A candle lit in the darkness, representing mourning. File photo.
A candle lit in the darkness, representing mourning. File photo.

Gogo Qwelane was a true soldier

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Aug 1, 2021

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AT the age of 92 she earned herself the title of the only known teacher that was still actively engaged in teaching in South Africa if not in the world. 

On the 25th December 2020, Notsikelelo Qwelane turned a hundred years.

When I called her in September last year for a chat, she told me that she was hiding from the media. She stopped teaching in March 2020 with the outbreak of Covid-19, but she also with a loud laugh assured me that Covid feared her.

She gave eight decades of her life building the South African human resources.  She was the matriarch of Metro High School in White River, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. On Sunday evening,  25 July,  Albert a great admirer of Gogo Qwelane gave me a call to let me know that the Ambassador of StatsSA was no more.

Gogo Qwelane, Professor Thamsanqa Kambule and Mr Jenneker were three Octogenarians who energised and catapulted StatsSA to be a great organisation.

They all taught at the height of apartheid and suffered abuse under the abhorrent Bantu Education, yet they persevered and ensured that their students got the best education.

Jenneker took children privately and taught them mathematics, Kambule became the head of Pace college where he specialised in teaching mathematics long distance.

My eldest son became the beneficiary of the Pace College Maths materials.  Gogo Qwelane specialised in geography and upon reaching retirement age, she did not get tired and retire, instead she continued to teach and like a true soldier died with her boots on.

These Octagenarians started working with StatsSA in 2005 as ambassadors.  I learned from their wisdom and their secret of longevity.

They all believed that all children are capable of studying mathematics.  It just takes showing children love for them to have no fear for the subject.

Unfortunately, the subject has been taught so badly in most countries, and in South Africa particularly where Hendrik Verwoerd, the ’Architect of Apartheid’ entered a deliberate covenant of destruction.

In 1953 he asked “What is the use of teaching a Bantu Child Mathematics when it can’t do it in practice?” He subsequently engineered a self-fulfilling programme that would condemn the African child in particular.

Notwithstanding this horrible legacy, government adopted Maths Literacy to propel the legacy of Verwoed.

The children want to pass, the parents want their children to pass, so does the cabinet, the Minister of Education and the President.

Year in and year out a ritual on performance is made. The country lock barrel and stock is paraded on this pathetic Verwoedian path denying the children the love Qwelane talks about.

I recall how Kambule and Gogo Qwelane led us to Lisbon in Portugal in 2007 to secure the hosting rights of the 57th Session of the International Statistical (ISI) Institute in Durban South Africa.

Jenneker could not be with us in Portugal because he met his untimely death in a car accident a few months before heading to Portugal.  Kambule could not join us at the 57th

Session of the ISI in August 2009 because he had met his unfortunate demise at the beginning of August.  We secured solace in Gogo Qwelane as the then only surviving ambassador.  StatsSA and its staff had a rare privilege of growing under the mighty aura of these giants.

The organisation secured the aura, pleasure and commitment of service from the wise three.   If we should ever seek knowledge and understanding of solving the deep seated problems in our education system, we need to send Gogo Qwelane after Kambule and Jenneker for their counsel and advice.

We need to drink deep from their resting place.  South Africa is faced with a grimacing future, but with these our forebears and their experience, counsel and enduring love, we shall prevail as a nation. May Gogo Qwelane convey our prayers for peace in our land.

May the Soul of Gogo Qwelane Rest In Peace – she served the children of South Africa well and showed that the nation deserves differently.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.


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