Showing posts from 2011

why do i blog?

I have been blogging for almost two years. When I started the blog I thought it was going to be a distraction from the arduous (and often painful) process of researching and writing up my Masters thesis. Much to my surprise I have been a keen and consistent blogger with regular readers who have encouraged me to keep writing. In spite of the limited readership of friends, family and facebook friends, I have enjoyed the process of thinking, “what shall I blog about this week?”.

A few months ago someone asked me why I blog. My response referenced bell hooks and how her writing had inspired me to give myself the opportunity to write, even though I wasn’t certain that my writing caused waves or whether there would be any faithful readers to entertain my thoughts. I discovered bell hooks in my third year and fell in love with her voice that made complex and heavy issues accessible and worth consideration. She gave me the words to understand some of the angst I was feeling at the time but was…

being my mother's daughter

I will not be spending Christmas at home with my mother this year. I had the conversation with Mama explaining my change of heart and she sent me an sms which began with the sentence “I want you to carry on with your life...”.Being designated the baby in the family, I finally felt like I was being given permission to grow up (this is significant now that I’m finally moving to anoher province). Granted, this process began when I left home and moved into hostel and later to varsity. However the apron strings had never been fully severed. And spending Christmas away from Mama means some confirmation that it is possible for the apron strings to be cut.

Amongst the strange conversations I have had with Mama, the most vivid in my memory was about gratitude; where she was expressing how grateful she is that I chose her to be my mother. Amongst Mama’s ideas about the world, she believes that before we are born our souls are always alive and view the world from a celestial or spiritual realm of…

a room of one's own

The first time I had my own bed was in high school. I moved into hostel when I was 16 and shared a dorm room with 3 other friends. The only possessions I had were in a single bag my mother bought from PEP. Prior to moving into hostel I’d always shared a bed or mattress with my sister. We learned the economy of space and the importance of sharing when we moved around during our childhood, often into one-roomed flats. My parents shared a single bed and my sister and I slept on the floor.

Sharing space and having no privacy was part of my childhood and early teens. Having no space to be and think was the norm. It was only in Grade 12, where in hostel it was a matric privilege to have a room of one's own that I began to relish the endless joy of having my own room with a key and a lock. My own private space to think. It was by leaving the one-roomed flat (that I called home) that I was able to have a room of my own.

I have bitter-sweet memories of sharing space with my family in crampe…

the monster in my head...academic writing

I don’t have an image of monsters except for the ones in cartoons and the story books I’ve read. And in spite of my active imagination, as a child I was never indulged to “believe in” monsters even though I read about them a lot. So the monster I have in mind is a different kind. It’s the intangible mental block that writers don’t talk about. In academic circles, writing is assumed as something students will learn in university and become better with over the years. Almost 6 years later and the monster of academic writing has become strongly established in my mind...a month before I am supposed to hand in the Masters thesis.

I have never been taught how to write academically. I first became aware of academic writing in my second year while doing Philosophy 2 and English 2. Initially I thought I was stupid and would never make it to third year and my whole life would unravel before my eyes. What was worse, I seemed to be the only person carrying this shadow and monster with me into ever…

Ndisihloniphile aha moment with my education!

Ndisihloniphile isikolo...After yet another long meeting with my supervisor, analysing and pouring over the curriculum documents relevant to teaching reading in the Foundation Phase, it finally dawned on me: education reform is a process. I have always taken this for granted...or this has never been important to understand as I have always sailed through school and achieved accordingly with no conception of the hardships that some peers may have had with understanding their learning. I have never had to contemplate what gradual progress and growth really mean in the context of education. It’s only been through the Masters that my personal experience of learning as well as looking at the process of change in the curriculum reform in South Africa that it has begun to sink in: change is a process. And meaningful change is an arduous and even painful process.

On the level of the curriculum analysis: I have analysed the Revised Curriculum Statement from 2002 tracking the level of focus on r…

hewers of wood, drawers of water

"We shall reject the whole system of Bantu Education whose aim is to reduce us, mentally and physically, into 'hewers of wood and drawers of water'."
Soweto Sudents Representative Council, 1976.

I moved into my current flat almost a year ago. Since I've moved in there's been a construction of yet another block of flats in Grahamstown-Rhini. It's been the constant background noise with trucks humming and bricks being laid forming the latest addition to the property boom in the small town.

