Showing posts from 2010

Education: a rock and a hard place

The question of development of poor countries is a complex one. Growing up in the Eastern Cape I have always felt that the province is a microcosm of what Africa is to the world. Our issues are similar to those of Africa (corrupt leaders, poor education and low literacy levels, high levels of unemployment and few opportunities for civic involvement, poor townships and rural areas). I recently drove through the Eastern Cape from Kwazulu Natal, another predominantly rural province and the schism between the rich and the poor is tangible.

I have always been able to traverse the different realities in SA, both the privileged and poor realities. My education has been what set me apart and allowed me better opportunities that are often inaccessible to girls from working class families (and many of the women in my own family). By highlighting education (amongst many experiences in my life) as being the catalyst to the opportunities I have suggests that I think that education is the panacea fo…

Ubuhle bentombi zinwele zakhe...

Ubuhle bentombi zinwele zakhe…a girl’s beauty is her hair…beauty is pain…this the advice I endured throughout most of my teens while pursuing silky relaxed hair at a great financial cost and physical pain caused by relaxer cream overdue in my hair. This advice was also to keep me from cutting my hair lest I risk being the ugly duckling. The first time I had my hair short, mama cut it. My mother trimmed it so I could have an afro. I had wanted to cut everything off and start afresh, but this was not an option she gave me, I guess she feared I wouldn’t look like a girl anymore.

Second year varsity and I was away from home. On a cold day in May, ushering in the Grahamstown winter, I decided to cut my hair without permission from anyone…ichiskop(a bald head).It was cheap,R10 and the barber shaved it all off. The question of beauty didn’t cross my mind until I went home a few weeks later. My mother and sisters were crestfallen that my beautiful straightened hair was replaced by a bald head,…

The First Time I Wanted to Love Differently From My Mother-from the first time blog

I know a dangerous kind of love. A crazy kind of love that causes some people to empty out their own souls for those they love, a Jesus kind of love. Mama’s love.

Like all mother-daughter relationships, my mother and I have a tense relationship as though we are both walking on a tightrope. The tension is framed by my fear of becoming like my mother and her fear of me becoming myself and unrecognisable to her. In her eyes, it makes sense that I should be in her image because that’s safe and know-able for her. Somehow we are both aware of this tension even though we do not speak about it directly, it always emerges in the stories she tells me about her childhood.

Every time I came home from school with an award or an extra badge or scroll on my blazer she would reminisce about her school days and the awards she received. Once she came home from school with an award recognising her diligence at school and her sister responded with a jest that I battle translating into English “Le ithi uyaz…

What literacy means in a multilingual SA

“IT ALL starts with literacy” was the theme of the conference that launched the Reading Association of South Africa in the Eastern Cape. This is an association, already based in other South African provinces, that seeks to be a voice to the challenges we face in literacy and the language question in schools and universities.
We often think of literacy as reading and writing, an activity in classrooms where teachers are the only people who can influence this, but conversations held at this conference opened up the idea that literacy is more than what happens at school, it is a daily activity that also occurs in homes and communities. Central to the question of literacy is language. Living in a multilingual society with a past that used language for control and discrimination, South Africans often think we have a language crisis. This does not need to be the case. We have 11 official languages although they are not all equal in status or value.

Many parents want their children to be tau…

Whiteness in my world

Recently I was asked to speak at my former school’s prizegiving. This obviously led me to a reflection about my 12 year education and amongst many issues that came up race become central. I went to a former white model C school. The irony about this label is that when I was there between 1994 and 2005 it was still a predominantly white school demographically, especially the teacher profile. In grade 1 I was the only Black learner (though there was an Indian, Coloured and Taiwanese as well) in a class of 20-something. The defining factor was that I only discovered black women could teach when I was in primary school and she was the least respected teacher in the school. The rest of the teachers were white women.

