Let’s choose light despite all the darkness

Let’s choose light despite all the darkness

“Alive with possibilities” is still my favourite Brand SA slogan. Compared to the new slogan – “South Africa: Inspiring new ways”, the old still encapsulates the spirit of South Africa and nowhere is this articulated as it is in the potential of our youth.

I had the pleasure of interacting with young people from different backgrounds and the different opportunities they are presented with to carve a new future for themselves.

I remember a tiny 16-year-old girl lighting up a workshop with a welding machine. The grade 11 pupil from Thembisa is studying mechanical engineering, specialising in welding and metal work.

She disappears into what I’m sure were the smallest sizes of personal protective equipments available at the school. Hers was a picture of a child dressed up for Career Day, except she already has two certificates in welding and is well on her way to being a qualified artisan even before passing matric.

She chose welding and metal work because she wanted to fix her mother’s gate. Her mother though, she jokes, still does not trust her to fix her gate.

Her teacher tells me that most of the pupils, when choosing to specialise in welding and metalwork, think of starting businesses making burglar gates and windows. It is a booming business in the townships given the crime rate.

But there are so many structures that need the skills of a welder and metal worker, he tells me, from air ducts to the different elbows required to connect pipes. He says these are the kind of conversations he has with his pupils about the opportunities that are available to them. This is what our education system wants to look like in the future, with the three-stream model of giving pupils a choice to follow the academic, vocational or occupational route.

It will, however, take some awareness campaigns to educate kids and parents to see the value of vocational and occupational education in a country in which the majority of black people were once not allowed to study for certain qualifications.

Interestingly, weeks later I had a chat with one of the heads at a TVET college and he tells me about a capacity building programme between South Africa’s colleges and their British counterparts through the British Council. He says in their interactions, the English were amazed at the number of female students enrolled in programmes such as motor mechanics, plumbing and welding.

We have many problems in South Africa, key among them is gender-based violence. So it warms my heart to hear that girls in South Africa are free to pursue any careers they want. He tells me the English were looking at how to encourage interest among their own female students.

Desmond Tutu once said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Now more than ever, we need to focus on the possibilities that are available in our country.

Our future depends on it.

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