Monday, May 4, 2009
Eye on the prize.
Almost daily I am humbled in one way or another living in Cape Town and working in Gugulethu. These reminders of my privilege are generally administered by one of my students.
This morning one of my grade 11 students approached me to discuss his first term mark, with which he was unhappy. Not so much that he was unhappy with me, but rather that he was disappointed with himself and wanted to know what he could do to improve. He is genuinely dedicated to succeeding, despite the laundry list of challenges that lie before him.
He is a new student to the school this year, so I asked him where he had been before Fezeka. He told me that he and his mother had moved to the Cape Town area this year from the Free State province, located in the North West of the country and known as the Transvaal during the Apartheid era. To this day, Free State remains the most racist part of the country where the discriminatory beliefs of the old regime are still clung to by many of the Boers living there and it is where, as recently as last year, the 18 year old son of a white farmer opened fire in a black township and killed 6 – the youngest of which was 6 months old.
I asked my student what it was like growing up in Free State. “It was hard Miss,” was all he replied, though it was clear that he was understating the realities of just how bad. I asked him what he found hardest about the move to the Western Cape and Cape Town. He said that he was really struggling with the English, as the English he had been taught in Primary School was far more basic. For all intents and purposes the Bantu education system seemed to be alive and well in Free State, as this young man’s proficiency in the language is quite poor, despite the fact that he is clearly a student who is trying his best.
Then he told me where he lives.
Tokkai is located in the Southern Suburbs, about 30-odd kilometres from Fezeka. Every weekday morning, this young man leaves the house at 5:30 am and takes a bus, a train and two taxis to get to school for 8:00 am. I asked him why he then chose to attend Fezeka and not a school that was closer to home and he told me that he had heard Fezeka was the best so he knew it was the place for him.
He went on to tell me that he and one of his friends (another student of mine) have started an after school study group (of 2), so that they can help each other out in the subject areas with which they are struggling. Sometimes, he told me, they stay at school until 6:00pm or later. Stunned, I asked him what time this meant he got home.
Smiling, he looked at me and replied: “Miss, it’s okay if I’m at school late. I really want to succeed. I’m dedicated to succeeding. If I get home at 10pm its okay because I am coming from school. I’m not running the streets getting into trouble. I am at school, studying, trying to make a difference for my future. Because if I don’t, no one else will.”