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“SOMETIMES I wrote my morning papers on an empty stomach,” recalled Phasika Hlophe, who obtained a First Class pass in the 2017 Junior Certificate (JC) examinations, as she narrated to our journalist the hardships of having to overcome extreme poverty in her pursuit of education.

Hlophe, like many of our children today, has often had to get by on one meal a day and was forced by circumstances to walk for about seven kilometres to get to the school that provides this meal. Many a time meals ran out as the Education Ministry struggled to deliver food.

She is a pupil at troubled Lozitha High School, one of the worst performing schools with 93 failures in 2016 and 16 failures last year, which makes her feat all the more significant.

Her school colleague Nokwethu Dlamini, who faced similar personal challenges, passed with a Merit. Dlamini’s mother works at one of the textile factories in Matsapha and she shares a one room flat with Nokwethu and her younger brother, who will be doing Form 1 this year. Dlamini has also had to walk from Kwaluseni to Lozitha to get an education.

Despite overcoming their adversity, both these pupils may not receive their results because they owe school fees. Another pupil at the school, Siphosethu Nkambule, who obtained a First Class pass, lives in a rented flat with his brother who was doing Form V at the same school. His fees were paid for by the 20-year-old brother who did piece jobs on weekends.

One has great respect for these children for their ability to dig deep into their emotional reserves to garner the energy to pursue a brighter future. They deserve it and we cannot afford to fail them.

There are over 250 000 orphaned and vulnerable children today going through similar hardships in a country where 63 per cent of the population lives on less that E13 a day. The least we can do is to create the opportunities that would help them realise the dreams that are fuelling their drive to succeed.

Having endured such challenges, nothing could harden their hearts more than to find a country that had not prepared a future for them. The consequences to our peace and tranquillity would be devastating and simply unforgivable.

To avert this requires a leadership whose interests are centred on growing the economy and laying a good foundation for this bruised future generation to build upon. Our role is to find the men and women of this country who fit the profile of the leadership this country deserves.

Come election time, the challenges of our youth should guide the decisions we make when presented with an opportunity to nominate the future. We should remember that no child deserves to go to school on an empty stomach, by prioritising food self sufficiency and increasing the national budget towards transforming our agricultural sector.

Our schools also need to be well equipped, adequately resourced and properly administered, to ensure effective learning takes place. We cannot afford to have schools producing mass failures while officials, hired to avert such, continue to enjoy their salaries without question.

We need to ensure that parents have jobs to wake up to so they can afford their children’s school fees, bus fare, uniforms and be able to put food on the table. The country’s re-admission to AGOA opens the door to more job opportunities but these jobs do not cater for the graduates forming a large part of the 28 per cent unemployment rate. This also speaks to the need for an education system that produces entrepreneurs.
A healthy nation is essential if we are to increase the chances of children being raised by their parents until they have graduated from tertiary institutions. Stronger families make a stable society. There is no arguing that the year 2017 is one to be quickly forgotten as it remains littered with a myriad of challenges that have crossed-over into the New Year.

The Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini, is expected to take his charges on a retreat soon, where they will map out a strategy for winding up their dismal five-year term that has plunged our economy into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), given the -0.6 per cent economic growth rate.

Their task is to ensure that they leave a feasible exit plan that not only cleans up their mess but also pays off all arrears to the service providers, so that the incoming Cabinet can focus on ensuring that when Phasika Hlophe, Nokwanda Dlamini and Siphosethu Nkambule complete their high school, they are afforded scholarships and have good tertiary institutions in which to enrol.

These pupils also deserve to find job opportunities after they graduate and an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.
“It will work out fine. I will achieve my Goals through God,” said Nokwanda Dlamini, who clearly has put her faith in the heavens and not politicians, to see her through.

May God help us all indeed! All the best in 2018 good people!

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