The influence of my teachers in relation to the influence my mother had on me while growing up has been overwhelming. School obviously became more powerful than home seeing as my identity was hardly formed when I was thrust into a white school at the age of 6 and expected to swi…

Love, marriage and suburban bliss

My first boyfriend approached me not because he liked me, but because it was a bet. He was dared by his mates to see if he could get the girl that played hard to get, and he won the bet. This was in primary school. The nature of boyfriends and girlfriends was different back then: a boyfriend meant that I would have someone to dance with at the disco we had once a term; if we interacted with our brother school, he would be the boy I would sit with most of the time. It was mickey mouse stuff, just to keep our curious minds thinking that boys were relevant in our world. Although this was a mickey mouse relationship, it somehow painted my experience with the opposite sex: a love-hate relationship. My interactions with boys in school was further complicated by what I saw in the Bold and the Beautiful, magazines, popular culture and more importantly my parent’s marriage.

The history of failed marriages and fatherless (or rather absent fathers) the women in my family have had to contend with …

Overhauling education in SA

AS A YOUNG South African I have recently been trying to grapple with the idea that my generation has not inherited a new South Africa but a country that is under reconstruction every day.
I do not take lightly the significance of the 1994 elections and the contested Truth and Reconciliation Commission which marked the importance of people telling their stories in order to make meaning of our collective and individual past, but something is amiss.
There is no common theme to agree upon when looking at South Africa’s narrative but mostly complex interpretations.
The complexities and interpretations of South Africa’s past have implications for my generation: ranging from those who were toddlers or just born in 1990 and those starting school in 1994.
We oscillate between the luckiest generation where there is a fluid movement between the races for some where experiences and ideas can be exchanged.
But for others who are still trying to overcome the barriers of social class and the rural/u…

What's in a name...?

About a month ago I witnessed my sister's traditional wedding where she emerged not only as Mrs so-and-so but with a brand new name, Nokhwezi* as opposed to Zimasa* as she is commonly known. The practice of a new bride changing both name and surname is an age-old practice across many cultures to some extent or another. The new bride(makoti) is supposed to identify with her new family hence a whole new identity is created for her, including a new identity document. It is important to note that the groom's name and surname have remained intact. The wedding day also included a wardrobe change where umakoti had to wear new clothes that symbolize her status as the new bride. Again, the groom didn’t change anything. The day ended with my sister sitting on a grass mat(ikhukho) and her husband on a chair listening to older women telling them about the new adventure ahead.

Such practices surrounding women and their status in relationships in relation to men have been under much scrutiny…

finding the language

One of the challenges of doing postgraduate studies is understanding other people’s ideas and trying to generate personal ideas from those about how to approach one’s own research. Another fancy word for this is finding a theoretical underpinning for ones research or an approach to explain the phenomena or people one will be working with. I have been on the verge of tearing my hair out trying to find the relevant theory to explain the classrooms I hope to do my research in. My proposal writing got to a point where I could show that I understand the issues and complexities around teaching literacy in many South African classrooms. I exhausted relevant research explaining literacy as a social practice and my supervisor was satisfied with this but it was not sufficient to explain the research I am looking to do. I was left with the question “And then what?...So what if I understand the issues?”

The trick has been finding the language that speaks to what I see in the classrooms. How can I …

Inheriting the new South Africa

In trying to transform South Africa, a new generation is emerging and we are at odds with what we have inherited. In pursuing a non-racial society (as well as many of the issues on South Africa’s wish list such as removing the class and gender inequalities) we are also confronted with ourselves. Some of my peers and I recognise that we still need to talk of race while trying to undo the damage of the past that named, shamed and discriminated on the basis of the colour of ones skin: being black. Emerging from this, I am one of the people who reject the label of being black and would rather embrace being human on the basis that I wasn’t born black, history decided this for me, I was born a human being. But because I am part of the new South Africa and part of the generation that has inherited the task of rebuilding South Africa, I have realised that there is a disconnection. In trying to rebuild South Africa, race is still important.

