“It was always my [desire] to go back to school,” says Lucy Ramohapi, a 66-year-old who is registered for a degree in education at the University of South Africa (Unisa). “But the chances were not there.”
Ramohapi dropped out of Naledi High School in Soweto when she was in grade 9 to help her parents support their family. She began working night shifts. “[We had] no resources, no money,” Ramohapi says. “Yes, because of [having] 10 children, [my] parents could not afford [to educate all of us].”
Without a high school certificate, Ramohapi could not pursue her dream of either becoming a psychiatrist, a doctor or a school principal.
This changed when Ramohapi attended an ANC meeting and learned about the Kwazini adult basic education and training centre in Tembisa. At first, she went to the centre for sewing classes. But she and others were encouraged to write a placement test. Ramohapi passed, and was registered for level four (equivalent to grade 9) in 2013.
“Hayi, ” Ramohapi recalls the other women saying. “We came here to sew and now they are telling us about a certificate.” After finding out that she had passed, Ramohapi went back to the sewing class to inform the others. “I went that side and said, ‘Guys, mwah [blowing a kiss], bye.’ And they said, ‘What?,’ and I said, ‘I am going to attend school.’”
In 2014, at 62, Ramohapi completed her matric. As part of her matric she studied South African criminal and statute law, but decided against pursuing it as a career after the Oscar Pistorius case. “It broke me,” she says. “I really hated law because it was evident that Oscar killed Reeva. You can’t say you made a mistake by pumping four bullets [into a person]. I said, these subjects are not for me – I cannot go along with it. So that’s why I took teaching.”
Pushing through stigma
Ramohapi’s journey has not always been easy, especially because parts of the community snub the adult training centres. “Some of our learners feel ashamed to be here because of the stigma within the community that adult centres [are for] yeyabantu abohlulekile [people who are failures],” says acting manager Evans Mavuso, adding that government should get involved in helping communities learn more about the centres.
“[These places] bridge the gap [for] those learners who did not get an opportunity to complete their schooling,” Mavuso says. “[They can help] transform the challenges we find especially in black communities, like crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and teenage pregnancy.” For him, the school is a second-chance institution, where everyone – including both employed and unemployed adults, the physically challenged and out-of-school youths – can learn.
Ramohapi is a student at Unisa, a member of a women’s society, a mother, wife, grandmother, and a manager at a mini-tavern with her husband, who fully supports her studies. Regardless of any difficulties, Ramohapi is determined to complete her degree.
She also wants to see other adults pursue their studies. “I would tell them, ‘Guys, as human beings, let’s not remain at the same level we were at yesterday. Let us go forward, let’s do what others do. If others can do it, why can’t we? It’s easy: just focus, get involved, push hard, and you will succeed.’”
Ramohapi hopes that pursuing her studies at her age will inspire her children to do the same. “It’s so difficult to [say], ‘Please, my child, go to school’ [when] I never went to school.” Her youngest child is studying law, also at Unisa.