2017 Tutu Fellow Rori Tshabala made these moving remarks at the opening of SPARK Schools Rosslyn hub, north of Pretoria in August 2019.  SPARK Schools is the brainchild of another Class of 2017 Fellow, Stacey Brewer, who is a cofounder of the schools.  Stacey's vision was to create a sustainable financial model for low-fee private schools in South Africa offering high-quality education.  Since the first one opened in 2012, the network has expanded to serve more than 10 thousand students at 21 schools. These dry statistics are belied by Rori's comments at the opening of the school.  He said:

  My grandmother, at that time a widowed mother of six with pitifully little formal education, used to walk these very fields, through rain and shine, from farm to farm buying the fruit and vegetables that she would then walk many load-bearing miles more to go and sell on the side of the road in order to earn what little she could to feed her children.

Yesterday, on the very same soils in which my grandmother’s desperate yet deliberate footsteps of all those years ago are hidden, I had the overwhelming and profound honour of officially opening SPARK School Rosslyn Hub, part of a network of private schools offering affordable, globally competitive education. I can only imagine what thoughts occupied my grandmother’s mind as she walked those long distances from Ga-Rankuwa; whether she ever thought that many decades later out of the seed of her suffering and toil; out of the tears of her prayers, her grandson would stand in front of a crowd on a warm Autumn’s day in the year 2019, tell them the story of Koko Catherine Tshabalala’s hope against the odds before cutting the ribbon to a school that will feed the minds of generations of young and energetic children who, from day one, say as part of their daily creed – as a commitment to themselves, their peers and their community – that they are SPARK scholars and they are going to university.

I might not know if my grandmother ever thought that there’d be a day like yesterday but I do know that part of what made yesterday possible was the fervent, righteous prayer that she devoted herself to over all those years; committing her family to God and sticking by that commitment through all the turmoil and vicissitudes that tested and questioned her resolve. She used to say, “Thapelo ha e bole” (prayer does not rot) and sure enough, yesterday, years after her passing, her prayers continued to avail much as they will continue to do well into the future.

I cut the ribbon to this school not just in homage of the sacrifices and resilience of the past but also with hope and optimism about the future. Yes, these are gloomy days in South Africa, feels like on every day we teeter on the brink of irredeemable economic, political and social calamity. A school such as this one is not an investment in the past; it is an investment – whether financially or socially - in the future of this country and that community in spite of that gloominess. From day one it brings with it at least 50 much-needed new jobs into our economy, it enhances access to affordable, globally-competitive education (SPARK Scholars achieve at two grade-levels above their peers in some areas) and it lights that fire that is spoken of in the quote that inspired the name of SPARK : “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. This is why I’m so proud of and inspired by Stacey Brewer and her team at SPARK for persisting in the mission of expanding access to affordable, globally competitive education in spite the political and social climate. Purely as a financial investment it will take years for the school to pay for itself and yet they persist in spite of the gloom, betting on what is possible and hopeful than what seems fateful and insurmountable. Much like my gran might have never conceived that a day like yesterday would ever come; much like how she persisted in walking those miles with sacks of produce on her head in spite the political, social and economic odds being stacked firmly against her…SPARK Rosslyn Hub stands as a monument to hope against the odds; as a challenge to all of us to rise above the gloom and persist in sowing the seeds to our future in spite the turmoil.

When the ceremony was over Nozipho (Mbanjwa) asked me how I felt…I didn’t have the words but all I knew was that my heart was full and it will remain so for a very long while to come.

Header picture to this post is from SPARK Schools website.  It is of Kuhlekodwa Trinity Nkosi who will be representing South Africa at the World Lyrical Dance Federation dance competition in England in August 2019.

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About AFLI




The African Leadership Institute (AFLI) focuses on building the capacity and capability of visionary and strategic leadership across the continent. Developing exceptional leaders representing all spheres of society, the Institute’s flagship programme is the prestigious Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship. Offering a multifaceted learning experience and run in partnership with Oxford University, it is awarded annually to 20-25 carefully chosen candidates, nominated from across Africa. Alumni of the African Leadership Institute form a dynamic network of Fellows passionately committed to the continent’s transformation, bridging the divide between nations and ensuring that Africa is set centre-stage in global affairs.