Storms highlight inequality as rain-soaked pupils sit shivering in class

A municipal worker attempts to unclog a flooded road in Newlands during heavy rain in Cape Town.
A municipal worker attempts to unclog a flooded road in Newlands during heavy rain in Cape Town.
Image: Reuters/Esa Alexander

On Tuesday as my car snaked through the pounding rain at 6.30am to the school where I work in the mornings, I saw the dark pencil figures of schoolchildren walking to their respective places of learning.

The wind howled incessantly, seeming to shift the car sideways at various points with the wipers now swishing at maximum speed.

I drove with great caution, all my senses on high alert in the darkness of the Cape Flats streets.

I slowed down as I moved past Klip Cemetery recalling that a few weeks earlier, on that very road, a schoolgirl crossing the dark, wet road towards a bus slid into my car with a thud. She is fine but the shock all-round was immense.

Standing outside with a senior teacher we welcomed the incoming pupils while the rain continued to fall heavily on these young high schoolers.

This was the start of the third term and a fraction of the more than 1,200 children came to school. I stopped a few of them.

Their clothing was soaked and their fate was to sit in classrooms, damp and shivering, from 8am to 3pm.

As with the pandemic, the incessant storms this weak did not create the inequality in our school system (and of course in broader society) — it made the scourge so visible.

At other schools parents deliver their children to school from inside heated luxury cars with umbrellas and raincoats and other paraphernalia that prevent a drop on the heads of these precious ones.

At my current school, some children walk for an hour from squatter camps near the ironically beautiful Muizenberg beach.

Few can afford taxis, while the usual dangers of gangsters and stray bullets must still be navigated regardless of the weather.

Still, the 400-odd pupils were determined to come to school, to learn, and to change the trajectory of their lives.

Their dedication is why I came to this high school as a turnaround specialist to help improve the dismal academic results of a once accomplished institution situated alongside the family home in which I grew up.

The school has an inspiring principal leader and some very dedicated teachers.

We share the same vision of making this a great school for poor and working class pupils, and the results are starting to show.

But there was the little issue of pouring rain and soaked pupils.

I took to social media after a quick drive to a clothing shop nearby that sold raincoats for just over R150.

It is not enough, I urged my Facebook followers, to only pray for those in distress because of the storms outside. Do something. Contribute a raincoat. Banking details follow.

Within an hour there was funding for more than 100 raincoats. A friend at a nearby university posted scores of ponchos for our school.

One of my students from the Free State, now a surgeon, gave thousands of rand on the spot.

An unemployed citizen apologised that she could only afford one raincoat. Rotarians from all over the country emptied their coffers.

Earlier, I had bought a bag of raincoats and handed them to the most soaked among the pupils. They could not believe their eyes.

A dry, comfortable, well-padded raincoat for the days ahead. Thank you, thank you, said a Grade 9 girl with so much emotion in her voice.

New clothes, let alone raincoats, is not something that happens often in her life.

Tomorrow I will go and get many more of these coats because the rain is not going to abate any time soon.

Today I want to give a shout-out to the many South Africans who remind me daily that a government-centric view of the world is not going to change the daily plights of people whose fragile homes get washed away every winter and whose children have to plod to school through the wet and darkness to get the one thing that can lift them out of poverty — a good education.

I know. A raincoat is not going to resolve the systemic inequalities in school and society.

But what such a contribution does is to restore the faith of these young people in humanity.

Many have one or both parents who have deserted them; there is no reason for them to trust adults in their subjective experiences of a harsh and cruel world.

But when I tell them of complete strangers who emptied their pockets for a raincoat, it changes something deep inside of these youth.

The fact that someone cares, brings a glimmer of light to their eyes.

One of the girls offered a raincoat lives in a safehouse for abandoned children.

“I really appreciate the support,” she told me.

Thanks to you.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.