Covid has robbed SA of so many human libraries of knowledge

Ideas

Covid has robbed SA of so many human libraries of knowledge

How will we ever replace the many incredible South African educationists who were doing their best to fix a broken system?

Columnist

Every morning I wake up, it seems there is another friend or family member who has been hospitalised, intubated or died from Covid-19. Even non-coronavirus deaths are amplified because of the heartache of the many who have succumbed to the dreaded virus. Sometimes the cause of death is hard to discern: was it really heart problems, as the family is quick to report, or were the cardiovascular problems Covid-19-related? This week I have to find ways of including at least three drive-by and two online memorials in a packed schedule of remembering the dead. Behind the numbers are the names of real people whose amazing lives have been lost in the sheer frequency of death around us.

This week we lost some of the most incredible South Africans, who have made invaluable contributions to education. I wish to honour them.

Dr Johan van Zyl (not the Sanlam guy, the Toyota guy) is rightly known for his global leadership role as the face of Toyota Motor Corporation. After all, he was the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe and CEO of the Europe Region, quite apart from chairperson of Toyota Motors South Africa. But few know the humble 63-year-old Potchefstroom graduate who four times a year sat with me in an education trustees meeting to plan how to improve teaching and learning in the primary schools of rural KZN, where Toyota employees send their children. Once a year this giant of the motor-manufacturing industry would travel with a small group of us into rural settlements to listen to children recite poetry and replace pit latrines with decent toilets. I will always remember his words in one of our meetings, when we struggled to understand why a government of the people could not give its most vulnerable citizens the dignity of a flushing toilet. With sadness on his face, Johan gave an explanation that makes perfect sense: “They just done care.” Now he is gone...

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