Angel of Soweto's fall from grace just leaves us pulling out our hair

Date: 22 Nov 2006
Perhaps she is conducting genuine business, perhaps she is sitting atop an ill-fated camel at the pyramids - ferociously telling him to go faster in any direction as long he doesn't lead back to her Cairo hotel. That's because Mama Jackie probably realises that, at this point in time, the phone is ringing off the hook. There are burning questions about money; fake stories; falsified letters from the board of her brainchild, the Ithuteng Trust; and others points of intrigue which John Le Caré could use as fodder for his next novel. But the sad reality of Mama Jackie and the controversies popping open like corn kernels in a hotpot is that any bona fide benefactors of her work will lose out. There is a great distance to fall when allegations are made against someone known as the Angel of Soweto. Angelic status is not easy to come by, and in the current context of South Africa's theme of corruption, her fall from grace could have all of us pulling our hair out in frustration: If we can't even trust the Angel of Soweto, where to from here? She is, after all, not a politician, a lawyer, or any other such breed of shark. She is an educationist. But Sunday night's exposé on Carte Blanche painted a different picture of a woman once hailed as someone with a unique method of stopping crime before it starts. What the show revealed - among other issues - was that she is perhaps a drama teacher rather than a general educationist: she "coached" her learners into fabricating heart-wrenching tales so that the coffers would continue to overflow with foreign sponsorship. But the fact that Mama Jackie could first create such a laudable organisation, and then have it appear all over the press with allegations of corruption, says a lot about who she is. There is clearly a duality here that few of us could imagine containing in one body. Then again, Mama Jackie's own background is one of survival, and perhaps that's where the duality comes in. As a girl she learnt to fend for herself. Today she is married with five children, but as a girl she was one of many siblings who relied on the rather empty purse of her grandmother. After studying education, she began working with children who were chronically ill. During this time, when many of the staff believed the kids had no future, she staged a Christmas play which included every single child - even those who couldn't get out of bed. And therein lies the key to Mama Jackie's personality: she is determined, passionate and focused. It's just a pity that money from the likes of Oprah Winfrey is what starting driving her, and that getting children to weep as hard as possible for this purpose was her means. It is clear that nothing will stand in her way. Or so she thinks. She obviously hasn't met an Egyptian policeman yet. By Tanya Farber The Star 22/11/06