Saturday, January 5, 2008

2008. Apartheid, 1987, Fraser's Sentinel Peak, Drakensberg

<1987. Zulu Mask, Durban.

After two and a half years at safe Kleinzee, I got a teaching job during a State-of-Terror at QwaQwa - Whiter than White. QwaQwa (population 200 000 mainly Sotho) was a small homeland (apartheid cheap-labour dump for excess labour) tucked away on the Drakensberg escarpment, some distance from white Vrystaat dorpe: Kestell, Bethlehem (mom's birthplace) and Harrismith. QwaQwa provided jobs for some Afrikaner bureaucrats, token Engelse, myself included, and many Sotho bureaucrats.

Some enterprising Sotho ran their own businesses. Some Taiwanese, Afrikaner and English businessmen used cheap Sotho labour in their Border Industries. Most Sotho lived in horrible township houses or shanties with rocks on roofs, stopping Berg winds blowing off corrugated iron roofs. QwaQwa shopping centre had formal shops. An informal market, amongst mini-bus taxis, enabled poor Sotho to haggle over fresh produce, hobbled goats and chickens. While rare lammergeyers soared nearby Maluti mountains.

We lived in a brick-and-tile, three-bedroom medical house in a chicken-wire fenced compound, guarded by Sotho sentinels, who rode Basutho ponies to work. Our mongrel dogs Lucky and Strike barked hysterically at thousands of Sotho wandering past our gate during the day. Leah didn't feel safe in our apartheid-quarantined compound, especially while I taught at Sentinel Primary, two kays away.

My standard five Sotho pupils were the results of Verwoerd's Bantu Education, which trained blacks for menial jobs, nothing more. Nice kids. But deprived of decent education. Their maths was three standards behind white pupils I'd taught.

Sentinel staff was a mix of Sotho, Zulu, Afrikaans native speakers, mainly Afrikaner women. One was the wife of a Dutch Reformed predikant who preached at the Mission across the valley from Sentinel. Her son was the only white enrolled at Sentinel. I was Sentinel's only male teacher, only white male "English" teacher on the QwaQwa payroll, controlled by Pretoria.

The dogmatic headmistress's spoken and written English was bad. Her sinecure job had been created by QwaQwa Development Corporation.

QwaQwa had many Sotho medium schools. There was one Afrikaans medium white primary school on Die Bult (The Hill) where most whites lived.

English businesses shied off QwaQwa, as there wasn't an English medium school for their kids. Sentinel "English" school was therefore created by QwaQwa Development Corporation to teach Sotho kids in the English medium. It hoped to attract English businessmen's kids and funding for QwaQwa businesses, thus creating more jobs.

Apartheid fantasy.

I checked class registers, checked toilet paper in long drop lavs, and developed boils.

Fraser's unemployment insurance ran out, and he became a poor white. His fair weather friends withered. He survived by stealing avocado pears and bananas from neighbours' trees. He rented his house, and lived in the khaya. He squabbled with his male tenant over a phone bill, and stomped his phone. The tenant's lawyer posted Fraser threatening letters, accusing Fraser of assaulting the tenant.

Fraser asked his tenant to leave, then put his house on the market.

Fraser and I climbed Sentinel Peak chain-ladder up to Drakensberg plateau.

Dusk: Fraser strolled off. I called "FRASER!..." for hours, before he wraithed from the gloom. We camped below Mont-Aux-Sources.

Dawn: We admired hazy Natal views over Amphitheatre abyss. I slurped water from Tugela stream at the top of Tugela Falls. Fraser crawled down a grassy bank, closer to the falls. If he slipped, he'd've fallen 850 metres.

"FRASER!" I called. Fraser babooned back.

Was Fraser suicidal? He'd developed an erratic index-finger -thumb-roll. He'd withdrawn from booze-buddies.

Later Jason opined to me: "Fraser's mentally ill. He's irrational; of unsound mind. He lights candles in his dark house, as the power's cut off. He doesn't bath. Fraser jogs to Rocket Hut beach every morning, then swims beyonds breakers. No shark nets there."

"Fraser's just low. He lost his job," I said. "You know Fraser keeps fit." I was also annoyed that Fraser had sold mom's old oak, diningroom suite to Jason and his fat wife, who lived in a converted garage at Jason's mom's Broadway home. Like Fraser had looked after mom, Jason also looked after his mom. Like my deafness denial, I denied Fraser's schizophrenia. I soon became expert on Fraser's mental hassles.

< 1987. Zulu Beadwork, Durban.

Playing Pig Dog, I confronted Fraser: "Your house is in an uproar! Why're all these Zulu workmen roaming about, demolishing walls, scraping windows and floors, making a helluva mess?"

"I need to fix up my house, and sell it to make bucks to restart my life in Jo'burg." Fraser cackled hysterically, like I'd never heard him laugh before.

I was pissed off: I couldn't help Fraser pay off his small mortgage to Standard Bank; nor kick Zulu labourers' arses, who were wrecking Fraser's (mom's) home; nor find the deceitful Durban North estate agent / builder who was buying Fraser's home, knowing that Fraser was unemployed, destitute, desperate, and mentally ill.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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