Written from the heart: Wild Coast learners document their hopes and fears
Amid the invisible threat of Covid-19, a series of writing competitions looks set to spark creative spirit among learners missing out on classes. William Western reports.
12-year-old Wild Coast lad Mfundo Tshezi says he “feels like the breadwinner of his family” after winning second prize in a writing competition – a R750 food hamper.
Such is life in Mzamba, a rural village adjacent to the plush Wild Coast Casino. The contrasts between the two are immense – a microcosm of South Africa where the poorest of poor have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Street vendors suffer a lot since they can’t sell and provide for their families,” wrote Mfundo. But the Grade 7 pupil did not only dwell on hardships.
“I live in a warm home with love. I eat more healthily because I am not allowed to buy chips and sweets,” he wrote. He said he missed his friends and school, especially Natural Science “because it gives me a clear knowledge of nature”.
Lots of thinking
Lockdown he wrote, was “one of the hardest things my family has ever experienced” but he had kept himself busy, attending to household chores, looking after his dogs, watering plants, and doing lots of thinking “under a tree in the back yard”.
“I personally think it was a wise decision for the president to announce a lock down to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” wrote Mfundo.
In the meantime, staying home was the best option “since we waiting on government to get a vaccine”. But what might happen if no vaccine is found soon, troubles Mfundo. “What will happen to us?” he asked.
Mfundo’s entry was one of more than 30 received in the writing competition catering for Grade 6 and 7 pupils at Ithuba Wildcoast Community College, a not-for-profit private primary school, built and funded by Austrian benefactors.
The writing competition was organised by the environmental journalism training agency Roving Reporters with the modest prizes sponsored by Founders Golf Tournament – the sole South African funder of the school.
The joint winning entries were from Onele Dimane and Khanya Mkhonza, earning them food vouchers of R1000 each and praise from the adjudicators for their “mature understanding of the situation” and “wonderfully refreshing” observations.
The acute impact of the Covid 19 lockdown and fears of a coronavirus outbreak in Mzamba were a central thread in many narratives.
“At home we have never suffered hunger ever since I was born, but now we are out of groceries and no one is able to go to work, or buy blankets, warm clothes or even medicine for fever,” wrote Onele, whose family have been using limited supplies of sunlight soap for sanitizing.
She described Ithuba WCC as a fun and adventurous school with its own vegetable garden that contributed to nutritious lunches that learners received every school day.
On reading the entries, Founders chairman, John Cheshire, arranged an additional 180 food hampers for learners from the most needy homes. An Austrian volunteer, Theo Delort-Laval has also since started a soup kitchen in Mzamba, entirely funded on donations from friends abroad.
While Amahle Nqadini, who won the third prize, also misses the school lunches, she said her biggest concern was catching up on missed lessons, and how long it would take “for life to be normal again”.
“My favourite subject is Life Skills. It teaches us how to carry ourselves in life, careers we can follow, and freedom of expression. I can’t wait to go back to school, but what will happen if coronavirus is still out there.”
The Future We Want
Amid these fears, Roving Reporters is rolling out the next round in its series of Covid-19 related story writing competitions for select schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The theme is, Life After Covid-19: The Future We Want.
To support these journalism-themed writing competitions contact Roving Reporters director, Fred Kockott on 083 277 8907 or email
‘Our kids are desperate to get back into classes’
A courageous step is being taken in resuming school activity amid the Covid-19 pandemic, says Jackie du Toit, the general manager of Ithuba Wild Coast Community College.
Over the past week, the school management team and staff have been grappling with the myriad of safety regulations to ensure a safe environment, some of which could prove challenging for cash-strapped rural schools like Ithuba.
Lost teaching time
“Our teachers concerned about lost teaching time, and learners are desperate to get back into classes,” said principal, Tembakazi Makedama, who had hoped that Grade 7 classes would resume tomorrow (Monday).
That, however, no longer, seems feasible given teachers’ concerns.
“The invisible threat of infection and fear of a potential outbreak hangs thick in the air,” said Du Toit.
She said orientation and training had since commenced to provide teachers with a full understanding of the potential risks.
“We are hoping for an uncomplicated rollout of all the government regulations and guidelines provided by the Independent Schools Association of South Africa,” said du Toit. These include temperature screening and sanitizing at the school gate at the beginning and end of each day. Strict access control will also be in place and parents and health authorities immediately alerted if a child shows suspected symptoms of Coronavirus.
- William Western is a Pietermaritzburg-based jack-of-all trades kind of man and former environmental education officer enrolled on Roving Reporters training project, Developing Environmental Watchdogs. This story is free to republish so long as you credit the author and Roving Reporters, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.
NOTE: Roving Reporters story for the Sunday Tribune (below) stated that a full turn out of Grade 7 pupils was expected at Ithuba WCC tomorrow (June 1). This situation had changed at the time of going to press following the further consultations with the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA), education officials, parents and teachers.
IN PRINT: How the Sunday Tribune covered the story. Click on image to view or download the pdf.