Make no mistake; this isn’t about whether our schools should or should not have Matric Balls.
With our astonishingly high dropout rates for learners who start high school in Grade 8 but never make it to matric, we do need to have some form of celebration for those who have actually made it to the point in their young lives where they write their final Grade 12 exams.
The question that many in our communities are debating is how far should those celebrations go, especially if we consider that a matric certificate means so very little in the bigger scheme of things.
Two Cape Flats Schools Cancel Matric Balls While Some Students Choose to Celebrate Differently
While both schools site poor academic performance as their reason for their cancellation of their Matric Balls, social media is awash with varying opinions on whether their decisions are fair or if it is an injustice to the few matriculants at those schools who are indeed working hard and getting good grades.
The Western Cape Education Department has made it clear that Matric Balls are seen as optional extra-curricular activities and they have no say in decisions relating to whether or not a school holds a matric ball.
Aside from Schools Cancelling Matric Balls, in the past few years there have been some students who attended their matric balls but then purposefully made a point of rejecting the lavishness and fanfare that goes along with it, even if it seemed as if they can afford it.
There is also an increase in matric learners totally shunning the tradition and not attending at all.
With the many varied opinions that people have about matric balls, we ask: Are there any solutions to find a suitable middle-ground that works for everybody?
Is it Justified for a School to Cancel their Matric Ball?
On Wednesday 4 October 2023 St Andrews Technical High School in Connaught Estate announced that due to a shockingly low pass rate among their matriculants in both the June and September exams, the school has cancelled all plans for a matric ball.
The school has indeed warned parents and learners in July that if there was not a drastic improvement by September, the matric ball would not go ahead.
With only 17 out of the 76 matric learners having passed in June with a slight improvement to only 29 out of the 76 passing in September, the school also cited a lack of cooperation from learners who were lax to submit assignments as well as chronic levels of absenteeism and rife incidents of disruptive behaviour, as the biggest contributors to the dismal situation.
The school has now arranged that as from 10 October a Study Room will be made available daily and matriculants will be expected to attend in order to prepare themselves for their Finals Exams.
Interestingly, out of all the people commenting on the post on the St Andrews Facebook Page, parents, former learners and community members, the majority agreed with the school’s decision.
For the few who questioned the financial impact it would have on parents who had already spent money, others retorted that they have all been warned in July that this could happen.
The Modderdam High School decision earlier this week seems somewhat more controversial.
On Monday 2 October news of Modderdam High School having cancelled their matric ball caused an outcry and according to an article in the Daily Voice citing and showing a screenshot of a Facebook post in The Official Bonteheuwel Group which has since been deleted from the group, parents and community members decried the decision by Modderdam High School.
The school apparently had an agreement with parents and matric learners in January that if less than 50% of matriculants passed the September exams, then the matric ball would be cancelled.
Apparently some Modderdam High parents had already spent money on matric ball preparations and it is alleged that the school has indeed started planning the matric ball and set a date before the decision to cancel was made.
All traces of original social media posts relating to the cancellation are no longer available or have been removed from any related or relevant social media pages and we were unable to obtain any comment on new developments from the school or any persons who made the original posts on the Bonteheuwel groups.
We are thus unable to say whether Modderdam High School has or hasn’t changed its mind on the matter.
Is all of the lavishness really necessary?
Along with the question of whether all matric learners deserve a matric ball as a rite of passage, more and more people are also questioning the exorbitant expenses that parents are willing to sacrifice for all of the lavishness.
Popular social commentator and radio presenter Baydu Adams recently in a Facebook post questioned the practice of Coloured people spending large sums of money on a matric ball.
“Some Coloured people spend so much money on a matric ball, and not enough on the kids’ education, imo. Hear me out, before you attack me.”
“Matriculants leaving their house used to be a big thing cos reaching matric, back then, used to be milestone in our communities, when reaching matric wasn’t as easily attainable. Today, matric is nothing, in the bigger scheme of things, and I say this this RESPECTFULLY. Of course I’m not saying don’t celebrate it, cos not celebrating would be ludicrous, but spending R50 000 ”
Read Baydu’s Full Post for More Context Here
Some Matriculants Choose to Celebrate Differently
A recent post by journalist and social media personality Venecia Valentine went viral showing a picture of a young man from Mitchell’s Plain walking to his Matric Ball.