Part of the construction site has been the builders, black and coloured men of various ages. I walk by them every single day. I walk by them when I go swimming in the morning and when I’m on my way back, when I go to campus and when I walk back and any other time I leave my flat during the day, they are there. As the building gets taller and forms shape they are now the first people I see when I open my curtains.

I don't know the names nor the faces of these men. If they …

The great divide: policy and practice in our classrooms

Between 1994 and 2007, 160 policy texts were written related to changes in the Department of Education (now known as Basic Education). This has been dubbed as “policy-mania” and one of the symptoms of the “education crises” in this country. This “policy-mania” is ironic given that many of these policies have proven to be ineffective and resulted in a mismatch between practice and policy. This chasm further exacerbates the inequalities we see in our education system where there are flourishing schools for people who can pay fees and poor performing schools for working class parents.

An example of a policy text is the Foundations for Learning , a clear response to the low literacy levels amongst learners in the Foundation Phase (FP). In spite of this policy (released in 2008), further assessments have shown that learners are still failing dismally and the results can be mapped out along socio-economic lines where provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape perform better than Limpopo…

body politics: my m-cup and my vagina

I first heard about the m-cup (menstrual/moon cups) last year over dinner conversation. I was enthralled by the idea of environmentally friendly and safer methods of menstrual health and I seriously started wondering about all the waste products such as tampons and pads...where do they all go? It also made me wonder about women’s menstrual health and how warped it is considering the adverts on tv (especially for women who cannot afford the expense of tampons and pads).

So I went and bought a moon cup soon after the conversation. I googled more information and read anything and everything. Like most women growing up in conservative families with a mother who taught me “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and all things about sexuality were makings of the devil, my vagina was mostly invisible. The biology lessons at school (with male teachers) showed me cross-sections of tubes and balls that made little sense to me except when I had to label the image during a test. Apart from the monthly…

body politics: my (african) tongue

“Speak if you can...what are you?” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 3)
These are Macbeth’s words when he first encounters the witches. These words have always interested me because Macbeth asks the witches to speak in order to know who they are. Macbeth assumes that they have the ability to speak and that they will speak a language he will understand and thus the mystery of who they are will unfold. Throughout the play, Macbeth’s interaction with the witches is through a meaning making process where he is desperate to understand their mysterious proclamations about his destiny. It is through speaking, language, communication, that Macbeth and the witches come to understand each other or not...hence the tragedy that befalls Macbeth?

When we speak, we inevitably convey meaning about who we are and what we believe, hence language and who we are—our identity (a portmanteau word)—cannot be separated. What is even more fascinating is that people will use the discourse we use, the jokes we…


"Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
Nelson Mandela

One of the emerging themes in my Masters research has been the idea of the “opportunity-to-learn” in a classroom setting. This relates to how time is used in the classroom and how learning happens in the reading lessons I’ve been observing. It is also about how to assess the extent of learning in any given lesson: how do teachers know when learners have sufficiently learned something?

The question of the expectations teachers may have of learners is also pertinent: if a teacher has an hour to teach something every single day for a week, how will they be satisfied that learning has taken place? I’ve wa…

body politics:my skin

I am fascinated by my skin. I think it’s my favourite part of my body.

My fascination began when I was very young and someone told me I was black. It had never been a problem that I was black (in fact I saw myself as umXhosa and not black, but that was not the most important thought when I woke up in the morning). What became a problem was when someone attached a value judgement to the pigment of my skin. We had just moved to the suburbs (an area with more white families than black families at the time) and my sister and I were looking for friends. We approached girls who were our age and applied the same rules we used on the school playground when you wanted to spark conversation with someone, “can we play with you?”. The little girls were startled by the request. One of them ran inside her house and emerged quite soon after with a response “my mother says we cannot play with black children”. Crestfallen, I began to understand that there was something wrong with being black, if it me…

the real diva

I woke up missing Bhele today, my granny. In spite of having a few memories of her, those I have are profound. The last time I saw her was last year, two weeks before she passed away. We had a date, which really means I just spent the afternoon in her room with her as she was already bed-ridden. A date with my gran usually meant chatting with her while people came in and out of her house. She would often boast about her granddaughter from Rhodes coming to visit her. Many people would be stunned as they last saw me as a toddler.

