In March 2011 Simphiwe Dana embarked on a tour of rural and township schools to increase awareness of the dire state of public education, and to identify key problems such as the lack of libraries, science laboratories, high failure rates and teacher shortages in rural areas.
“I spoke to the learners, I spoke to the teachers, I spoke to the parents and even to the chiefs to try to get their perspective on what the problem is,” Dana says.
According to Dana she learnt so much she realised how complex the problem was.
“I realised that we as a community need to understand that we have gone through a lot in this country. It’s too big for us to just say ‘government is going to fix it’ – we as a community of South Africa need to get involved hands-on,” Dana asserts.
Simphiwe Dana is an award-winning musician and activist based in Cape Town, South Africa
After the tour Dana forwarded to government and interested donors a report highlighting problems in the schools she’d visited.
Her new project, which was sparked by Twitter and Facebook on-line chats with her fans, is the establishment of what she calls a stokvel, or rotating fund, for black education.
According to Dana for a stokvel, people get together monthly and put money together and every month that money goes to one of them. And then the next month it goes to another and then it keeps rotating like that.
“I thought that idea would work for education too. People get together – they put together this money, but instead of it going to one of them monthly, it goes to resourcing the schools,” Dana explains. .
The stokvel is still in its planning phase.
The first meetings were held in Cape Town and Johannesburg in September with hundreds of people, ranging from local celebrities, businessmen and other interested South Africans who pledged their support. Members of the stokvel are required to contribute approximately $80 each per month.
So far Dana has used her own music money to fund the public education tours and the stokvel initiation meetings. She envisions the fund to start at the beginning of 2012.
Funds raised will be used to develop poorer community school libraries and build science laboratories for needy schools. Besides money, members of the stokvel will be able to volunteer their time with reading groups and after-hour tutoring at schools.
The education project has not stopped Simphiwe Dana from singing – this year she released her first music concert DVD, while last year she released her third album, Kulture Noir.
The album has already earned two South African MetroFM awards, and reached the top of two world music charts, reaching number three for one measuring sales across Europe and number one another registering sales only within Germany.
Dana plans to move to Johannesburg, where she will continue her singing career and further her work on the black education stokvel.