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Axium’s Amajingqi Public School Partnership (PSP) project is now in its seventh month of a four-year pilot. As the operating partner to 8 public schools in the area, Axium’s role is to provide additional capacity and support to improve learner outcomes. Half way through our first year, we reflect on the bigger picture in terms of which we’re working, one crafted in the heart of Amajingqi’s leader and discussed in this 2-part blog post.

An old tapestry hangs on the wall of a home I once visited in Coffee Bay. It depicts a somewhat idyllic scene of amaXhosa life in the former Transkei. Green hills undulate gently across the backdrop as a group of women stroll over the woven fabric, wrapped in ochre blankets. While it hides much of the suffering this region has seen, the scene does capture something of the beauty to be found here still, the enduring dignity and serenity despite a turbulent history.

Speaking with Chief Ngwenyathi Dumalisile about his vision for the amaJingqi (Willowvale) region – where Axium has been working on a public school partnership (PSP) for the past six months – I remembered that tapestry and pictured our work as but one thread set to weave new images of possibility into its pattern.

For Chief Dumalisile, education is key to unlocking the human potential that will drive a 30-year Rural Industrialisation and Development Plan in Amajingqi. The plan aims to leverage the area’s existing resources to create an ecosystem rich in opportunity.

“We boast of our ocean, but what do we do about it in terms of economic generation? We talk of our perennial rivers, we talk of our landscape, we talk of the human resources – they are here,” he said. “When I got enthroned I saw this as a challenge.”

An ocean view from where our Amajingqi team are staying.

Rural areas need to become viable places of possibility if transformation in South Africa is to be made real. “What I’m trying to do here is to make that environment, to make this area a laboratory site, experimenting for a rural setting to have all that it takes to make a person say ‘Wow, this is good!’” he said.

While many people have historically moved to the cities seeking an escape from poverty, the Chief argues they find themselves victims of urban unsustainability.

“What we have observed is that urban cities in South Africa are now saturated,” he said, later adding, “I laugh when I hear government people saying ‘No we are building houses’ – they will build those houses till cows come home, but they will never pass that until they deal with our situation in the rural areas!”

Chief Dumalisile has worked in government himself. Involved with the Department of Foreign Affairs prior to being enthroned, he particularly noted his experience at the time of CODESA. His is an intricate understanding of what South Africa’s future needs: “When you talk transformation, let’s talk transformation in a broader sense. You cannot just confine yourself in Cape Town or the cities. It has got to interlink.”

Though poverty and unemployment plague both rural and urban settings here, the Chief feels strongly that life in rural areas can be more decent and dignified than the harsh poverty he has witnessed in our urban townships. Despite this, many continue to see rural areas as lacking.

For the Chief, this is because we need to build an alternative vision and work to see it realised as a template for replication elsewhere. We need to show it can be done. “Create opportunities here and people will stay,” he said.

Looking out from one of the schools we work with.

“The economic landscape of South Africa is informed by urban industrialisation. That has locked the minds of the people into thinking, literate or illiterate, that the best life is inspired in the cities,” he explained. “But the very towns you see out there now were never there before. They were created by people. It is just a matter of creativity amongst us.”

If we follow his creative vision for a moment, we can picture that old tapestry again, but see it depicting many new features. A productive macadamia farm flourishes along one ridge of the green hills. On another, trained farmers are succeeding with commercial animal husbandry. The women in ochre still stroll across the foreground, but they are now chatting to a small group of tourists. They all wave at the women’s grandchildren, learning to swim in their school’s new pool.

“I have got to help people understand what is this all about,” he said of the possibilities when people believe in and champion a project. “Everything that I do must find meaning in their minds.”

The Chief’s driving commitment is the belief that accidents of birth should not determine our horizons. He linked this to the need for broader social transformation, rightly recognising that urban/rural and economic divisions in South Africa remain deeply raced. Greater healing at a national level may flow from people having more equal opportunity to unlock potential, regardless of where they are born or what skin they are in.

“We are all human beings. Are you a thinker, a human being, can we be creative, are you a reasoning man, do you have integrity?” he said. “All those things, they are what actually count. Not he’s coloured, he’s Indian –

[…at this point Sarah from the Axium team broke in with “He’s Xhosa, she’s Venda!” and the Chief burst out laughing, admitting this was the story for him and his wife, before going on to conclude…]

- When you get to know people, barriers simply melt away. We have been deceived to think it is colour.”

Be it in lessening the racial divide, or that between urban and rural areas in terms of economic opportunity, Amajingqi hopes to be a model for change. This is where education and the PSP come back in. But more on that in a future post…

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