I knew that bastard was going to start a revolution. He walks and talks revolutionary texts. He probably has What Is To Be Done, The Communist Manifesto, and I Write What I Like stacked under his pillows; it’s inevitable that when he has nightmares, he wakes up and read a passage from those worn-out revolutionary books to calm himself down.
We call him ‘young Che,’ but he often dresses himself in that dreadful smile of his and jokily say, ‘I’m not cute enough to be on people’s t-shirts.’
‘Alright, young Marx,’ we respond.
I kiss my young sister goodbye and she tightly holds my hand as I turn to leave, ‘be safe, I’ll see you again tonight, right?’ She, at age Thirteen, knows that black bodies and police officers are not negative and positive of a magnet.
‘I’ll be alright, and also wake up and prepare yourself for school.’
Before I gently push the shack door open, I drop few coins on the stove’s cupboard that I have in my pockets for her lunch money.
It’s a given I will somewhat find the money where I am leaving it, because she will explain that there are students who’re wrapped around her fingers, and they willingly buy her lunch every day.
‘It’s better you buy bread with the money,’ she will say, ‘you know it’ll be long before mom sends us money.’
‘Those damn white people don’t even pay her enough to support her children,’ I respond.
‘Do they even know she has children?’ she asks.
‘What do you mean?’ I give her a skeptical look.
‘What nature of people would make a woman spend a month without seeing her children? I bet you she had to lie about not having children in order to get the job!’
‘Leave politics alone; they’re no good,’ I say.
‘Politics can’t leave me alone; trust me, I always try to run away from them,” she chuckles.
I step outside the shack. I look around, rats start to jump out of trash bins placed next to the doors. The sun is above me, more like behind me because it has just risen. It’s without a doubt that around noon this sun will be burning our black bald heads and the Vaseline they are soaked in will drip down them like waterfalls. I check my watch and the time is Six Thirty, the gathering will commerce at Nine o’clock.
Like a player enjoying a maze game, I dodge the slackly built shacks. A ‘sawubona’ is on my lips, as I casually hold a small conversation, or when I wait for a person to discard the water they have just bathed in. In the long last, I appear at the end of the long thread of shacks, on Hlahlandlela St.
I am welcomed by the smell of the chemical toilets and sewerage waste running down the road and the schoolchildren who carelessly walk on the sewerage waste.
The noise made by the Taxis waken my senses; on the other side of the street, I see this boy with a book in his hands and a guitar stacked in a gig bag on his back. He waves, I look at his book. It’s Nora Roberts, and I know there’s no conversation there. I tell him I will see him later on.
I tightly hold my bag and take a jump off the waste; I don’t land well, falling right on the street. I feel a tight pull on my muscles, I pull myself up and limp downward towards the end of the street, where the street joins the main road, Andrew Mapheto Dr; one the longest roads in Gauteng.
Sis Thembi is around, I pull out a five-rand coin out of my pocket and buy amagwinya; she allows me to take a sit next to her. As I sit here, I reminisce on why today is such an important day in my life.
A year ago, in an unusual cold day in February, the Department of Education arrived at our school on a Friday morning during assembly. Their representative were two white women and this black man, with an annoying accent. It was annoying both when he spoke his native language and when he, through his nose, spoke English. Rumors had reached us – our indigenous language were no longer going to be taught in our schools. Only English was to be taught, along with your mathematics and science, and so forth.
I guessed that these three fellows were officially going to announced that this year we shall never learn our own languages. As usual, I, the Deputy President of the school, was standing at the back with the guys who smoked, evaded class lessons, and were often in physical fights with teachers. I don’t remember what we were arguing about that day, but I do remember telling the guys to low their voices so we could hear what the people at the front were about to tell us; I threw the small bottle of alcohol, I had took sip from, to my friend.
This was a regular Friday for me – I love messing around with danger and I love equally the task of acquiring knowledge. I don’t think to have the other, the other should be missing. Perhaps that’s why I become Deputy President of the school, I had my rebellious friends by my side, and I was also favored by those who didn’t like danger, those whose primary focus is sneezing themselves into university, getting a job, and settling down with a spouse and three children.
