Ploughing into the Community

Simbithi Eco-Estate’s involvement in the Partners for Possibility (PfP) is one of the strongest pieces of our Community Social Investment program. In the last edition, we introduced you to our first partnership of North Coast Leadership Circle 2: Human Resources Manager Justine Mia and Shakaskraal State-Aided Primary School. In this edition, we introduce you to our second partnership: Finance Manager Marc McClure has partnered with Shakaskraal Secondary School. We tour the school and hear from principal, Sunjay Bodasing.

The last few learners are trickling down School Road, dressed neatly in their white golf shirts. The parking lot of Shakaskraal Secondary is still full, though, as teachers round off the day’s work. Principal Sunjay Bodasing arrives, fresh from a walkabout, and walks into his office; where an array of trophies is displayed above his neat desk. The school, Sunjay says proudly, has been in existence from July of 1987. Sunjay has been there for all of those 30 years, working his way up from a Head of Department to Principal. His passion for teaching, and the wellbeing of his learners, is evident: when he visits the Country Club, most waitrons smile cheerfully and wave, shouting out a "hello, Sir!"

The school currently has an enrolment of 900 learners, with an average of 43 per class. At capacity, the school can take up to 1200 learners, but Sunjay says they are careful not to over-register. "We service learners from Shakaskraal, of course, and immediate surrounds. The school is quintile four, which means we are fee-paying. That, however, is a challenge in itself." As many of the learners are from disadvantaged townships surrounding the school, only 30 percent of the entire school body pays school fees. This places significant financial constraints on the school budget. "But we cannot turn a child away. We take what the department of education gives us, and try our best to create an environment where effective teaching and learning can take place."

When Shakaskraal Secondary was run by the House of Delegates pre-1994, the school was an agricultural high school. "It was the only school in the province to offer agriculture, and we had learners from across the province enrolling. Many of our learners performed well enough to succeed in the industry." After the amalgamation in 1996, the school lost funding to offer the specialised subject.

In 2011, however, the DOE began researching a reinstatement of agriculture at Shakaskraal Secondary. The school was earmarked in 2013 as a viable option and, in 2014 began offering agricultural science, agricultural management practice and – this year – agricultural technology as an additional subject. The school is the only one in the iLembe District to have this unique curriculum. "We are adequately equipped, and look forward to working with the DOE to improve our facilities," said Sunjay. Presently, on site there is a mushroom nursery, seedling nursery, broiler house and layer chickens. Future plans include preparing a 12,5- acre field adjacent to the school, building up the area around a dam behind the school to introduce a recreational area, and including accommodation. Currently, a hall is being built so learners will be able to attend disciplined, dignified assemblies.

Though the school has not been without its challenges, Sunjay and his management team have worked hard to address these. An occasion that stands out is the day the school locked 300 latecomers out of the school, to reinforce values of punctuality. "Many of our learners come from homes where there are no parents, or just one parent. The area has a drug problem, and there are political issues that plague us from time to time. But, our goal is to change the attitudes of our learners: it’s about value education. If we teach them the correct values and ideals at school, we will hopefully see them take this home and impact their communities."

The agricultural aspect of the school must benefit the entire community, in Sunjay’s view. "We want to use the school as a hub to turn the fortunes of this community. To bring some light to the area, and we want our learners to lead that change." He is excited about his partnership with Marc McClure, particularly with his strong financial background. "I am excited to learn more from Marc in this aspect; he is truly in a class of his own. Through the PfP I hope to be connected to people who can assist us, and empower me to open foors for our learners."