June is regarded as Youth Month here in South Africa for the remembrance of the June 16, 1976 student uprising. A time that will always echo sad memories of the fallen heroes that fought for our freedom.
During this time of the year we remember how scholars marched to the streets of Soweto in school uniform demanding the abolishing of Afrikaans in schools. We all know this march ended brutally as it claimed many lives of the children who went protesting for the democracy that we have today.
It has been over 40 years since the June 16, 1976 uprising and seeing school kids going to school in the morning is still a bit of a disturbing site. This distraction has been there for quite some time, I’ve seen it from my schooling time and even now it is still happening.
Schools have rules and regulations and one of those rules is basic school uniform. It is this uniform that distinguishes one from others schools and with this uniform a scholar represents his school by wearing it. Although most schools in the townships share colours and some even stripes of the uniform there is still a sad view on how scholars look with their school uniform. Scholars themselves don’t really like wearing it, they do it because it’s required for them to do so. It is evident that they don’t like it as it shows by the way they look when going to and coming back from school. It is an untucked shirt; loosely tied necktie; wrinkled pants; a casual jersey; bright colour bomber jacket; floppy hats, the list is endless.
It’s not all the children that dress like that, but those glooming colours on top of their uniform makes the reduces the dignity of the school flag. Some just go with the basic look, shirt; trouser and black shoes. How sad would it be if you were to come across an unconscious scholar but can’t recognize which school he belongs to, because he’s not wearing a school tie nor a jacket? It is understandable that some learners don’t have full school uniform due to disadvantaged backgrounds. However it is quite surprising that whenever it’s “Casual Fridays” it hardly shows that the kids’ parents can’t afford buying them clothes. As colourful as they may look when it is “dress-up day” it’s just sad to see them back on Monday with a dull school uniform. And for those that are privileged to receive a full uniform it still doesn’t look and fit properly. One of the obvious reasons is “off-the-rag” which come in standard factory sizes, another would be a philosophy that almost every parent worships…”you’ll grow into it”.
It came to my attention that the learners’ view towards school uniform had to change. I saw the need to make uniform look “cool”, most importantly look presentable and respectable. I went around schools and having some conversations with learners asking them about their opinion with regards to their uniform and it was a mixed bag of views. Some did say it is important to have uniform as they represent the school they attend, but some simply said they wore it because it’s a “must”. I even challenged them by asking the difference between their uniform and those of the schools in the northern suburbs. They confessed that there’s a huge different, however they felt the uniform in the suburban schools is too “uptight”. They continued to complain about having to wear a school jacket the whole day on a hot summer day. I raised a question of “who of their parents wears work uniform, such as a policeman”. I further asked if they’ve ever seen a cop with his shirt untucked. I received a mouthful answer, “of course not, because they’re getting it for free and they get paid to wear it”.
Someone may say, there’s no hope in our youth but I disagree and believe there’s great potential in our future. With that said, change was needed and it could not be forced to them like the Apartheid government. The plan was to look like them so they can see the difference between me and them and hope to tell my story without having to say a word. I remember how I was known for being naughty at school, but a simple “tie” changed everyone’s perspective about me. One of the best compliments I received was from my primary school’s headmaster…”You are a gentleman and a scholar”.
As much as I was a stranger to them dressed in their school uniform, they continued to compliment how good looking their school uniform looked. They asked themselves questions about that stranger if he was part of them or just a stunt. Some could recognize me from the previous visits when I had a chat with them about their views on school uniform.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying scholars should invest on bespoke shirts and trousers. I’ve worn “off-the-rag” suits and they looked suitably elegant by simply taking it to a tailor to do a few alterations. It may also sound like extra cash that parents must pop out, but it is worth it knowing that it will worn with pride.
I enjoyed spending time with scholars, as I reminisced the good old days when I was still in school. As we remember June 16, 1976 let’s share memories of our schooling days as well as thoughts of making a difference.
Until next time…