Today I thought about my high school, Rand Park High and all the ways those brown walls made people of similar colour feel so painfully unloved.
All the Black boys in my classes who took up diski during breaks and after school to escape back into their unashamed Blackness for a moment in a place that denied them of that glory. On the field they weren’t labelled troublemakers, instead, they were champions.
All the Black girls whose hair was always up for debate- these braids, that ‘fro- has simply got to go. Why? It causes distractions in classes, the kids who actually pay for their education won’t be able to see the blackboard.
The ringing in my ears the first time I heard that other afrikaans teacher shout aloud how her class was not a spaza shop-shebeen-thing and “moenie tsotsitaal hier praat”. Because we’re all Black tsotsis without homes, sleeping in the shops and establishments you see us frequent in the news, right? The other kids laughed along. Our eyebrows twitched, eyes threw a slight squint and we brushed it off. Again.
The nerves that must have run through us as a collective whenever something was reported stolen, because we were always the first suspects. Detention hours knew our mispronounced names so well and it mimiced a kind of prison sometimes.
I remember how so many of my own friends who went to school with me here in the north- we’d say our cheerful goodbyes and part ways into two almost opposite black existences. My transport would take me home less than 7 kilometers away, their buses and taxis would take them over the highway, through the city and to their various townships. Cosmo City, Soweto, Alex, Honeydew and so on.
I recall how freeing it was to sit in the class of the only Black woman teacher we had in 2009, for a moment of boisterous laughter in our home language. I was always quite the average learner, so soothed by my own comfort and privilege that I never particularly aimed for top marks, certainly not in the way a lot of other Black kids had to. Perhaps it was never outwardly said, but I know without doubt, they lived and breathed this truth: that you have to be twice as good, twice as fast, twice as smart to be half as good as they are.
In the same breath of remembering the demerits against our South African Blackness, I remember the ridicule we’d spew towards the two Zimbabwean male teachers we had at school, the Zimbawean girls and boys we had in our class. Often mocking their accents, their names, with the same sour on our tongues as had been breathed upon us. Were we any different? Or were we simply repeating a cycle of hate?
In so many ways, for so many years, we had this mound of ugly thrown onto us- a mound so heavy we weren’t sure what to do with it so we spread it among our Black selves when something made one different from the next. Separated by proximity to whiteness and wealth, by borders, by surnames, by tribes. All the hate we learned, internalised and spread.
And they said “get over it, apartheid is over.”