I WAS going to write about war and rank hypocrisy. US President Barack Obama told the world last week that he has decided to launch military attacks on Syria because "we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations."
In the Washington Post last week, Henry Allen, a former editor of the newspaper, wrote: "Oscar Wilde said: ‘As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.’ He didn’t foresee a US that would regard war as virtuous. What a dangerous idea it is." Indeed.
But, instead, I found the address by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel to the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa’s national conference last week to be much more compelling than Obama’s war drums.
Manuel spoke about development and the crisis in South African education.
He pleaded with the accounting profession to be actively involved in resolving the crisis.
He said that "in spite of a significant improvement in the grade 12 pass rates, a disaggregation of these reveals trends that are worrying. When one abstracts the black (pupils) who attend private and ‘former Model C’ schools, it becomes clear that the absolute performance is declining, and the subset of those who pass mathematics and science is diminishing."
And the solutions are simple.
"Identifying schools that need support, there is the need to be properly equipped — with skills and humility, there’s the need to pursue the task relentlessly…. This is the plough-back that we need through the agency of active citizenry that the National Development Plan (NDP) calls for," said Manuel.
So it was an absolute pleasure when Lynn Scott walked into my office at Cover2Cover Books last week. She is a retired maths and accounting school teacher living in Fish Hoek.
She came to the office to buy a set of novels for teenagers that we publish, for a group of grade 11 girls whom she has adopted at Masiphumelele High School in Cape Town.
Three times a week, Scott volunteers her time at the school doing extra training in maths and accounting for the teaching staff, and also spends time with the girls at her house going through the subjects.
She says that, at present, they average just more than 60% in the two subjects and they have set a target of 80%, by the time the girls hit grade 12, to improve their chances of getting a scholarship to go to university.
She is asking the girls to work hard at their maths and accounting, but she is also encouraging them to learn to read for pleasure.
Their present assignment is to write about their dreams for the future, leaving a blank page for them to complete in five years’ time. This is the type of active citizenry the NDP calls for.
Businessman Moss Mashishi wrote on his Facebook page that he went back to his former school, Tlholohelo Primary School, to make a contribution as part of his 50th birthday celebrations.
He says he talked to the children at the school, who also aspire to break the circle of poverty.
He left them with a message that diligence, integrity and hard work go a long way.
Again, this is the type of active citizenry that the NDP calls for.
Imagine the effect if more of us took these small but significant bites at this elephant.
Investing in education must be high up in ensuring the survival of the human species, despite the fact that, very often, decisions to go to war and plunge humanity into barbarism are taken by highly educated men and women.
But we have to keep trying, because it also takes a reading and highly educated public to hold warmongers to account.
• Morudu writes from Cape Town.