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 of our differences because the games we played often relied on teams so you had to choose wisely between Matthew, who was 3 years old and eager to play, or Stefano who was 12 and convinced he was the best batsman and a girl like me, a keen cricketer with terrible eye-hand coordination.

The obvious tension were the parents who hardly interacted with one another. And they always made us aware that we were an anomaly in the new South Africa but a representation of what non-racialism could possibly mean. We were children first who happened to possess certain attributes such as our different skin colours, languages, experiences and beliefs from home. This multicultural experience was also an extention of our schools that were becoming more racially diverse in the 1990s.

This is obviously a description of the suburban experience in the new South Africa which has become the example of black people moving into the suburbs (often for an array of reasons). Of course the social movement has always been a one-way aspiration in South Africa: black people moving to the suburbs from the townships and not the other way around. These movements reveal that segregation still exists in South Africa: where the previous rules were mandated by law based on racial discrimination, the current rules for movement are unwritten and based on social class-who has money and who does not.

The class conundrum has become clearer as I have grown older, without the shelter of the cul-de-sac where I had friends whose aim in life was to simply have fun and play. The stakes are higher as I grow up in South Africa because I realize that I cannot take anything for granted. Visiting schools in the Grahamstown township makes me value my skill for reading and writing everyday. I do not take it for granted because I realise it is not the norm. The ironies of the new South Africa are so complex that my views of literacy morph everyday when I consider how “reading the world” is so intricately linked with the way we view ourselves as people and what we aspire to become-a way of “being in the world”. The land of milk and honey that democracy promised has made some people’s dreams come to naught because of the limitations of the bad quality education they receive; not because they do not have the abilities to achieve, but because being working class is so damning in South Africa.

Class stratification is nothing new when we consider how humanity functions, but the widening gap and the limited opportunities many have because they are in poor working class communities and schools makes me shudder when I think of the implications this has on the future of an entire generation.

I’m not pining for the cul-de-sac experience where I can hide like I did as a child growing up, but I feel like I’m back at one when I consider the long road ahead when we talk of a quality education in South Africa and how this can really be achieved given the divisions that still exist amongst those who have and those who do not have.


Clea said…
Interestingly, I met a Danish engineer who - when Apartheid was over and all his friends were moving North and into complexes - moved into a small house in Alexandria. He says he wouldn't have done anything differently, and that living there keeps him young and full of energy (he is in his 70s now).

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