Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ray of Light

In preparation for a city-wide poetry, reading, speech-writing and art competition last month, we held an in-school tryout to determine which students would be representing Fezeka. I was asked to adjudicate. Initially reluctant (“How can I judge their poetry?!”), by the end I was so grateful to have been selected for the job. To say I was blown away by the quality of their works seems inadequate. Stirring, emotional, eloquently-worded original poetry flowed out of their young mouths like it had been doing so for years. Some had found out about the competition the day prior and written their pieces the night before. I could not tell which were which. Their poems left the audience in tears…wild applause and cheers. Absolutely fantastic.

The subject matters of the poems were of note as well. Of 17 poets, 2 wrote about experiences of rape, 2 about HIV and AIDS, 2 were about war, 3 were about identity and sense of self. The remainder touched on dreams for the future, fighting discrimination and the search for equality, among others.

After an extremely difficult selection process I was able to decide on the two winners. We entered one student from Grade 10 and one from Grade 11. Just before the Easter break respective school winners were invited to an event at the Cape Town Central Library, where students from different schools got a chance to see and hear the works of their peers. Of about 90 students, only 5 were asked to read theirs out loud. The poem below is our Grade 10 student’s entry, which was one of the 5 selected to be read. The poem that follows that is our Grade 11 students’ entry. No one winner was chosen from the group and all students were given R100 certificates to CNA, which is a book and stationary store. Our 8 students (2 from each of the poetry, reading, speech-writing and art categories), were all ecstatic about their prizes and when we took them to the store to use their certificates they literally were like kids in candy stores. Only this candy was books and school supplies. Which one could easily argue is much better for your teeth.


Will we ever reach the Promised Land?

Remember the days,
When Apartheid reigned?

People suffered and cried,
Till they couldn’t cry no more.
Parents were taken away,
And children left without hope.

Blood was shed, sacrifices were made,
Some were failed and some were prisoners.
In the name of “inkululeko”, freedom.

Fists were lifted high, people screaming:
“Amandla, amandla nga wethu!”
The power is ours for they wanted to reach
the Promised Land,

Land of freedom.

Finally the day that all awaited arrived.
Freedom arrived, people jumped up and down saying:
“We are the Rainbow Nation”.

But what lies behind the rainbow?

We see crime and HIV seriously want to take control,
Rape and abuse are becoming a tradition,
Political intolerance is becoming fashion.

And now we cry everyday asking:
“Will we ever reach the Promised Land?”
Remember ‘Aluta continua’:
The Battle is still on.


African Girl

I am an African Girl.

I am proud to be an African Girl.

I live in Africa.
I dress like an African.
I speak an African language.
I eat African food because
I am an African Girl.

I am as black as black can be.
Dark as sunshine and lily flowers.

When it comes to reading I
usually go to the library to brush
dust from ancient texts.
Because I am and African and
I want to know my background.
From scrolls I will read about my past.

To new generations who are trying to
run away from their cultures,
I wish that they would follow and enjoy my culture.

I am a natural resource.

When it comes to hair, I am as natural as they come.
I don’t wear artificials because I can’t change my nature
because I want to look like
somebody that I am not
I am a natural girl.

When it comes to cosmetics,
I use Sunlight blue soap.

Because I am an African Girl.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Voting Day

Today is voting day. For the last few weeks there has been much fuss made about what its outcome will be, although it is of little doubt given that Dr. Mandela has now so publically lent his support to the ruling African National Congress party (ANC). This is troubling. Not so much for the party as for the man who will run the country should they win. Unfortunately, many people will vote for the ANC not because of what it and Jacob Zuma stand for, but rather based on the fact that they see the ANC as the party that brought Democracy to South Africa. Such politics do not bode well for the history of this country. As my housemate so concisely put it – the ANC of 1994 would never have wanted the ANC of 2009.

Similarly to other countries where issues around race are forever part of the landscape, people here tend to continue to vote along racial lines. In a conversation with one of my friends who is coloured, she told me that she has spoken with friends of hers who despite being educated and for the most part politically aware, refuse to vote for the Democratic Alliance (internet poll-elected ‘Mayor of the World’ Helen Zille – the current mayor of Cape Town who after today will either be Premier of the Western Cape or a member of the Provincial Legislature), is a DA party member and this part of the Western Cape is the only part of the country where the Democratic Alliance has any significant presence). My friend went on to say that she would indeed cast her ballot for the DA as her vote was based on service delivery rather than the historical race issues surrounding the various parties. As with those who will vote for the ANC for what significance it holds for them in history, for many the DA still to this day represents the white man.

