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Durban - There was a twin crisis in education and leadership and many people were in denial about its seriousness, Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, said in Durban on Wednesday night.
As usual Jansen pulled no punches when he addressed a gathering of civil society groups, political parties, faith-based organisations and academics as part of a public dialogue organised by the Democracy Development Programme on what the state of schools said about the future.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was deceiving South Africans when she announced an improved matric pass rate, because it masked the quality of passes, which were an “insult” to all black South Africans and to children who were talented but had been short-changed because ministers wanted to look good, he said.
As for a new regulation which only allowed pupils to be held back once from grades 10 to 12, it served to “postpone failure” rather than solve the problem, said Jansen, an outspoken critic of the government.
Turning his attention to higher education, he said the government’s emphasis was on providing wider access to pupils, irrespective of whether they could hack it or not.
“I will resist attempts to lower the standard at my university in the name of access.”
Students should not be set up to fail “like flies” and left burdened with loan debt.
On a positive note, Jansen singled out Menzi High in Umlazi, which he visited on Wednesday, saying it was “outstanding”.
He has taken a past pupil under his wing at UFS.
Zandile Kwela scored seven distinctions in matric but could not afford university, her tearful mother told SABC news last year.
Jansen moved quickly, claiming her for his institution. She is now a top student in first-year accountancy.
Jansen said he shared her story to make the point that all children could achieve despite their circumstances.
He then moved on to speak at length about violence against women.
“From Bredasdorp (the home town of Anene Booysen who was raped and murdered this month) to Silver Lakes (where Oscar Pistorius lives) and in-between, South Africans have seen the worst face of their country,” he said.
Society should not only be angry about rape, but also about the millions of offensive acts which preceded rape, such as men making lewd comments when a woman walked by.
On the lighter side, Jansen joked that his cousins from the Cape Flats kept asking him whether he was joining “A-Gang” - a play on the pronunciation of Mamphela Ramphele’s newly launched party political platform.
He would not join because a vice-chancellor had to remain non-partisan, but, he said, her intentions were “noble”.
He also took a swipe at the controversy surrounding President Jacob Zuma’s KZN homestead, saying that when he was hosted in Durban, people constantly apologised for not having enough space to accommodate him.
“Use the Nkandla homestead if you want space,” he laughingly said.