Girls are a gauge of society
IT IS hard not to be mesmerised by the energy in Luanda. The Angolan capital's nightlife is intoxicating. It is hard not to get drunk on the warm weather, the sound and dance that is kizomba. How can you not be fascinated by the city that never sleeps?
Sadly, too many of Luanda's girl children also don't sleep. In a country where there aren't enough schools to accommodate all the children of school-going age - according to the think-tank Council on Foreign Relations, 45% of school-age children are not reached by the education system - the choices for girls are limited.
Save the Children estimates that, "while the literacy rate among males is 82.1%, only 53.8% of females are literate and girls drop out of school at higher rates than boys, often before completing four years of primary education".
Luanda's nightlife is made all the more vibrant by the huge numbers of girls who have little else to do but be companions of older men. The city is filled with girls who become women with little or no chance of being independent. And when these women who had few or no opportunities to make something of their lives have no more options outside the clubs and bars, they take to the streets to sell their bodies for money.
The hard reality is that, when tough choices have to be made about who can go to school, depending on a family's income, it is the girls who get the short stick, it is the girls who are sacrificial lambs.
This is the situation in Luanda, where multi-storey buildings are being built everywhere and where luxury apartments overlook shacks perched dangerously close to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
It is in the capital that luxury sedans and SUVs skirt potholes and leaking sewerage pipes. It is where the oil-rich country is creating millionaires and multimillionaires every day.
If clean water and sanitation are still a problem in Luanda, you can imagine how desperate the conditions are elsewhere in the provinces that are predominantly rural and where years of civil war destroyed the infrastructure.
Closer to our borders, in rural parts of the Zambezia province of Mozambique, schooling, if it is available, is first and foremost for boys. Girls are privileged to get an education. Why waste time and money on a girl, who will marry and leave home?
International aid organisations are pumping funds and resources into schools to help the efforts of locals who advocate for girls' right to education.
Here at home, in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, children have no textbooks.
In Thohoyandou 600 pupils are forced to share two pit latrines.
Last week we learned that 109 pupils in Grade 3 fell pregnant in 2009. The annual survey compiled by the Department of Basic Education and released earlier this month revealed that in 2009, a total of 45 276 girls became pregnant.
In Silvermine village near Senwabarwana (which was known as Bochum), children learn under trees at a school started by the community.
Adults in the village said enough is enough after two girls were almost raped on their way to the nearest schools, which are 10km away.
Here in the "economic powerhouse of Africa" - host of the 2010 soccer World Cup, the newly announced majority host of the Square Kilometre Array telescope and the first sub-Saharan country to boast a high-speed train, to mention just a few of our achievements - our education system still fails thousands and thousands of children.
How can we be proud of these achievements when there are children learning under trees, when there are schools that have no water and sanitation, when there are schools still waiting for textbooks in the middle of the year?
Our beloved Nelson Mandela said: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."
I would add that there is no keener revelation of a society than the way in which it empowers its girl children.
We need the spirit of community of Silvermine in those who are in charge of the education of our children. The community did not wait until a child was actually raped before it took action. That it almost happened was enough to jolt the people into action.
That they don't get paid does not stop the two qualified teachers and 12 others who aren't qualified to teach, but teach the children what they can, showing up on time for class. And 165 children get some kind of learning.
Imagine if more of us had this kind of mentality, if this attitude was common in our politicians and public officials who are paid hundreds of thousands, some even millions, to ensure our children get a much-needed education.
There would not be another government do until there were enough schools for our children.
There would be no office refurbishments until all schools had the learning materials they needed.
There would be no purchase of new cars until all schools had libraries and laboratories.
Not another cent would be spent beefing up security, renovating palatial homes or building higher walls so that individuals feel more comfortable, more safe, in a country in which children are at risk of being raped while walking to school.
There would be no party until we had something to celebrate.
Because there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the perpetuation of inequality by an education system that disempowers its children, especially its girl children.