Regardless of the outcome, today and every voting day since 1994 is a huge day in this country, having been declared a public holiday in order to give everyone ample chance to vote. People have come out in droves to exercise their democratic right today, with some polling stations taking hours to enter due to overwhelming voter turnout and lines of people rounding city blocks.

In spite of this significance, one cannot help but feel concerned (frightened?) at the very real likelihood that tomorrow this nation will wake up to find that their new leader is an accused (although later acquitted amidst great controversy) rapist who has hundreds of corruption and fraud charges brought against him* and whose very public and widely publicized HIV prevention method involves showering after unprotected sex.


* http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=3086&art_id=vn20090422051146846C870668

Sunday, April 19, 2009

we are the world.

On Friday I got a phone call from a guy who works with the drama club from time to time. He told me that he had a group of American students with him and wanted to bring them to meet our Drama kids.

After school the 20-odd strong American contingent arrived, 18 students and about 5 adults from a small private drama school located close to Monterey Bay in California. All Juniors and Seniors, I would guess ranged in age from about 15-17 and were accompanied by two teachers, a photographer, a videographer, their South African contact, a Nigerian teacher with whom they were working, and my contact.

A very well-behaved group of teenagers, my first observation was on how smartly they were all dressed. Boys dressed in trousers, shirts and ties, girls in blouses and skirts. The group was overwhelmingly female and predominately Caucasian.

When school had let out our kids joined the group in my classroom. I suggested we move into a circle to better facilitate conversation. The American teacher then put them into groups that were mixed with students from both schools. Students spent some time chatting, learning about each other and finding common interests. When we returned to the circle the teacher asked them to volunteer some information about what they had learned. Tastes in music were quite similar, types of school that the two groups of students attended were not. The American school is apparently quite small, with only a couple of a hundred students, and is located in the middle of lush Californian forest. In contrast Fezeka has over 1100 learners is located in the middle of a township with no forests and very little greenery for miles.

The conversation was candid and warm, all students clearly happy to learn about a new culture. A drum was brought in and our students, with no hesitation began singing and dancing for the visitors. Initially our students were standing on one side of the class and the Americans on the other, but soon they were again in a circle. One by one our students went into the middle of the circle while the drum beat played and danced, then pulled various American students into the circle to dance with them. It was lovely.

The American students, having been in South Africa for the better part of 3 weeks, had been trying to learn the South African national anthem. They had succeeded in learning the first verse, which is no small feat. They asked our kids to sing with them, and our kids obliged. Afterwards, I told them that it was only fair that they now sing their national anthem for the Fezeka students. They decided against this because of its high pitch and instead opted to sing a song from Rent.

Afterwards the Fezeka students performed a couple of short drama pieces that they had written for the visitors. Again, I urged the Americans to reciprocate. As it turns out, a huge part of their school drama program is a 3 hour Indian play which they have been putting on for 30 years. When students arrive at the school in kindergarten they play a certain role in the production, and this role changes according to their age and grade. As it was such a long play, they decided to do a short piece from it that involved singing and dancing. Afterwards a very talented young man in the American group did some incredible break dancing, which blew everyone in the room away.

At the end of the shared time students sat in a circle and had the opportunity to say anything they wanted, many offered words of thanks and appreciation for having had the opportunity to share with each other, if only for a couple hours.

It was what one of the American students said that struck me the most and is the impetus for this blog entry. Reflecting on the time they had spent together, she told the Fezeka students how this had been her favorite experience of the whole trip. Before visiting Fezeka, the teacher had told me, the students had been to Kruger national part and seen the big 5; spent time visiting various tourist destinations and that very morning had had a private audience with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Yet, this experience had been her favorite. She then went on to say how inspired she had been by our kids and how confident and warm they had been when asked to perform. When the American students had sung and performed, many were giggling, looking at each other and blushing in shyness. Very few were confident enough to sing in their loudest voice.

By contrast, she continued, the South African students were unabashed in their singing, dancing, acting and friendliness. Almost all sang in their loudest voices, clapping and cheering others on while they did the same. They were not shy, reserved or apprehensive about getting up and dancing in front of strangers.

Her observation was quite astute and got me to thinking about the reasons for this. Obviously singing and dancing plays a prominent role in South African culture, but is that all? In the Western world, most children of privilege are raised to believe that they can do anything! The world is your oyster! You are capable! You have potential! From my experience, this is rarely the case with the students I teach and one would most certainly assume others from the townships. Yet it was the drama students from the private school in the woods who had a harder time performing in front of strangers than the economically deprived drama kids from the township.

It should be said that in no way am I trying to pass any sort of judgment here – all the students were incredible and talented and wonderful – merely that their differing levels of willingness to perform was an interesting notion to consider while speculating on the basis for these differences.