QEF honoured by invitation to address BMF Eastern Cape

By Jacqueline Wijtenburg, QEF’s Stakeholder Relations Manager, Programme Director and Fundraiser

Last night I was invited by Mr. Mfundo Tsheketshe, the Black Management Forum Eastern Cape’s Chairman to address a special 45 year anniversary celebration of the BMF which gathered in Komani. I was among a panel that included current MTN Chairman and former Deputy Finance Minister MC Jonas, as well as Executive Mayor of the Chris Hani District Municipality Cllr Wongama Gela and BMF Board Member Yonela Mvama. Ms Minty Makapela, Vice Chair of the BMF Eastern Cape was the event’s Programme Director.

With Mr Mfundo Tsheketshe, Chairman of the BMF Eastern Cape (left).
Pic by Zintle Bobelo, the Rep newspaper.

The evening dialogue session was attended by esteemed educators, amongst other dignitaries such as Dr Bheki Mthembu and the Administrator of the Enoch Mgijima Local Municpality, Mr Monwabisi Somana. The Principals of Queen’s College Boys’ High School Mr Janse van der Ryst, Girls’ High School’s Theo Anaxagoras and Laerskool Hangklip’s Henko Serfontein, as well as Ms Nandi Zuma a teacher of GHS. The three schools form part of our 11-school network here in Komani and beyond.

Just some of the evening’s guests

Video of my address to audience

A transcript of my speech follows:

Good evening BMF Chairman, Programme Director, and Board members, as well as fellow special guest speakers Cllr Gela and Mr Jonas, and all the ladies and gentlemen in our audience. I’m deeply honoured to share this evening with you all and I’d like to begin with a poem by Hafiz titled Beautiful Creatures

There is a beautiful creature living in a hole you have dug.

So, at night,

I set fruit and grains

And little pots of wine and milk

Besides your soft earthen mounds.

And I often sing.

But still my dear,

You do not come out.

I have fallen in love with Someone who hides inside you.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

Hafiz, Beautiful Creatures

Mr Tsheketshe invited me here to reflect on my leadership journey and the role of ethics within it. He suggested I also share my perspective on strides being made to resolve the local issue here in Komani of our municipality’s current struggle to deliver basic services. He also asked that I share the inspiring vision and some of the achievements of an innovative collaboration underway here, now in its 7th year, called The Queenstown Education Foundation or QEF.

What a multi-levelled and somewhat complex subject! So I hope to honour your attention by sticking to the central theme that runs through all those aspects for me. Influence, power and the need for emotional sensitivity.

My individual journey with leadership has only just begun. Unlike the BMF in its 45th year now, and which has already had such a massive impact on SA’s socio-economic and political landscape.

Being identified as a white person, I am not a member of BMF, but I wholeheartedly support its drive toward ethical leadership. How exactly South Africa’s socioeconomic transformation is achieved –  and in what time frame – is being heavily debated all around our country. Here in Komani, no less so.

Decolonised education is also being debated alongside.

Economic hardship and social hurts have created enormous suffering and there has never been a more urgent time to alleviate them. As our awareness increases, alongside technological advancements and policy changes, there are movements forward, and that surely is worth celebrating.

I’d like to take you back tonight to where my passion for self-knowledge started.

It was a mere idea at the age of 10 years old when I saw my new school’s motto embroidered onto my blazer: “Know Thyself”. It said.

Know Thyself.


The school was SAHETI, a school for the Greek community of Johannesburg, and its motto came from the ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates, born in the Athenian City State, two and a half thousand years ago.

Interestingly, one of the primary founders of SAHETI school was Advocate George Bizos, a Greek-South African human rights lawyer who represented President Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists killed by the government, throughout the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As I was almost ready to matriculate I was aware that Chris Hani’s daughter Lindiwe was being enrolled at SAHETI. According to Adv. Bizos, Chris Hani was a classics scholar and he wanted his children to receive a classical education.

In media reports, she explained how painful it was to be part of a minority at the school. Not only was she black, she was not Greek.

Although I was unfairly privileged by apartheid in a way her father and many brave compatriots fought against, it was also emotionally hard for me to be non-Greek at SAHETI. The extent of the pain is not comparable, but it pained me nevertheless.

The majority of children were from Greek families. I didn’t have a drop of Greek blood in me, I didn’t speak Greek and I didn’t know their customs. I felt marginalised and isolated.

But I came to respect that Ancient Greeks made important contributions to philosophy, as well as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine at that time, including offering the concepts and names “Dimokratia/Democracy” and “Politiki/Politics”.

In other words, Socrates with his motto “Know thyself” was part of the movement that birthed the Western World’s ideal of Democracy.

After a few miserable years I realised I would need to involve myself in the school, in order to feel that I belonged.

So I volunteered for different cultural clubs at school, and eventually transformed the pain into joy. I earned myself the Headmasters Award. It became the beginning of a beautiful journey with Greece and school leadership. Today I am married to a loving South-African-born Greek husband who serves as Principal of a local school here in Komani, where he grew up.

