I spent ten days in Cape Town as part of the December holiday visiting family and friends and catching up with people. It was a frenetic time but a happy one. There was one enduring memory though that I will have of this trip that I share with you today as my opening message to you.
Cape Town is running out of water and I experienced this first-hand. The effects of this are interesting. In informal settlements and many parts of most townships where piped water in homes is unheard of, life continues as normal with the daily walk to fetch water from a central tap. When that tap runs dry, it will be replaced by a water tanker so life will remain largely the same for the poor and their experience of water is so different from the middle classes.
Businesses will feel the effect greatly as almost all depend on water in some form or another and there may be loss of jobs and closure of places of employment. The middle and upper classes – those with piped water in their homes such as most of you – have been severely affected and their lifestyles have changed radically. There are plastic tubs in every sink catching water that runs off washed hands, you stand in buckets in the shower and turn the taps on only to wet yourself before lathering with soap while the taps are off. The taps then come on again to wash the soap off, all the while trying to catch the runoff in buckets. There are no baths permitted and plugs have been removed. In every household there is a faint smell of urine emanating from un-flushed toilets as toilets are only flushed for solid matter, using the water caught in the shower and the basins. Swimming pools may not be filled and many have been covered and left. There are no car washes anywhere.
Life without what we, as middle/upper-class people in South Africa are used to in terms of basic amenities, is very different. Imagine your life without running water. This would be a great leveller of the classes! You would wash in a basin with a facecloth using water you have fetched – 25 litres per day. You would use a chemical toilet or a long drop that would constantly smell. You would wear the same clothes many times as you would not be able to wash them. There would be no swimming. At school, we would have no water sports and our fields would go brown and dusty. We would allow you to come to school in the sports clothes you would be using that afternoon to cut down on washing and so on…
We become complacent and have a sense of entitlement when it comes to things we take for granted such as access to piped water, electricity and indeed education. While almost all of you lead a middle to upper class life with access to water, every single one of you has access to a top quality education at Pretoria Boys High. Note I said “access”. What you do with that opportunity is up to you but know that you are part of 15% of people your age in our country that attend schools like this one that provide a good education. Your teachers are well-qualified and pitch up for work on time. Your class are small and well-managed. Those same teachers care deeply about you and help you after hours with your work and coach you sport or supervise an activity you can enjoy. You are part of a community that cares about the place and keeps it neat, fixing that which is broken. You have access to learning materials and a world-class library. You have a place to study at night. You have every opportunity you could want.
What are you doing with this opportunity that is denied to 85% of our youth? Are you paying attention in class, working to the best of your ability? Are you playing sport or getting involved in culture? Are you cherishing each moment of this special place that gives you so much? If not, I suggest you imagine life without Boys High just as we imagine life without water – something we take for granted. This holiday taught me to appreciate water. I hope this message teaches you to appreciate the school you attend. Avoid complacency, do not take this for granted and do not think you are entitled to the opportunities you have here. Cherish every moment and make full use of this chance. We speak often these days of privilege and what privilege means – white privilege, male privilege, class privilege etc . Being at Boys High is a privilege – don’t you dare take it for granted.