‘The biggest stress I am facing is the fact that I need to return to school during a pandemic’

Matric pupil writes heartfelt letter to Ramaphosa, Motshekga

Teenager Malikah Swail has pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa for schools not to reopen on June 1.
Image: paylessimages / 123RF Stock Photo

Teenager Malikah Swail has pleaded with President Cyril Ramaphosa for schools not to reopen on June 1.

The matric pupil from Elsies River High School in the Western Cape penned an open letter to Ramaphosa, basic education minister Angie Motshekga and deputy minister Enver Surty, expressing fears that she, her teachers or classmates could fall victim to Covid-19.

“I always thought that the biggest stress I would endure during my matric year would be exams and the heavy workload, but I was wrong. Now the biggest stress I am facing is the fact that I need to return to school DURING A PANDEMIC,” she wrote.

TimesLIVE is publishing her letter, in full, with only minor edits.

A letter of a very concerned matriculant

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa, minister of basic education Angie Motshekga, deputy minister of basic education Enver Surty and every other member that has taken part in the joint decision to send us back to school on June 1.

My name is Malikah Swail, I am a 17-year-old grade 12 student and I attend Elsies River High School and I am writing to each and everyone in the education department and to the president, in extreme desperation as a concerned member of the youth of South Africa. I write this letter with tears in my eyes and a hopeful heart that it would actually be read and not just overlooked.

I am deeply concerned about the direction we are heading into as a country. I am also deeply disturbed by the fact that people we have entrusted, the people that God has entrusted to look after us as learners, has failed us. We have been failed by the people we have put our trust in, the people who were supposed to “care” for us.

The very same president who has taken an oath to always serve his country. Mr President, do you remember the oath you have taken on 15 February 2018? Mr President, you have taken an oath.

“I solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people.” Those were the words of you, President Cyril Ramaphosa, but are you living up to the oath you have taken?

Now before I continue, firstly I would like to commend our president … on the great job he has done thus far. President Ramaphosa, you have acted swiftly when you made the decision to close schools before the virus would have spread even more rapidly, and I commend you for this. And I commend minister Angie Motshekga for the role she has played in allowing schools to be closed for the duration of “lockdown”.

I have looked forward to my matric year for as long as I can remember, and I’m quite sure all matriculants right across South Africa have looked forward to this year as well. We have sacrificed endless nights, followed study timetables, had sleepless nights, endless stress and anxiety affiliated with exams. All of this to get where we are – grade 12.

Our year started off bright, filled with hope and positivity because this was a new year; not just any new year, but a new beginning for us as matriculants. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter for us.

I always thought that the biggest stress I would endure during my matric year would be exams and the heavy workload, but I was wrong. Now the biggest stress I am facing is the fact that I need to return back to school DURING A PANDEMIC.

So many thoughts and questions flood my mind. Do we not have a say? How do we cope? How will our teachers cope? What will happen if anyone of my peers or teachers contracts the virus?

Our teachers are undoubtedly the most important part of our country. Without our teachers we are nothing. Without teachers we wouldn’t have doctors and nurses and may I add that all of those doctors and nurses that are now at the frontline fighting this pandemic, those very same nurses and doctors were taught by teachers.

Teachers that are constantly being overlooked because they aren’t classified as important, but without them where would we be as a country? How would we have been able to fight this pandemic?

Our teachers are so important and their lives matter too. People’s lives are at stake, teachers have families. What about teachers with little kids? What about teachers who live with their parents and perhaps even grandparents? What if they contract the virus and give it to their family? Even worse, what if we lose a teacher? Would that sit well on your  conscience?

Think about the enormous amount of pressure teachers would face when we return back to school. Think about how this will affect them too.

I firmly believe school is a vital aspect of every learners future. Without school many of us wouldn’t have been where we are today.

However, I also firmly believe we are not ready to return back to school. Winter is approaching, and according to what I have seen on the news, the peak season for Covid-19 is winter but apparently it is okay to send us back to school during the peak season of Covid-19.

Last year in August we lost a learner … a precious soul and it took a huge toll on our school because we were devastated. Months later, we lost a teacher as well. Our school was devastated. Learners, teachers, parents and even non-teaching staff were deeply affected by the death of our teacher. We lost two of our very own people at school.

What will we do if we lose another person? How would we be able to handle it? We have already faced an enormous amount of trauma as a school and right now we are being thrust into an even worse situation.

We would all love to return to school, but that time will come. The time will come where we are ready to return, once it is SAFE for us to do so.

Parents are at their wits’ end, and you cannot blame them because they are concerned. We keep preaching “the youth is our future” and that’s 100% correct. But how about listening to the youth for once? Listen to us, hear our viewpoints as well.

I have a possible solution. Let us redo our year, each and every learner in the education system. A fresh start for everyone, with a new perspective. Those learners that should have started school in 2021 can just start school a year later then. I’m not saying this will work, but at least consider it.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”


“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” – Joshua 1:9


Respectfully yours,

Malikah Swail



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