And, in my own right I direct programmes for the Not for Profit Company, the Queenstown Education Foundation (or QEF as it is known).

I willingly left the city of Johannesburg three years ago to be in here in the countryside where the pace is slower, the roots are deeper and the opportunities to develop as a social entrepreneur are greater. Small communities come together easily in crises. I felt ready to offer whatever I could to the community.

At times, like in childhood, I again felt marginalised. The white population here is very small. I don’t speak isiXhosa, BBBEE policies reduce my work opportunities. And people are often mistrustful of “City people” or people not in their particular church.

So, like at school, I began volunteering. Together with other women, I helped the local art exhibition raise money for the elderly. Together with a committee, I formalised a volunteer movement that brought more safety, dignity and beauty into public spaces.

Together with my friends across the world, I made sure a group of 30 vulnerable girls in the Mlungisi informal settlement had Netball uniforms so they could compete in leagues. I’m happy to report that the Crusaders Netball Team is thriving. They have won just about every match they have played since and are now creating their own fundraising tools.

During the initial lockdown period, thanks to the help of many members of the audience sitting here tonight, I was able to manage a massive food parcel campaign that, through multiple parties, delivered over 5 000 parcels door-to-door in 6 weeks, within the impoverished areas of Mlungisi, Ezibeleni, Lesseyton and even some homes in Toptown.

When I was appointed to QEF two years ago I was tasked with testing if a group of school leaders had appetite to deepen their collaboration with each other, as a way to further realise QEF’s vision of transforming our town here into a universally-recognised centre of educational excellence.

It turns out, they were. They are!

Our 11 affiliated schools, include diverse primary and high schools, public and private, who offer quality education to our town’s children who come from predominantly isiXhosa-speaking homes. They embrace all cultures. They are schools of excellence.

Families from other provinces and, even, those from across our country’s borders are attracted by our affiliated schools’ well-run boarding facilities.

We are now looking for sustainable ways to extend the collaboration and co-operation within the broader schooling district.

  • We have already built and manage a highly innovative digital network for cost-efficient high speed data transfer.
  • We partner with fundraisers. Very noteworthy is that one of these, the 1965Ride Cycle for Education has distributed over 100 bursaries to date, since its inception 11 years ago.
  • We also facilitate a Community of Practice for Maths teachers that publishes a Gr 7 Common Assessment Paper.
  • Throughout the year we host interesting dialogues among school leaders.
  • We even have a systemic learner and teacher well-being intervention and Space Exploration Club planned.

Our collaboration – any collaboration –  needs very firm identities. Each collaborator needs their own vision, their own mission, their own support base. Collaboration does not mean total union.

People often form collaborations very loosely. As inevitable stresses arise they start to fall apart at the seams. Disagreements feel personal, when actually they are more the result of resistance to systemic change.

When we humans are stressed, we are tempted to coral and go back to our previous safety spots.

I see emotional sensitivity a bit like just reducing the size of my ego. It naturally happens when I actively explore and come to know myself.

Having less of an ego does not mean being a door mat, nor a push over. It simply means to hold what you feel you absolutely know to be true, in a light enough way that you can explore it. On your own, and with others.

It involves moving beyond the safety of comfort into adventurous curiosity and growth. It requires recognising the role of trauma and fear and recognising the exact triggers that give rise to disproportionate emotional reactions that derail the best of intentions.

Such growth is a lifetime journey. We all started it in the safety of our mother’s lap when we felt a desire to climb off and explore the environment around us, bit by bit.

As adults we need to listen deeply and be open to hear each other – all across the community. We need to be curious and accommodating. Sometimes, that is a hard ask.

At a personal level and a communal level.

Our town’s history with apartheid, like all those around the country, was harsh. Emotional wounds take time to heal. They cannot simply bend to the Will that very confidently says: “That was the past, let’s just move on and get on with it”. Hearts are involved and natural loyalties exist to past generations who suffered. Not mildly, but severely.

I have suffered personal injury from some members of the white-led business community and I have to say, it triggered past wounds from my childhood. Unconscious fear – mine and theirs – was most likely the root cause of the discord.

At the same time, I have benefitted and am grateful from what the same community members have built. I sit on both sides of the coin.

Party politics is not my path in life.

I am interested in walking in the forest of the unknown and serving my community by building bridges across racial and cultural divides to serve  education. To link interested parties to each other. I am just one of many with this heartfelt wish and am committed to the path.

Let’s find ways for people to meet each other and have extraordinarily meaningful conversations together.

To return to where I started:

Hafiz said:

There is a beautiful creature living in a hole you have dug.

We should talk about this problem….

Otherwise, I will never leave you alone.

Our community is in a hole that, in one way or another, at one time or another, we have all dug together.

But a beautiful creature lives inside it.

It is my deep wish to convene a conversation amongst all stakeholders who feel inspired by QEF’s vision for enhancing educational excellence in this town. It needs Basic Services.

Mr Tsheketshe has graciously volunteered to facilitate this QEF conversation with me.

I hope that everyone in this room might consider joining it when the time comes. Please let me know if you are.

Thank you.