I was offended and infuriated by this realisation whil…

The adventures through Khayelitsha...and Equal Education

Today was my first time in Khayelitsha. The first time I encountered Khayelitsha was my first trip from Cape Town International Airport coming for the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship interviews. I was with my friends who had been to Cape Town before and had spoken so highly of it; the grand metropolis, the New York of South Africa or something to that effect. So I had this wonderful image of what it would be like driving through Cape Town for the first time...the land of milk and honey.

I was crestfallen.And today was a reminder I why was crestfallen.It's different seeing Khayelitsha and all the shacks and sand everywhere. It's different when you can actually see the people and hear their conversations, the bellowing gospel music from the shops screeching about a reality that is nothing like the one in this township. Today, I had to travel from N1 city to Khayelitsha. I took a taxi to Elsies River in order to find a taxi to Khayelitsha, when I got there a taxi driver told me I had t…

My girlfriends

This past weekend was an unplanned girlfriend’s weekend. It started on Thursday with a cooking date for my Grahamstown duo. They helped me pack banging outfits for my internship in Cape Town, they helped me keep calm about not knowing what to expect with this experience and the usual, we ranted about our relations with the opposite sex. The evening was also very celebratory with sparkling wine, celebrating a successful week rubbing shoulders with Trevor Manuel, Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Joaquim Chissano! I arrived in Joburg with the hopes of meeting with my latest crush at some point during the weekend. Instead I spent the day with a friend who was in desperate need of retail therapy and someone to listen to. Her boyfriend has had to leave South Africa as a matter of life and death. After the retail therapy another friend met up with us and we reflected on the 10 year friendship, moving from girl into woman with each other. Over supper we reflected on the throes of love, loss, loneliness,…

the world wide web in the palm of my hands

At the beginning of the year I finally bought a new phone. My previous gadget had finally ceased to be a phone worth having, it even became subject to any hot weather. As soon as the temperature was beyond 27 degrees it would suddenly switch off while I’m having a conversation and would do this until the weather became cooler. After a week of this I decided it was time to be a real modern kid and get a decent gadget one that would have the essentials of keeping up to date in an information obsessed era. I didn’t go the whole nine yards with a Blackberry so I decided on a pseudo-Blackberry, Nokia E63. It has all the basic essentials as well as operating like a laptop in the palm of my hand. At the same time I got a new laptop and I discovered that the cellphone and the laptop might as well be married. Anything I do on my phone I can simply send via Bluetooth to my laptop and vice versa. I also received emails as instantly as an sms but I eventually got rid of this option, being so easi…

Living a fraction of my dream

I’m a chronic planner. Throughout school I bought into the habit of setting goals at the beginning of every year. I think I took it to the extreme though when I thought I could anticipate my life when I left school with 5 year plans of what I wanted to do. Nobody warned me about the danger of removing the exciting part in living when we believe that life is all mapped out. I thought that if I had a plan I would have structure and stability and growing up wouldn’t be such a scary prospect. It was only after my first 5 year plan started falling apart that I realised that it’s true when people say life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. My obsession with stability is a result of my strange childhood and wicked youth that had both the joys and woes of growing up but little structure. I’ve realised that my obsession with control has been about pining for my childhood and youth that was devoid of stability since I was 6 years old and I came back from school being told we had bee…

The luckiest girl in the world

Recently I was selected as one of the young people in Mail and Guardian’s “200 Young People in South Africa to take to lunch” list( This was a selection due to my involvement around Grahamstown schools as well as my research into mother tongue education. In essence they’ve recognised me as one of the “movers and shakers” in my field. After the disbelief and uncertainty of this means for me I recognised this as an honour for me to be recognised in the same publication with people I’m in awe of and whom I think are far “cooler” than I could be.