I was occupied with the mission of hiding marijuana, because a teacher, infamous for thoroughly beating students, was said to be searching students who’re at the back, when a protest song erupted at the center of assembly.
‘Amabhunu ayalibala, bathi ngelebo (Boers tend to forget that this land is not theirs)
Kodwa ngelethu (the land is ours)
Thul’ungakhali, wena mfundi (students wipe your tears, don’t you cry)
Ikhon’iRCL, izobashaya…. (the RCL – Representative Council of Learners – is present, it will show them flames)
(there exists the RCL that shows flames)
I knew the voice, but still, I lifted my head to see if it was indeed who I thought it was. The President, ‘young Che,’ of the school went on, students around him joined the singing. Before I knew it, the whole school was singing. Teachers attempted to keep us quiet, but the fire had spread out and they couldn’t contain it.
This was somewhat expected, this was not the first the President caused an uproar. Weeks after his upset and revolutionary filled inaugural speech as the President, he verbally attacked a group of white people who came talking charity, but ended up, subtly, throwing racist slurs. Fortunately, the president caught them, and he addressed them accordingly. At that moment he was even blurred to talk at assembly.
At age sixteen, he was capable of commanding the older boys, actually the whole school. I was in grade Eleven, and he, in grade Ten. We both had some influence, but mine was miniature compared to the President’s influence.
The singing persisted until the people from the Department of Education decided to leave. It was on the same Friday, of starting a protest song, that the President was suspended from school for three months.
He caught me one evening when I was buying tin fish and eggs at a local spaza shop. I wasn’t his friend, but we had conducted classes together where he taught English (not just your figures of speech and goofy English stuff, he dived into Literature, analyzing poetry and fiction) and I focused on Mathematics.
Inasmuch as we were not close, we have even garnered a name: ‘the classical duo.’ I personally hate the name, because everyone at school wants to know who these two boys are. This sort of takes me out of the hyper-invisibility I want to achieve, to exist in a world where nothing is expected of me.
The President is more of a political rebel, and I, I am just a rebel without definite direction. I rebel, not against anything specific. Perhaps I can say I rebel much against my very existence. I rebel against the commercialization of my intellectuality.
I don’t want to be commodified because I know mathematics and science – I see it through the way I am treated against my fellow classmates. It’s like I’m living in a society where I’m the only one fractured, whilst everyone, with their beer in hand and ‘yes baas’ on their lips and no mark of intelligence in their brains and a traumatic laughter during serious issues, seems extremely normal.
The reality of why I hang out with ‘bad guys’ is exactly that, I am flashing out the expectation of my mind and my thoughts and my intelligence. The president is more of a determined fellow, he knows what he wants for himself and his people.
‘I want my people to have total freedom,’ he often says. What intrigues me is how ‘total freedom’ is loosely translated to what white people have. And that should apparently be our direction as a people. But the President is smarter than just wanting sunblock when chilling by the beach. I realized that when we spoke at the local spaza shop.
He tapped me on the shoulder. ‘I hear they made you President since they threw me out.’
‘Sort of,’ I said turning.
‘I want to ask you for a huge favor…’ he said.
‘What is it?’ I searched for his face, but I couldn’t see it because the light bulb we stood under was faint.
‘I want you to organize students for me,’ he said. ‘At least divide them in three or four groups, I’ll address them each week of the month, so as to not rise suspicions.’
‘What’ll be the meetings be about?’ I asked.
‘I want to push the students to march against the decision taken by the Department of Education,’ he placed his hands on my shoulders.
‘All that trouble for merely not wanting to learn in a language that is already dominating?’ I continued. ‘There are many things I would rather fight instead of that.’
‘You just don’t want to understand, but with time you’ll understand.’
‘Okay, I’ll organize for you!’
‘I know it’ll be a success, students like you.’ He shook my hand and disappeared into the dark night, like a rat after hearing some rattling noise.
I didn’t agree to organize the students because I agreed with the President. I did because I love trouble.
Students gathered in their numbers. Teachers were not aware that the president was meeting the students behind their backs. Me and some of my boys had broken down a fence at one unnoticed corner at school.
