Address by President Nelson Mandela at the re-opening of Beacon Hill High School, Mitchells Plain - Cape Town

9 May 1996

Mr Archie Lewis and staff of Beacon Hill High;
Mr Syd Muller and Woolworths staff;
Students of Beacon Hill High;
People of Mitchells Plain;
Ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased to be with you today as you launch your new look school. Our gathering here shows how much can be achieved through joint efforts.

The education of our children is one of the main priorities of the Government Most of the social ills besieging our nation today like unemployment, poor health, underdevelopment, and poverty cannot be effectively redressed without proper education.

Architects of apartheid used education to ensure the perpetuation of the system. The separate schools of that era allocated resources unevenly. Schools for Blacks - Africans, Coloureds, and Indians - were neglected to a state of disrepair and teachers given salaries so low as to demotivate them.

The Ministry of Education is taking steps to address this situation. The salary increases announced last week will narrow the demotivating gap.

The process of re-allocating resources means also that some of the teachers will be redeployed. This is a measure that our deformed education system needs. We cannot perpetuate a system of disparity between rural and urban schools just as we are opposed to inequality between races. The key to solving this problem is consultation and negotiation involving government, at both national and provincial level, and the teachers' unions. That is the path to which the Ministry of Education and I are fully committed and our governing principle is that everything possible should be done to avoid the retrenchment of teachers as long as there are children who need them. The government is also exploring ways in which foreign governments can assist in addressing these problems.

The government has set aside money to renovate schools but the challenges are enormous, and cannot be met by government alone without its social partners.

We are gathered here today to taste the fruit of such co-operation. The renovation of Beacon Hill High was only possible because you stood solidly together - teachers, parents, pupils and business. While Woolworths donated a sum of R150 000, students, parents, and teachers painted the buildings. Local labour was employed to bring the project closer to the hearts of the community. Your children will now be taught under more comfortable conditions. Gone are the days of leaking roofs, broken windows, and dusty classrooms. With the hostile Peninsula winter approaching, parents of Mitchells Plain won't have to spend their days worrying about the conditions of their young ones.

The donation made by Woolworths in this project deserves special mention. When I asked their management for involvement in the Presidential Lead Project of the RDP, they didn't regard their role to be that of a benevolent Samaritan. They insisted on an approach which rallied all stakeholders around the project.

They have shown how private companies can join communities and government in the reconstruction of our country in the most concrete ways.

I would like to thank the management and workers of Woolworths for having accepted this responsibility. There is nothing as close to the hearts of a community as the welfare of its young ones. With this contribution you have identified yourselves with the people of Mitchells Plain. I was also happy to learn that Woolworths plans to join in four more similar projects. You have thrown down a gauntlet for other private companies to follow suit.

The pupils of Beacon Hill High have a debt to settle. With the new look school, the community expect new look results at the end of the year. Show your gratitude to all those who helped in the renovation of your school by rolling up your sleeves in your studies. Your parents and your teachers didn't have the opportunities which are enjoyed by South African children today. You are the children of the proud rainbow nation on whom our future depends. Show us what you are capable of. Mr Lewis, I hope this is not an impossible task for your charges to accomplish. We look forward to reading the newspaper towards the end of December.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation