By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
This week, I attended a breakfast event with a difference – a fundraising event aimed at raising funds to afford talented learners whose parents may not afford school fees at one of the most prestigious private colleges in the country Sacred Heart in Johannesburg.
Titled the Sacred Heart College CEO Breakfast, held at Protea Hotel on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. This event was the launch of this fundraising initiative that will see learners from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to enjoy quality education offered at the school.
Those who attended turned the event into indeed the gathering of the influential who have gone out to make a difference in the sectors and communities they work in. The conversations at breakfast tables, just before the key note address by none other than Standard Bank Group Chief Executive Officer Sim Tshablalala were around education and how so and so and so’s son or daughter has gone to do amazing stuff in her chosen profession after graduating from Sacred Heart College.
Those who commented the College, strategically situated in Observatory, a strategic position of a school in South Africa, a sort of a social bridge between the rich north and the poor inner City Johannesburg, explained that the position of Sacred Heart College, was more than just a geographic situation. But symbolically is indeed a social bridge between the rich and the poor.
And by pointing out how they or their children were doing well, this was not for the sack of boasting, but to show how the school’s values, based mainly on social justice and quality education is a necessity in a country that has the biggest gap between the rich and the poor in the world, and how education is an equaliser.
And so when Sacred Heart College Head Heather Blanckensee opened the gathering’s proceedings, she could only have been intentional when she did so by quoting former President, the late Nelson Mandela’s comments on the value of education and how education is an equaliser (some of whose grand children attended the same school), it could only have been intentional.
Those who spoke about their children, and in some cases their own achievement after they graduated from Sacred Heart college –Tshabalala and Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh who went on to gain a doctorate at Oxford University (He was at secret Heart College from Grade 1 to Grade 7, before proceeding to nearby St. John’s College for his High School education), and academic Jefferson Yu-Je Chen, were explaining how Sacred Heart College played a role in moulding them or their children due to its values of social justice.
Yes, it is a premium independent school and whose education comes at a certain price beyond the affordability of most parents in South Africa, but to mitigate that fact, the College has a bursary scheme specifically aimed at children of colour who are talented but whose parents cannot afford the fees. And indeed the fruits of their inclusivity when it comes to access to the college was demonstrated by the presence of some of the beneficiaries there, some of whom hail from Alexandra, who spoke about how their lives had been changed by being at the school, which allo2s them to express and explore areas beyond the curriculum.
I happened to be seated to one such alumnus, Neo Mmkwa, who is now studying computer science at the University of Johannesburg who was free to share with CITYLIFE/ARTS how getting a scholarship to attend Sacred Heart is the very same reason she was studying Computer Science in Third Year at UJ.
“I am from Alexandra, and to be honest with you, till two months before I was awarded the scholarship, I did not even know about the existence of this great school. I never even knew what computer science was. My interest in the area was only sparked when I attended Sacred Heart College,” she told me. She is today also a mentor for the current learners at the school.
Mpofu-Walsh said that a mistake sometimes people make is that when you have been to privileged school you find it easy when you get to university. “Year academically you are in a better position to those that attended poor public schools in South Africa, but you are in a worse position when it comes to copying socially than those who come from public schools, who struggle academically of course, but find it easy to fit into a diverse environment,” the podcast producer, author and academic explained.
Business strategist Paul Kapelus, who children were also beneficiaries of the Sacred Heart College, spoke about how the college’s inclusivity better prepares its graduate for the real world outside the school system. He was part of the panellists. Fellow panellist academic Yu-Je Chen explained that he teaches his students at GIBS to always ask the question what value they are adding when they find themselves in a certain environment.
Tshabalala, who is the first black person to occupy the position of Group Chief Executive Officer of Standard Bank or any financial institution of that size in the country, bemoaned the issue of the lack of global competitiveness of the South African economy, even though institutionally, such as the strong position of the Treasury, South African Revenue Services and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, South Africa was better than many countries globally.
The performance of the economy, estimated to grow by just one percent point this year, was lamentable, especially given the fact that the African continent as a whole was projected to grow by an average of three percent, Tshabalala pointed out. He gave an example of Uganda and Tanzania in East Africa whose growth is projected to be five percent as a benchmark of where South Africa should be looking with regards to its own growth rate.
He however projected the issue of the power being attended to by 2025, with the expectation of new players coming on board, and that could then boast the energy out in the country. (See Tshabalala’s speech in our sister publication citylifebusiness.co.za).