We have knowledge, we must share it


This excellent story appeared March 25, on the website, South Africa The Good News. We believe the occurrence of inspiring stories like these is limited only by available resources, like great teachers.

From Bushbuckridge, one of the worst performing educational districts in South Africa, emerges an inspirational, individual success story that deserves further scrutiny so that it can be held up as an example to others.

Bonginkosi Mnisi was in the press when the matric results were announced. He lives in a village in the Belfast Trust, Mkhuhlu, not far from the Kruger Park border. Elephants pass his home, which he shares with his unemployed mother, bus driver father and siblings.

I first met Bonginkosi through the essay he wrote in application for selection to a leadership academy run by Penreach. All Grade 11’s at his school, Makhosana Manzini High School, were asked to write why they should be selected to go on a five day leadership academy at a game reserve, Inkuba.

Bonginkosi wrote:

“….this brings me down to the point of understanding the idea of us being taken to the bush to learn more about leadership. Deep inside my heart I believe the bush is the epicentre that unveils the true likeness of leadership.”

Here was a deep-thinking boy, but actually, it was the night sky, on the day when we were discussing “awareness” and “understanding our environment” and brilliant night-time constellations, that motivated him to start thinking about pursuing a degree in Astro Physics at the University of Cape Town. The lights came on for Bonginkosi at that moment. We all need a goal, a dream, and a sense of direction.

He continued in his essay “leadership is a field that is built on the principles of love, because in the absence of everyone, a leader will always come in for the good of his/her subject”.

Love motivated him. During the teachers’ strike in 2010, we happened to visit his school with some American visitors. His brave principal, Martin Nkuna, met us at the school. Mr Nkuna was a role model for Bonginkosi, a man of stature in his community, highly respected and capable. (His twentieth wedding anniversary service in his church in Mkhuhlu was a moment of high celebration for a community ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Few marriages last for twenty years in Mkhuhlu). When Mr Nkuna met us, no one else was there. The school was deserted except for one classroom door that was open. Having an intuition, I asked if we could go there. We sat at the back of the classroom.

Bonginkosi was teaching science to 35 matric peers. When he had finished a section, I asked him:

“Bongonkosi, why are you doing this?”

He replied:” I have knowledge, I must share it.”

The Americans were blown away.

One of them said to the Principal, in private afterwards, that he would find funding for Bonginkosi’s tertiary education, if necessary. Knowing that money for studying would not be an issue was a motivation for Bonginkosi in his preparation for matric. Too many matriculants give up, allowing the excuse that their parents have no money for further study to demotivate them.

He finished his essay of application as follows:”I might not have come into deep detail about myself but believe me, my life is guided by the principles of love, faith and braveness. Now I am not putting myself in a position of being nominated, no, but I believe I am worth this lifetime opportunity”.

He ended with a quotation “words are broader than the ocean itself but the decision remains, in the hands of the supreme judge. God Bless You”.

His humility, which emerged from his essay, also came through to his Penreach (Mpumalanga NGO) teachers, Mr Bailey Nkuna and Mr Lawrence Tafireyi. They taught him Science and Maths at their Saturday morning school and during the week in lessons at Makhosana. Sometimes it was done in the Penreach mobile lab, because Makhosana does not have a Science lab, or library, or playing fields. They observed that Bonginkosi “was not as sharp in 2009 as he was in 2010. He was not the kind of learner who asked questions”. But as his confidence grew and as he imbibed Mr Bailey Nkuna’s message that “learners should help learners”, he “came with questions and was very active in class”. His humility was also formed by Mr Donald Mthombeni, a role model, Maths teacher, Deputy Principal of the school and a highly organised, considerate administrator. Another intervention was Penreach’s learning skills course which he soaked up, enthusiastically.

His greatest driver was his self-discipline and his character development. On the last day of the leadership academy, he got lost on the four-wheeler scrambler at Inkuba Lodge. He should not have been riding at that time of day. He knew that. We waited for him to start the day and when he did not turn up, continued. When he returned to camp, we ignored him. I gave him a lecture after the session. He was very ashamed and remained muted for the rest of the day and during the graduation ceremony. He had learnt a lesson.

From a school with no admin block, no playing fields, no library, no Science labs, Bonginkosi Mnisi hit the national Press because he gained 100% in Science in Matric and 100% in Maths in Matric, one of only two learners in the country to achieve this feat. His averages in these two subjects, at the end of his Grade10, were 57%.

Bonginkisi’s inspiration and example to all of us is to learn lessons, develop a positive character, work hard (he often stayed late at school), be disciplined, take opportunities when they come, find role models, have hope, be humble and, above all, give to others. He will not be a university drop -out statistic because of his strength of character and he will be properly mentored. When his Principal named part of the school after him (Bonginkosi Square) on the first day of school this year, the present matric class queued up to ask the principal if the school had enough squares.

“We are going to have one named after us too”, they told him.

There are many other talented youngsters, like Bonginkosi, in the townships of our country. In addition to his natural ability, Penreach gave him an opportunity whose initiatives included PTP, a principal to principal coaching relationship, teacher professional growth workshops, a values-based leadership training course, study techniques, and especially extra lessons in Maths and Science.

It is all about people. While we wait for physical resources we can work with people. We need to encourage the working together of private interventions and committed public school educators. Let everyone in this country who has knowledge, whatever it is, share their knowledge with others who don’t have it, and our country will be transformed. When all is said and done, we are human through others. Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu.

We have knowledge, let us share it.

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