The president would come through that little hole and address the students and leave through the same hole. I never cared enough to sit through the lectures, I would be outside the class smoking and drinking. I creeped and stood next to the door when I knew the President was about to finish.
News reached me that the President was not only addressing students at our school, he was also addressing around many schools in Tembisa. ‘Dammit, this boy is influential,’ I thought. ‘This thing that I had doubts about might happen.’ This was me at my highest optimistic, after weeks of pessimism. I wanted it to actually happen.
These optimistic thoughts were crashed one afternoon when the President ran me down, when he left the classroom running like a man being chased by a mob after stealing some few coins. I stood up and looked inside the classroom to inspect if there was a student who unleased a gun on him. Instead, through the windows I saw two police officers and four teachers running towards the President’s direction.
I knew if they don’t catch him, I might follow. I decided not to join the many students who went behind the teachers, I wore my cap and lowered it and went out of the school yard. But when students tell me of the events of that day, the police officers and those teachers closed the gap.
One police officer took out a gun and shot it to the sky. This must have disturbed the president because it is said he lost concentration. When he had to squeeze himself out of the small hole, he was met with one strong wire we didn’t bend completely. The wire struck his neck, it pierced itself on the President’s neck. He quickly removed it and tried to run, though he didn’t get far. He was declared dead at the hospital.
His parents came to see me and see how I was holding up. They ended up telling me what President said about me on his deathbed. Apparently he said, ‘tell that bastard,’ his parents were shocked by the utterance, because he wasn’t known for vulgar words, but I guess the moment must have caught him, he continued, ‘that in the next life I shall join him. I shall be a pessimist, a cynic, and a “nothingness of note” as he called himself. For all these efforts don’t matter. Instead of organizing, I shall sleep. No blood of mine shall defend any land, I am just a particle passing by.’
‘Are you alright?’ Sis Thembi asks as I slyly wipe my tears.
‘I’m alright, thank you for the chair. I will see you around,’ I stand and pick up the four of amagwinya that were still left in the plastic.
I can hear by the protest noise that students have arrive. I give Sis Thembi another five-rand so that she gives my sister amagwinya before she proceeds to school.
The journey to my school, Tembisa High, from where I stand is about 5 minutes. I start picking up the pace, I start a small competition with a train that is parallel to me, it is coming from Leralla station cruising to make a halt at Limindlela station. Though I can still feel the constrains caused by the fall earlier, so I decide to let the train win the race.
My eyes are met by different uniform colors – thousands of students. Students from different schools with placards in their hands. The ‘Senzeni Naa’ song is on its humming phase, I feel my heart naked. All my being undressed, all my nothingness present in front of me. The students welcome me with warm hugs and handshakes.
It’s officially a year later after the President’s death. Today, we are blocking the main roads in Tembisa for the whole day to commemorate the life of a young lion, who was taken from us too soon – as it’s always the case with young people who are visionary, not only visionary in ideals but very practical in approach. Meanwhile some of us know ideals, we bottle them or just debate them. However, there are young people who are willing to bring them to praxis.
As we are gathered here, the Department of Education reversed its decision to have only English taught at our schools.
‘Comrades let’s quieten down. It’s almost Nine o’clock. Let’s call to the president to address us and give us a line of march,’ one boy says through the speaker. I know they are calling for me because I am the President of the school for this year, and I organized the peaceful march.
I stand on the pavement and look around, and there she is, smiling. She salutes me and I salute back. Lebo was the one who helped me with organizing the whole thing.
I grab the microphone speaker and greet the student populace. ‘Let’s be led by decided young people,’ I wave to Lebo to come closer, ‘I would love for Lebohang to lead us today.’
I can hear people murmuring. ‘She’s just a grade Eight, what does she know?’
The whole commotion is brought to its knees when Lebo takes the speaker and decisively give us direction of what is to happen today; she squashes people into groups and tells us which group is going where.
I submerge inside the people who are going to block the road at the traffic lights of Tembisa Plaza; I always want to go where the danger is, where death is not guaranteed, but also where death is not an impossibility. Where I don’t die a hero, but also where I know I shall not die in vain.