An Obsession with Negativity – South Africa’s Class of 2013

As the South African Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, stepped away from the podium yesterday, after delivering the results of the 2013 Matriculation exam, the scribes were wondering: Is it a good sign, or a failing sign?. Digital pens (or more accurately, digital daggers) were pulled out of their sheaths as the preference for knifing down every good thing she was going to utter got the upper hand. Steadily the failing flag was hoisted, announcing the sacrifice to the ever-dissatisfied gods of South African education. Like my drunkard uncles and aunts during my childhood days in the rugged rural darkness of the Western Cape countryside, some commentators, experts, analysts, columnists and bloggers are never satisfied! If the bottle is full, empty it! If it is empty, fill it. Whatever she says is not good enough. It will never be good enough!

It is not out of line, I think, to suggest that some of us have a sadistic obsession with negativity. The notion of affirmation is a distant value that we should, at all cost, avoid, because praising the good may puff up the recipient. People may just get the idea that we actually appreciate what they have accomplished. God forbid!

Some detest the idea that there could be light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, they will quickly point out that the light is, in fact, a train coming!

One such train was on its way when Minister Angie Motshekga announced that almost 8 out of 10 passed the matric exam. “But”, they replied. “Remember not everyone who started 12 years ago, finished!” One such patriot’s stab was Retweeted, or rather Restabbed – again and again! Like a hound of digital gangsters, all 205 of them, they appeared intent on ensuring that the downside, the “reality” and the negative will triumph over the positive. Tonight’s NOT gonna be a good night!

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Another pundit from the pain gallery warned that celebrations will need to be put on the back-burner. Downgrading the pass-rate to 38%, she was insistent that there is no need to celebrate about small things if there are so many big things amiss. “Until then”, she said with a possible swaggering finger, it is all politics and who can rejoice over politics?

But, to be fair, the critics are right! If their calculations are spot on, then we had a dropout rate of about 50% over a 12 year period of time. Of the 1000 that started, only 500 finished, of which 78% passed the final exam. Admittedly – a deep concern.

But let us also be fair to those who want to rejoice in some measure of success. Let us show our gratitude for the sacrifices made by a grandmother – let’s be happy for her.  And let us declare our joy and celebration with the same vigour and energy we spend on criticism. Be inspired by Chumisa Matiwane’s 5 distinctions – her Mom passed away a few months before writing the final exam. Share her moments of accomplishments against daunting odds with affirming and encouraging echoes of appreciation.

Most of all, I would suggest – Thank them for not returning your venom with a reminder that, some of the dropouts you use to sharpen your switchblade of calloused insensitivity is a brother, sister, neighbour or a friend who died on the way to 2013.

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