgent that it should threaten the future of an entire generation.

As society and communities, we have to enter into own social compact where we lay down the rules on the things that should not be done during this period to safeguard the education of our children and their future. It is not a task that requires any government involvement.

All it requires is for right-thinking adults through various formations such as taxi bodies, civic organisations, trade unions and political parties to sit down and agree on a set of rules to enable their children to be able to write their exams.

It is worrying that as a society we continue to sink to dangerously low levels and it is high time that we catch a wake-up call before it gets too late.

Under no circumstances should children be used as a weapon in the fights between striking or protesting adults who have an issue to settle with the authorities.

This is not about limiting or encroaching on the rights of people to strike or protest. It is a way for society to manage its own affairs better, handle civil protests in a mature manner, and safeguard the interests of its children.

• Hadebe is a change communication strategist, political communication advisor and a certified life coach 


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