The visit also included digging around for pictures and memories in my gran's room. Above her bed there was always a picture of her in her 20s,looking beautiful and still, as well as pictures of her son and her grandchildren wearing their school uniforms. A picture of me in grade 1 was placed above her mirror opposite her bed. It always made me feel special knowing my picture was in a position where she could see it every morning when she awoke.

We had a gre…

To be or not to be [a teacher]... that is the question...

Last week I had an interview for a teaching post at a private school. I applied because I could and I didn’t think I would get an interview because I don’t have experience teaching in high school. When I was informed I was selected for an interview I had a pseudo-melt down...why had I applied to a private school in the first place?

I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was 18, in 2005. The decision was based on the belief that being a teacher was a guaranteed opportunity to add value to someone’s life (assuming the job is done correctly). It was also part of a reflection I had been going through at the time seeing as I had been at the same school for 12 years and had great teachers throughout that period(not to deny the fights and tensions with some of the teachers). What I didn’t appreciate fully at the time was the fact that the education I had received was not the norm in South Africa.

Moving to Grahamstown and volunteering at a school in Joza meant coming face to face with th…

The woes of the Eastern Cape...again

THE Eastern Cape is a national disaster. This was the revelation from a joint research report by the Human Sciences Research Council, Department of Social Development and the Africa Strategic Research Corporation (with the ironic title, “The People Matter”). Along with many other people, the only response I could muster was, “ke ngoku?” (and then what?), because this is not much of a revelation, but another report to confirm what anyone in a taxi could have said.

In an effort to guard cynicism or sounding jaded, I listened to the news, and read discussions and summaries of the report. The response by the social development MEC on national radio, stunned me. His consistent response suggested the report was going to help form a strategy that would address the emerging issues. Seventeen years after democracy, and government is still trying to find a strategy to address the province’s challenges; an issue that is “not new”! How is this report different from previous research, in that it …

my imagination

While trying not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” I finally responded to the questions I had about Christianity when I was in my third year. They had always been boiling beneath the surface of the appearance I had put together as the good Christian girl. The first question I managed to voice was “why does God have to be father, a man?”; if gender is a social construct then why does God have a gender and being subjected to our petty obsessions about what it means to be a man or a woman? If, as God’s subjects/minions, we could project our issues onto “him” then clearly “he” wasn’t such a great God.

A friend attempted to give an answer that I was not convinced with hence the torrent of questions continued focusing on the Christian family and religion. I decided I wouldn’t run into the arms of any other religion or worldview and I attempted to let go of church and see what image of God I would be left with(I recently discovered Julia Sweeney who helped me laugh at this). Initial…

a question of belonging...human solidarity

I’ve just witnessed a very disturbing incident: while walking through Peppergrove Mall, I noticed a young man approach a woman driving a Mercedes Benz with his hands cupped as though he were asking for something. The woman was already in her car and she rolled down her window and shouted: “Listen here, go away, you’re not allowed to be here!” As you can guess the guy is a black and the woman is white. This is not a new scene in our daily lives, where black youngsters are out in the street begging from anybody who looks like they could have any extra cash to spare.

What was disturbing about this incident was what the woman said to the young man: you’re not allowed to be here! What does this mean? Clearly the presence of a beggar makes anyone conscious of their privilege and comfort, uncomfortable in a country like South Africa. Everyday we all encounter people who have to go to bins for any hope of something that even resembles food. What makes a difference is how we respond. Do we igno…

Working class issues and middle class concerns

The obsession with race and class in South Africa always leaves me with questions, usually on the brink of an existential crises. I identify with being a poor South African mostly because of the family history and schizophrenic childhood I had and I identify with the privilege few South Africans have mostly because of the education I’ve received in former “white” institutions such as Rhodes and a 12 year education at Clarendon (a school for girls in East London).

What does this really mean though and why does it matter?
Coming from a poor family (both in terms of income and education) means my family has always aspired to move up the echelons of success which has mostly meant benefiting from a good education and quiet suburbs. So we moved to a school in the suburbs and soon realised that we couldn’t afford to be there. Because the school was a public school, my sister and I were never “kicked out” of the school and so we benefited from the better half of South Africa’s education system …