Apart from the honour I realised that the list that could never be publicised as widely as the Mail and Guardian’s list comprises of my 200 people that have been part and parcel of the person that Mail and Guardian recognised. I’ve been blessed with loving family members, past and present, who have contributed to both the woes and joys of my upbringing. My family …

My schizophrenia as a South African youth

I’ve been having a schizophrenic year. This is the best description I have to explain the divided life I live: a life of privilege and wealth as well as sheer poverty and disadvantage. Most of my experiences have been framed within the life of privilege and suburbia through my middle class education at a former model c school in a conservative racialised town, East London. On the other hand when I went home I would go home to a block of flats in a neighbourhood where prostitutes and drugs were the norm; later I called Duncan Village home, an informal settlement on the cusp of East London’s CBD. In between these movements between home and school I have been in the centre of the multicultural world that South Africa is. I’ve been exposed to all kinds of people from various backgrounds, language groups, classes, different countries, all shapes and sizes. Even though this is the case, my world has still been mostly black and white, race has been central to most of my interactions. Because… read

I was raised in a home where reading is as important as brushing my teeth, a daily ritual. I always lived in areas where the library was in walking distance. Even if I was punished and not allowed to go play outside, I was allowed to visit the library. Newspapers were also accessible and my father would give me “The Chiel” column from the Daily Dispatch to read where there were jokes, quotes and language anecdotes to begin with, thereafter I graduated to reading real articles and we would share the paper. We also didn’t have a tv for many years so that meant radio and books became a huge part of my life. I was also lucky enough to go to a school with a flourishing library where going to the library and getting out 3 books every week was as important as play during breaktime. The librarians at the public libraries began to notice if I didn’t pay a visit on a particular weekend. I had my first library card when I was 6 years old. When my sister and I were in primary school we thought we…

Classrooms in SA

Recently I have been observing Grade 1 classes in Grahamstown schools in preparation for my Masters thesis. This has helped me get a feel for the reality in many classrooms and the thoughts of teachers in the impoverished schools in Grahamstown. The surrounding context of these schools is not the lush green lawn and playground safely bound in a security tight fencing. Some of the schools I have been to do not even have sporting facilities, no jungle gym or swings for the younger children. The view from the classrooms are the mudhouses and shacks some of these children walk from everyday, derelict “homes” that are at the mercy of any whim of the Grahamstown weather. I have made various observations from visiting these classrooms and interacting with teachers who are doing the most important job in South Africa with the least recognition.

Today I was with a teacher who has been in the profession for 41 years! And this is her final year in the classroom, she's retiring with another co…

Beyond the mountain-more mountain*

I know the residues of apartheid in my own life: my father’s limited opportunities because of a lack of quality education, my mother’s precarious psyche that was affected by the traumas of living through apartheid and the lack of dignity that poverty can cause in ones life. Somehow because of my education (formal, informal and spiritual guidance) I find that I am a unique position where I have not been limited by my past, South Africa’s past. It wasn’t until I came to Grahamstown to study at Rhodes that the reality of what still needs to be done to address the inequalities in our society became clearer. The question of redress in South Africa is still a sensitive one.
The beauty of a small town like Grahamstown is that everything is in walking distance. Traversing from the lush suburb area in town into Joza and Tantyi is a simple 15 minute walk but the inequalities one sees are enormous and need an entire change of a system to address. 16 years later little has changed: some of the roa…

My First Time Confronting Sexism Head On

Growing up in an urban setting (mostly in flats in the CBD of East London) I learned very early in my teens that I didn’t own my space when I walked out in public. Like many women who are dependent on public transport and public areas waiting for taxis, the mail gaze has always been part of my daily bread.

When I asked my mother and older sisters about a strategy in dealing with men’s comments in public I was often told, “su’bahoya wethu, a’khonto babhetere ngayo” (Don’t worry yourself about [men], they’re not worth your attention”). This didn’t allay my frustrations because it seemed that the less vocal women were in these public spaces, the louder men became. The attack on the woman at the Noord taxi rank was a prime example of what happens to many women across South Africa. I have been fully dressed but some men have had the audacity of slapping me on the bum simply because he can, or caressing my face as though he owned it.

