Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Conversations with J.

J. is another teacher here at Fezeka. She sits next to me in the staffroom and we chat often. The other day I asked her what it was like on April 27th, 1994, the day of the first democratic election in South Africa. The first time in the history of this country that Blacks were allowed to vote. Her eyes fill with tears. ‘It was a huge day,’ she tells me. ‘A huge, huge day.’ She goes on to tell me that polling stations had to stay open an extra day just to accommodate the crowds. When Mandela was announced the winner, the city and the country just exploded. She tells me that it was electric. I have not asked her how old she was when it happened, but I would imagine somewhere around my age. It’s impossible to imagine what it must have been like growing up under the apartheid system, or how she must have felt that day, but listening to her talk about it gives me shivers.

J. also has two daughters, both of whom attend White schools. I asked her what she guessed the percentage of teachers at the school who send there kids to White schools to be, and she placed it somewhere around 80%. Apparently the process for getting into these schools is very long and competitive, and in the case of Js daughters’ school, only one child from the townships is admitted every year. Because her older daughter was admitted, her younger one was allowed in as well. If she were to have a third daughter however, she tells me that this would not be the case. Always conscious of how I word my questions, I ask about the relationship her daughter has with her schoolmates. She tells me that they get along well, although she is one of only a handful of other Black girls at the school. I ask if her daughters’ school friends ever come over to her house. She tells me that if they have a project to work on, sometimes her daughter will go spend the weekend at one of her classmates’ homes, but that no, the reverse has never happened. She tells me of how she was planning a birthday party for her daughter and wanted to know if her daughter wanted to invite some school friends. Her daughter replied by telling her not to bother. That they wouldn’t come because they are afraid of the townships.

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