Thursday, August 9, 2007

Apartheid QwaQwa, Sentinel Primary Longdrop Inspector, 1987

1987. Esslemonts in their snowy front yard, Tshiya Street, QwaQwa.

When shopping alone at QwaQwa mall, Leah pushed Jake's pram past staring Sotho. Walking Jake in our compound with few neighbours was lonely. Brown male faces appeared at our windows. I tuned Amos and sentinels: "Stop patrolling our garden when we're here, and staring in our windows, and stealing our grapes and quinces!" I hung their greatcoats (which they'd hung in our khaya toilet) over our gate near their hut, and padlocked our gate. They became less intrusive, but allowed Sotho street-kids to rifle our black rubbish bags outside our gate. Sotho women sat on the pavement outside our fence, and Lucky and Strike barked at them and teeming passersby.

At the first Sentinel Primary staff-meeting arrogant Modinger blackmailed, "Hello Marrk. Youz godda mini-buz. Pleeze dake deacherrz da Zendinel in da morrningz."

My third teaching comeback wouldn't go well.

During the first week of term, Modinger interviewed Sotho parents, while staff prepared for the arrival of 200 Sotho pupils. Sentinel was QwaQwa's only English-medium school, the snag being that only three Sentinel teachers were native-English-speakers. No Afrikaners living on Die Bult enrolled their kinders at Sentinel. Our JP teachers were three non-browns and two browns. Unqualified Skeller had farm -school teaching experience. Our compound neighbours, two non -browns were qualified JP teachers. They lived in QwaQwa only because their businessmen husbands worked there. Unqualified Palesa was completing a Vista correspondence teaching course. Friendly Margaret, who'd taught in London, was a Sotho JP teacher. Margaret temped at Sentinel, and I thought she was vetting me and other non-browns for her ANC bosses.

Standard one (year 3) teacher was a coloured cherrie with a Capie accent. Standard two teacher, Gloria was Sotho with poor spoken -English. Standard three Afrikaner, Amor had QwaQwa University qualifications, and Amor was married to the Dutch Reformed missionary. Amor's son was the only non-brown kid enrolled at Sentinel. Standard four Afrikaner, Koekie had UNISA qualifications. I was the only non-brown, male teacher at Sentinel. I taught standard five, and in the staffroom ate meals with Af women for the first time in my life. It should've been sublime surrounded by women and Sotho kids. It was grim.

Modinger ordered me to inspect attendance-registers and long drop toilets. I replaced toilet paper when broken dispensers emptied. Concrete-lined shit-pits symbolized Verwoerd's Bantu Education. Boils infected me and I infected Leah. It was years before we were cured, and we have QwaQwa scars: whiter than white.

There was no PT nor ECA, as Modinger lived in Harrismith and Koekie and Skeller lived in Kestell, about 60 kays away. Other staff lived in QwaQwa, where school playgrounds had no grass, just sandy patches. Sentinel had a grassy playground, and a jungle-gym was bought for fun. Sentinel had ten brick classrooms, and two parallel verandahs faced the playground. By the dusty carpark, my classroom was at the end of a verandah next to our classroom-staffroom, which was furnished with kindergarten chairs.

Modinger's and her secretary's office and sickroom were in the front of the school, near Sentinel's only two taps by the school chicken-wire fence. A cacophany clamoured from the nearby high-school - not much education there. Verwoerd rejoiced in his grave, while gym -slipped, barefoot, high school girls polished Frolich's corridor during school time - polishing on hands and knees, despite having paid school fees. Modinger encouraged Sotho girls to be trompoppies - drum-majorettes - so during breaks brown trompoppies marched about the grass -patch waggling their bums, swinging their maces, and thrusting their titties, singing: "LIK-JUK-LIK-JUK..."

My standard five Sotho pupils' maths was initially at non-browns' standard two level. Few of my Sotho pupils knew time-tables. Some could add and subtract. None could multiply nor divide. Post Soweto riots, they'd been in brown schools for six years.

Once a week, my class bussed to Tshiya College of Education, where each child worked on his / her own maths and English enrichment programmes, working at their own pace and achievement levels. Programmes were based on an Israeli development, while Israel coped with immigrant children at different maths and language competencies. Amor ran the computer lab, donated by Anglo American Chairman's Fund. All QwaQwa pupils had sessions in the lab, but few QwaQwa teachers attended, as their maths ability was poor. "Few Sotho teachers know their times-tables properly," said Amor.

Verwoerd's Bantu Education scorched Drakensberg skies, but hard questions remained: What did brown teachers do about it? Did they just blame non-browns, year after year, continuing in overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms, without protest, earning wages a decade after Soweto riots?

Before work each day, I drove out of my way to pick up Gloria at her concrete-block pondok, which had a corrugated-iron roof like other QwaQwa pondoks. Gloria never invited me inside. I also picked up Koekie at the technical high. Once weekly, my class bussed to the technical high, where Afrikaner men taught Sotho kids woodwork, bricklaying, electrical, metalwork. Verwoerd would've been proud. My teaching time was wasted, while my class bussed around.

After school, Gloria, Koekie, Palesa and pupils piled into my van, which had greasy window panes, as a Sotho hairstyle was straightened greasy curls. I resented being taxi-driver, as no one thanked me, nor paid me. After school, I would've preferred marking pupils' books and preparing lessons before leaving, which was an efficient habit I'd developed as a young teacher.

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