Mvezo - For years, pupils in this rural town in the Eastern Cape – the birthplace of Nelson Mandela – have been forced to drop out of school after passing Grade 9.
The reason? The village did not have a school that offered higher grades. For those who were determined to continue their schooling, the only option was to leave their home behind and go to neighbouring towns hours away.
Now, with the start of the new school term, the Mandela School of Science and Technology opened its doors to 420 pupils from Mvezo and neighbouring towns.
It will be officially opened by President Jacob Zuma on Friday along with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Nelson Mandela’s grandson Chief Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela. The school is the first in the area to offer Grade 10 classes and from next year will have a Grade 11 class.
Its Grade 12 class will start in 2016. The school will offer engineering, agriculture, information technology and English as a home language.
Acting principal Pat Toni said the village had been faced with a situation where many pupils had stopped schooling after Grade 9 because there were no schools.
“This was an area without a high school,” said Toni.
“The children had to go long distances to go to school. Because of the distances they had to travel, some of them were discouraged and could not go further. The high school had Grade 9 as its exit class. Once they passed Grade 9, they would stop.”
He said initially, the pupil’s parents had been sceptical that the state-of-the-art school that offered specialist subjects could be built in their village.
Toni said he and others involved in the project, including Mandla Mandela had to go around the community to convince people that building the school was possible.
The school also has two buses to transport pupils from the school to Mvezo, Mthatha and surrounding areas.
Mandela, who heads the Mvezo Development Trust, said it had been a major challenge for parents to send their children to Mthatha and Dutywa to attend high school. Many of those children had fallen pregnant while others abused substances.
Mandela said the idea for the school had been born in 2007 when villagers wanted another primary school.
It had later changed to a high school when Madiba said he wanted one built in his birthplace.
In 2010, telecommunications giant Siemens pledged e10 million towards the school’s construction.
“My grandfather was very much touched by this (pledge), realising the change it would bring to the lives of the community. But not only that, but the lives of the children in the community,” he said.
Asithandile Matshona is one of the pupils in the school’s first Grade 10 class.
Before attending the new school, Matshona, 18, travelled to neighbouring village Tshilikana to attend school. She is from Gwatyu, a sub-village of Mvezo.
“The school will help us as the children of Mvezo to achieve a lot of things we never thought of. I’m very happy and excited,” she said.
Loyiso Kobo, 17, travels about an hour and a half from Mthatha to the school but he says this does not bother him.
“When I told my cousin about the school, he thought I went to university. It feels like I’m at university. I have only ever seen the things available at this school on TV,” he said.