Revisiting black consciousness

While trying to make sense of the “new” South Africa, the born-free generation is constantly being accused of being ignorant of South Africa’s history. My mother always laments “Anazi nto nina...kudala kwasokolwa ngumntu omnyama” (You kids know people have suffered for many years”). In spite of my ambivalence about being part of the born-free generation, I acutely relate to this accusation. So in trying to educate myself I recently revisited Steve Biko’s writing, I write what I like, which I came across in my 2nd year at university along with Franz Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks, Du Bois and Satre, thanks to a course in African Philosophy. Before this, my knowledge of “Black” politics and the liberation struggle was what I had watched in Sarafina, read in The Long Walk to Freedom, heard in Letta Mbulu’s lyrics to Not yet uhuru and what I was taught at school (neutral history considering the gaps I discovered when I started reading outside the curriculum) and various…

growing up in a cul-de-sac

One of my favourite childhood memories is living in a house in a cul-de-sac. The cul-de-sac allowed my friends and I a different kind of interaction because it became our playground. We knew who lived where and we convinced our selves that we owned that corner of the world: our safe space where the rest of the world never came in. Our weekends were centered around a list of adventures that completed our childhood adventures—cricket matches, roller blades, flying kites, bike rides, climbing rocks and trees and this was all done without leaving our block.

What was significant about my friends and I was how we lived with our differences; a conglomeration of children with various experiences: some were Greek, Italian, South African (Xhosa, English and Afrikaans speaking) rich and poor, boys and girls, teenagers and toddlers. We didn't tolerate each other, we lived and played together. Being kids, it was easier because children are always assumed to be colour-blind. But we were aware …

why i voted...

AFTER casting my vote on Wednesday I chatted to a few people about the
elections. One non-voter said he did not believe in the current system, but
in a plutocracy where educated people should be running the government.

Being a bit ignorant about this I decided to look up plutocracy and discovered it is actually a government system by the wealthy by virtue of their wealth. Given the current phenomenon of many people getting wealthier because of their political affiliations, the notion of a plutocracy isn't too much of a stretch for South Africa.

My housemate and her friend also confessed to exercising their right not to vote. I am never sure how far my judgment should extend on this decision, given that people have the right to choose to vote or not. But the history of the franchise in South Africa, especially for black women, has always led me to take my voting rights seriously. So when people choose not to vote I'm never certain what that means-given that a democracy rests on the…

a delayed thought...sexual violence in south africa

BY THE time I was in matric, I had three friends who were rape survivors. All three had been raped by people they knew and I never pressed them about whether they had pressed charges or not.
The reality is that many women are not raped by strangers waiting in dark alleyways ready to pounce on their vulnerability. Women are sexually assaulted and raped by people they know: partners, cousins, colleagues. This is not surprising considering the rape statistics in South Africa claim that a woman is raped every 17 seconds.
There are certain places I know I should not go to after dark; I have to be even more careful if I am out drinking with friends because I am aware that in South Africa, a woman’s body is not her own. Not only is my movement curtailed as a woman, but my body can be used as provocation for a violent crime.
As a student at a relatively safe university campus, one is still not 100 percent secure. There have been instances of rape and sexual violence. Some have been reported and…

my infatuation with Cape Town

I’ve spent the past week in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. I have picked up the habit of going to the bigger cities when I’m tired of being in Grahamstown. I always think that’s an irony considering people in the big cities go to smaller towns for some respite from traffic, the blinding lights and massive billboards.

In Stellenbosch I was hiding and working on a farmhouse just outside town. I was surrounded by mountains and acres of land with vineyards. It was surreal considering that my view in Grahamstown is usually of the surrounding block of flats or when I stand at the Monument the entire town, with all its inequalities made visible in the very architecture of the housing. The inequalities were well hidden from me while staying in Stellenbosch. I don’t remember seeing any shacks or dilapidated RDP houses. When I did venture into town I ended up on the tourist side with endless coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. If i didn’t know any better I would have convinced myself I’m in …

my mother mother's tongue

For most of my life Mama and I have been two peas in a pod. However, being the youngest of her three daughters has not been without its tensions. From a young age I understood that Mama and I lived in different worlds; hers a world of oppression and resistance and mine freedom and choices . Thanks to my formal education and socialisation, language became the obvious marker that we were always growing apart. I was educated in a former Model C, public girls school where English was the only language of instruction. The shallow isiXhosa lessons once a week did not recognise the language that came naturally to me. Attending a new school also meant moving to the leafy suburbs where white children asked their parents for permission to play with black children. The obvious danger of a complete immersion into English meant that by being proficient in the language and code at school, my mother tongue was in jeopardy.

The alarm bells went off for Mama while I was reading a paperback cartoon ver…