Nompumelelo came from zero as a black, poor girl from rural South Africa and rose to the state of being a hero to her family and village through education.
As a poor rural girl, Mpumi took a decision that her life will be better than that of her illiterate mother, poor aunts and suffering sisters. She was encouraged when she later learnt from SASCO activists that close to 91% of young girls were enrolled in primary schools of the country during the 2008-2012 period. This brought hope that the future of females like her in education was not going to be forever bleak.
She was aware that racial inequities still persisted although some progress on this score had been achieved by the post-1994 administrations. She did not let the fact that white girls were at an advantage over their black counterparts in terms of the quality of education received to demoralise her.
Nompumelelo heard politicians and adults around her saying that poverty is a contributing factor to the inequalities between black girls and white girls. To demoralise her, a pessimistic next-door neighbour even quoted that approximately 28% black Africans compared to a meagre 7% of white folks were unemployed in 2015, then he asked: “Who are you”? Added to that she was scared by the fact that the rate of poverty amongst black Africans was then more than 38 times than that of whites and many white people were dwellers in top-notch suburban areas where her mother was a cleaner – called ‘GIRL’ by white children younger than herself. This angered her, so she wanted to restore a black person’s dignity so that the daughter of a single, illiterate mother can live in beautiful in improved locations instead of poor rural areas, filthy townships and ugly informal settlements where black people were packed by the apartheid regime.
Prior to the 2020 lockdown, South Africa had the most numbers of people living with HIV in the world which her sister had contracted. The situation was exacerbated by the country’s numerically superior numbers of COVID-19 infections in the African continent. The school that her younger sister attended was closed as no mask-wearing was a norm in her village. It was unfortunate that in the 21st-century females in Mpumi’s time were four times likely to be HIV-positive and thus be school dropouts. Young females were forced to leave school to take care of their families in the then patriarchal society and this denied females like Mpumi future careers and financial prosperity that she desired. She survived this norm.
Gender-based violence was alarmingly high in black areas then when compared to white areas, where white wives and girlfriends were usually financially empowered. Sadly, schools were usually far from learners’ homes where Mpumi lived -exposing children – both boys and girls to and from school to the risk of being preyed on by predators in human bodies which made them abusers.
Abusers were not limited to strangers out of school as other girls were victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault from their fellow schoolmates and teachers. Females who dropped out of school due to being victims at schools were countless. Clearly, she thought: ‘something must be done by activists because our sisters cannot learn under such an environment’. This made her vow to be an activist at the TVET College she was going to be part of.
Luckily, there was a sober students’ vanguard called SASCO at tertiary level that fought for democracy and non-sexism to prevail in education. So, she joined SASCO to ensure that black female students were comfortable and black female lecturers got respect from both students and staff in post-schooling institutions.
Nompumelelo, as part of SASCO, helped to establish programmes aimed at assisting female students and ensured that the few programmes that had existed before were effective instead of being dysfunctional.
In spite of all the challenges that females faced then, she managed to be an educated, financially independent and stable person. She bought her mother a big house and funded community development programmes in her village. The reason she did this was due to the consciousness and collectivist teachings she got from Marxist-Leninist tools of SASCO. This was a huge contrast to the lives led by many black people then.
Let us multiply Nompumelelo and be inspired by Nompumelelo’s story by making it a reality instead of fiction that it is currently by deliberately creating black female successes in education. Karl Marx correctly said that the progress of society can be measured by the progress that women make. We have a slogan we chant at podiums: empower women; empower a nation! Let us act consistently with our slogans by championing female interests.
Female successes are also essential in achieving the noble aims of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) to further the development of the country. For poor, black females to be successful, they need access to free, quality education and training so that they can be financially empowered for tomorrow. This means we must deepen our struggles for access to education.
Education is a basic human right that is enshrined in our constitution and it is essential in the transformation to improve female students’ lives. Although there is still much progress to be made in ensuring gender equality in education, SASCO can contribute in making the lives of black female students to be better than the lives of our mothers, aunts and sisters.
Dinileminyanya Sandile Latha is a former chairperson of Border Tech Branch and a current member of Steve Biko Branch. He writes in his personal capacity