Venecia approached Elijah van Wyk when she saw him walking to the Spine Road High School Hall while others were arriving in fancy or exotic cars for their Matric Ball.
The young man looked dapper in his suit and sneakers carrying a 2 Litre Jive cooldrink and a backpack, but it turns out that he chose to forego the lavish send-off party with the ubiquitous “Matric Ball Table” and the expense of hiring a fancy or exotic car to arrive in at the ball.
Elijah van Wyk explains why he chose to attend his matric ball on his own terms.
– Video by Venecia Valentine
In a video made a few days later after Venecia had tracked him down, Elijah explains the motivation for his decision and also that he did not in fact walk all the way from home but had asked his mom to drop him off at the corner of Spine Road so that he could walk up the distance he often has to walk.
Though his parents had saved up for the event, he asked them to rather save the money to be used towards his tertiary studies.
Jade Le Roux chose to do her own thing
In 2021 Jade Le Roux of Valhalla Park gave up the Glitz & Glamour of attending her Matric Ball and instead used the money that would have been spent on a lavish occasion to serve 150 needy people with a meal and to throw a party to honour her hero, local community worker Charlene Petersen.
A local owner of a fancy horse and carriage then decided to honour Jade by taking her on a parade through her community and Jade’s alternative to going to her matric ball made onto the TV news.
Fancy Expensive Venues Also Add to The Cost
While there are a few schools in our communities sensibly making use of their own school halls for their matric balls, and being fully aware that there are also numerous schools in our communities that do not have a school hall, we have to ask whether it is wise for a school in a low income community to hire a posh expensive venue 20km away from the school.
There are also schools which have school halls that still choose to hire faraway expensive venues.
Understandably the crime levels in some of our communities are not conducive for having a Matric Ball at the school hall.
Still, we have to ask ourselves whether it is at all necessary for a school, in for example Belhar, to have their matric ball at a fancy venue in Newlands or Stellenbosch. This may seem extreme but these things actually happen at some of our schools.
We are even starting to see all these same phenomena with “Junior Proms” for Primary School Grade 7’s with all the lavish bells and whistles of a matric ball including the fancy or exotic cars.
Should Matric Balls Be Toned Down?
Speaking to a few parents of kids who will soon be in matric, we found that most of them resent the need to spend such huge sums of money on a matric ball but as one remarked, he is already making plans in his head of how they will come up with the money for next year, “because if I don’t go all out, my child’s class mates will make gat of him, and it might affect him badly”.
Cindy* was vocal about how far some parents are willing to go.
“It’s madness. There’s a woman whose only child is in matric and who will be turning 21 in early next year. She actually gave up her factory job to be able to draw her provident fund money so that she can give her child a grand matric ball experience and a huge 21st birthday party.”
We asked Cindy if it’s not worth celebrating the fact that the child made it to matric and didn’t drop out in spite of already being 20 years old and turning 21.
“Yes, but giving up her job is madness. What happens if her money runs out? What if the child fails, or what if they pass but can’t find a job?”
“Now she doesn’t have a job, so is she expecting that the child will take care of her? What kind of job does a matriculant get nowadays?”
We asked Cindy about the situation at St Andrews High School.
“It’s good thing. It’s just too bad for those kids who have been working hard and are doing well.”
“Maybe they can just give the kids a matric dinner like we had when I was on school. They can have something like a valedictory dinner, not too fancy and that way the kids who have been working hard during the year still feel like they had something.”
That led to another question. Which is more important; A Valedictory Dinner or a Matric Ball? Should schools have both or only one of the two.
Too many questions and too many views and maybe we won’t ever all agree.
Our Focus Needs to Change
Whatever our views on the importance or necessity of Matric Balls, we need to start aligning our focus to what happens beyond Matric as it is now the minimum requirement for the lowest paid entry level jobs.
Matric is important but we need our children to focus their aims beyond just merely getting a matric certificate and having an awesome matric ball.
The only way we will improve our collective socio-economic well-being as a population group is not to wait on handouts and menial cheap labour jobs promised by political parties, but to increase our collective levels of education in fields that currently and in the future will be in high demand across industries.
If we do not focus on becoming competitive as individuals and collectively as a population group that focuses on education beyond matric then having an awesome matric ball with the overflowing ‘Tafel’, and that one trip in an exotic car, could sadly end up being the highest level of luxury that too many of our children will ever experience.