Apart from the physical harassment, men have the annoying h…

Teaching and learning!

Today is the last day of a term where I was immersed as a teacher/lecturer.I have no formal education as a teacher but this is what I have been in educational settings since I was 18years old. First as a sunday school teacher to primary school children, then an on and off teacher where I stayed with about 50 children between 6 and 13 years for 3 years while I was an undergrad student.

When the thought of teaching first came to mind it was about how I would be the person who would influence the learners and draw them out and be part of their journey of making sense of who they are. Instead little of this has happened. I have been the student learning about life from people as young as 6 years old. The greatest lesson I learned from "the Dinkies"(Grade1-3 learners who were living at the hostel with me) that the most important thing in life is to play and be listened to; the best form of violence is to kill people with kindness and hugs have the ability of communicating everythi…

Why I have fallen in love with Ruth First

Today Rhodes University hosted Judge Albie Sachs to launch the Ruth First Scholarship.Apart from the launch, Justcie Sachs spoke about "Ruth".Simply put,he told a story about a woman we've only read about in books and articles.He finally did her remarkable character justice.I was inspired by her rigour in scholarship as well as the daring nature the Justice described.She was simply human,and not afraid of asking difficult questions.

This made me think about my role as a scholar and what I will do about my education and insight.This is not to suggest that knowledge is only found in the walls of universities but somehow there's a different elememt here that shouldn't be taken for granted nor viewed with derision.Ruth First saw scholarship as a platform to engage with people and not empty discussions that have no effect on the real world.

I was inspired on many levels by this speech(warm and fuzzy feelings),but also afraid as this kind of relationship with the academy…

A rock and a hard place

Today I started my day thinking that I was going to "Rhini"Primary School(this is not the actual name of the school) simply to observe teacher practices in order to help me frame my research for the Masters in Education I am reading for. Much to my suprise I realised that the teacher I was allocated to for today was not coming to school.

There are 4 grade1 teachers in the school with classes over 30,a third or more of the children in each class have learning disabilities or behavioural problems. 3 of the teachers have been have teaching longer than I have been alive and they are all older than me. None of us are entirely sure why I keep going to their school, but they are all welcoming and indiluge my curiosity and patience in their class.

So today I entered the school as a psuedo-researcher from THE university and I left as a teacher. I was handed over into a class of Grade 1s with no preparation, no knowledge of the children's name and abilities, no knowledge of the clas…

Meeting the Old Man,Madiba

When I told my mother that I had seen Madiba, she laughed as I am one of those star-struck kids who have always wanted to meet the person I had proudly told anyone who would listen that he was my grandfather!There wasn't much time for conversation when I met him but he did ask where I am from and he guessed by lineage,"oh!ebaThenjini?" when I simply said "eKomani ta'mkhulu!".It was difficult not noticing his smiling eyes and his desparation of making conversation with all 28 of the scholars!

I study isiXhosa because I can

When people hear me speak English they often ask me where I am from and I tell them I from the Eastern Cape. I have realised over the years that this is a polite way of saying to me, "you're a coconut". I'm in two minds about this identity as it has been thrust upon me by people who are trying to understand me and figure me out.I have never once woken up in the morning and thought "Hmmmm,Thank you God for making me a coconut".But somehow this identity follows me.

Part of what entrenches this identity is the education I have received.Informally, my mother was the first teacher educating me about colonialism, the prophet Nxele, the story of Nongqawuse and underlying many of these stories is the reminder that "abelungu bane-date yokufika apaha eMzantsi,ungayilibali lo nto Baba"(White people have a date of arrival in South Africa and don't ever forget that my baby).I can't judge her for her views as she felt apartheid first hand and knows the l…