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Back to school (King-Luthuli Transformation Centre, Johannesburg).

Each week over a thousand young people come to the King-Luthuli Transformation Centre (KLTC) in central Johannesburg to take part in the Saturday Study Club. There, in an informal atmosphere, the brighter students help the others to catch up with the subjects they find hardest. The idea, says founder Joseph Tshawane, is that learning should be fun.

Tshawane founded KLTC in 1987, to promote the culture of learning in a country where, for 20 years, young people have called for `liberation before education'.

`They played a very important role in our liberation,' says Tshawane. `They never had time to be young.' He tells the story of a 12-year-old who came to see him in the 1980s, when he was director of youth ministries for the South African Council of Churches, asking to be sent to Lusaka to join the freedom fighters.

`He was a political machine. I kept pressing him and eventually the child in him came out. He said that what he really wanted was a BMX bike.'

Tshawane refuses to see South Africa's young people as a `lost generation'. Under apartheid, he says, many grew up seeing school as the forum for struggle and theft as `repossession'. `They were marginalized by an abnormal society,' he says. `We need to help them develop as useful members of society.'

Tshawane and his staff of 22 also offer young people a chance to discover their talents for drama, art and sport. And they run courses for student representatives which include training in how to campaign for election--helping them, in Tshawane's words, `to move from protest to governance'.

He knows what it is to be an angry young man. He left school when his parents divorced, and went to work for a farmer in the Eastern Transvaal. `One day he kicked me,' he says. `This made me so angry that I decided to get educated so that it would never happen again.'

In the early Seventies, like many of his contemporaries, he considered `skipping the border' to join the armed struggle. Instead, he decided to stay and join the church. In choosing this non-violent path, he was influenced by the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King.

By 1976, when Soweto's schools burst into open resistance, Tshawane was a young minister. `I buried a lot of young people,' he says.

KLTC aims to teach young people how to resolve conflicts without violence. Tshawane gives an example of a school in Kwazulu-Natal, where KLTC has an office. `The young people were taking guns to school, some were smoking dagga. We talked to the teachers and students and took the student leaders out to train them. Now they are running the school and things are normal.'

Similarly, KLTC has helped to restore order in a school in the Orange Free State, where the white students had been picking on the black students.

KLTC also involves young people in cleaning up Johannesburg and trains some as `Guardian Angels', to discourage crime. The centre runs programmes for women and teachers too, and is funded by USAID and other foreign and local donors.

The centre tries to be nonsectarian, says Tshawane. `We avoid churcheology and dogmas. But my energy and resources come from my religious background. Otherwise I Would burn out.'
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Mary Lean
Publication:For A Change
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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