Rebecca Malope was a guest on Late Night with Kgomotso, Saturday, 05 March 2011.  She is a celebrity and well known to South Africans. At present, she is writing her autobiography and has filmed her life story.  She owns the recording company that produces her music, (the very same recording company that refused her very first gospel album when she started out in the music business) and she has her own TV show.  She is clearly a very successful artist and businesswoman.


How did she get to be so successful?  Was it through schooling?  The answer is a big NO.  She educated herself.

She started work as a child of nine as a labourer on a tobacco farm.  After several years, she and her sister decided to escape from this form of enslavement and made their way to Johannesburg.   In order to survive in the big city, these teenagers gave song recitals.  It was not as if they knew they were extremely talented; it was just a way to survive.  But through her performances, Rebecca realised that she was a gifted singer and she learned all about the music business, began to approach recording companies, found ways to earn a living as a singer, took part in competitions and one day entered a talent show, won, and there was no looking back after that. 


In the interview with Kgomotso, Rebecca Malope seemed a little regretful about not having had the chance to go to school, get an education and learn to speak English when she was young.  That is why she is making sure that the children that she adopted, a niece and nephew, get everything that she missed as a child.  She reminded me of Joseph, a man who offers his services as a painter, tiler and builder.  When asked about his education, he was embarrassed to admit that he dropped out of school after Standard Five.


Because we have all been brainwashed into thinking that school has to be an essential part of our development, those of us who do not have schooling are made to feel inferior.  We have been brainwashed into thinking that school is as necessary to our development as the air we breathe; such measures as compulsory schooling and certificates of achievement contribute to this.


But that is utter nonsense.  Rebecca Malope was very lucky to have escaped the factory school which would have been worse for her than working on a tobacco farm.  In school she would have been forced into a curriculum that would not have given her scope to develop her musical talents, her understanding of the way in which the recording industry works and her ability to become a player in it.  The education that she would have been forced to endure would probably have turned her away from her real vocation and made her into one of the many seeking employment from government or industry.  She would have become dependent.  Without schooling, she had to rely on her wits and her talents and make her own way in the world.  She understood that her destiny lay in her own hands; that made her powerful and she became an entrepreneur, an artist and wealthy.  All this, she achieved in the apartheid era.


How different from all those matriculants (and even university graduates) who beg for opportunities from the government; who sit on street corners begging for jobs, any kind of jobs but do not have the skills for work.  The school system has turned them into dependents, has turned them away from their natural aptitudes and filled them with ambitions and education that have become irrelevant in a highly scientific and technological world. 


Rebecca Malope had the chance to learn in the school of experience.  And she gained the technological and entrepreneurial know-how that now makes her a leading citizen in South Africa.


As for Joseph, he too learned in the school of experience and became an expert in the various trades that he offers.  He is not in the same league as Rebecca Malope, but like her, he is independent, able to find work because he has excellent skills and he does not have to sit on street corners begging for odd jobs.


In Es’kia Mphahlele’s novel, Father Come Home,[1] he describes traditional education as follows:  “The boys and girls of Mashite did not attend modern school.  Their school was out there in life itself, surrounded by Nature, where everyone learned to survive.  They had abundant knowledge of how things grow, of the rains, of how to take care of livestock which was a gift from the ancestors.”   What is important to learn from this quotation is that education must be relevant.  It must provide us with the skills needed by the environment in which we live.  For some it will still be what Mphahlele describes above but for others it will be the kind of education that Rebecca Malope, through her own efforts, acquired about business, the recording industry, television, the entertainment world, singing, song-writing and dancing. 


Do you know of any public school that offers this kind of education?  Do you know of any public school that caters for an individual’s personal needs in this way? 


Traditional education prepared learners for life in the community.  It was relevant.  We need to make education relevant once more, relevant to the individual and relevant to the individual in the community.  It must not be a way of programming learners by treating them en masse as though they are all identical with identical needs and interests. 


And that means that schools must not have the monopoly of education provision.  Learners should be allowed to access knowledge and skills wherever they choose – in the way that Rebecca Malope did. 

We can all learn from her. When the film of her life comes out and when her autobiography is published, we can learn from them and become independent.  That is what it means to be empowered.

 At present schools turn learners into disempowered people; into dependents who make demands; who beg.

[1] Es’kia Mphahlele, Father Come Home, Johannesburg.  Ravan Press, 1984, p.36