Friday, August 10, 2007

Apartheid, QwaQwa Teaching and Living, 1987

1987. Sentinel Primary pupils & Mark Esslemont's Nissan E20 outside his classroom, QwaQwa

Sotho parents were friendly at Sentinel, but during the six months we lived and taught in QwaQwa no parents invited us to their homes. Palesa invite me once for a cup of tea, while I helped her with a Vista poetry assignment. Brown parents' aspirations for their kids were similar to mine. After I gave a PTA talk on Piaget in Sentinel Hall Modinger said, "Blex prrobably don' unnerrzdan' vhad youz dalkin' aboud eh?"

At weekly assemblies in Sentinel Hall, Modinger began with a prayer. We sang a hymn, then Modinger made announcements, while I played Luister and marked books at the back of Sentinel Hall. When pupils thanked staff for anything, they waved their hands above their heads chanting, "Shine-shine, shine-shine..."

I taught Koekie's class science, while she taught my class Afrikaans. I taught Gloria's class science, while she taught my class handwork. Her standard twos knew little English, so my science lessons were also immersion-English lessons. Example: "This is a match. What is this?... I light the candle with a match. Repeat please... I put the glass over the lit candle. Repeat please... The candle goes out. Repeat please... Why does the candle extinguish?" Loooong silence. Enlightenment shone dimly in QwaQwa.

Sub A (year 1) teachers began with Sotho pupils knowing no English, so shrieking came from Skeller's classroom. I said to my class: "If my lessons bore you, listen to Skeller's..." My English oral groups prepared poetry or songs, which they danced in class, finger-clicking, reciting, singing. A spokes-person spoke before the team and improvised steps. Each team-member stepped forward and improvised, while the team danced background steps. Sotho kids had better natural rhythms than non-browns.

Exploring, I drove to the hotel near Sentinel Peak. I drove along the dirt road to Golden Gate National Park near Clarens, where mom's brother had farmed. I drove to Kestell, Bethlehem and Harrismith to shop, but shopped mostly in QwaQwa.

The first time I banked at Tshiya Street Barclays Bank I stood in a queue, which formed a scrum at opening-time, so whenever I banked I battled statophygiac buttocks. The Post Office below Die Bult had no queues, just a Sotho mob seated outside. Inside I joined another mob before one teller. I shuffled forward amidst body odours and wood -smoke smells. A Sotho mother carried her baby tied in a blanket on her back. Another baby breast-fed. Half an hour later the Sotho teller behind iron bars served me, after picking snot, and staring at me with gaping mouth and pendulous lips. I never saw another non-brown in the PO or bank. Non-browns did business in non-brown dorps.

Unrest: In state post offices, cop-shops and in state buildings serving the public, plastic wall-hangings showed raised-plastic land-mines, limpet-mines, anti-personnel mines and grenades, which terrorists could use to kill us, if we weren't vigilant.

We bought fresh meat from a Sotho butcher. In front of Tshiya Street mall, informal Sotho merchants traded amongst vegetable heaps in the dust. Sothos haggled over hobbled goats, sheep, chickens amongst parked minibus taxis. At a nearby Sotho deaf school, I watched deaf youths signing, while my deafness gained.

We visited the Afrikaner hospital superintendent and an English doctor and their families in another compound, as Du Toit had asked them to house us. We liked them. The English doctor planned leaving QwaQwa state hospital to become a QwaQwa GP, as he'd make more money privately. We visited Amor in the Dutch Reformed Mission. Her husband and Afrikaner missionaries saved Sotho souls, while township tsotsis burned hellish necklaces.

We joined an Afrikaner church choir directed by Amor, and practised in Die Bult community hall. There were no Sotho choristers, as apartheid reigned supreme on Die Bult. Bureaucrat Renoster, husband of Sentinel's secretary, lived on Die Bult, and sang in the choir. There was no cathedral in QwaQwa, but Cathedral Peak beyond Sentinel Peak sufficed. On Sunday evenings, we sang in Kestell Dutch Reformed kerk gallery. The beige stone kerk-spire dominated the dorp. In QwaQwa our feet were muddy, and rubbish soiled shitty streets, but in Kestell I grunted with angels in a separate sty. It was my last choral "singing," as my deaf-singing was tuneless.

One Sunday night, when we waited at Tshiya Street robots, a Sotho man tugged at Leah's locked door. I swore at him. He pulled the door, running alongside our van, while I drove away. Our van resembled a minibus taxi, so he demanded a lift.

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