I went to what I’d consider as a government school; my very young mother was determined on providing me with the best education she could afford, and East London Secondary School was exactly that. It wasn’t the best school in town but for a factory worker, it was everything. All she ever wanted, was for me to have better opportunities, and she believed that a good education improved my chances.
When I first got enrolled into the school in the second grade, there were probably more Indian and Coloured kids than there were blacks, but over the years that changed and we became the most dominant race.
Even when the school became predominantly black, the teachers still stayed the same. We never had more than two black teachers in the school at a time, which meant English and Afrikaans were the only languages I was ever taught all throughout my school years.
It didn’t help that I was an introverted child, an avid reader that only had access to libraries that mostly stocked books in one language. As I grew bigger, so did my love for literature.
I was always the English teacher’s pet, my teachers always seeing this as an opportunity to invest in the few things I seemed to enjoy. So I was always getting suggestions on what to watch, getting books and magazines as gifts and being accompanied to Literature Festivals. I spent all my time engrossed in movies, music and books that weren’t ever in my mother tongue.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I realized that I couldn’t read, write or even make sense of a single sentence in my native tongue. A closer inspection into this unveiled that I even struggled to pronounce simple words in Xhosa. Even though my family thought this was cute, I was somehow really bothered by it.
The first step was to be deliberate in teaching myself how to text in Xhosa, all my Mxit contacts at the time went crazy, they were so impressed, it was as if I was learning a foreign language.
I couldn’t help feeling like my mother’s aspirations for me had come at such a high and unintended price. Good schooling definitely has its benefits but as a black person, I always feel like it’s taken away from me just as much as it has given.
It doesn’t help that one of the first things they teach you in school is how to express yourself in English, because of this, you always associate emotions with the language that you were taught to express them. I can’t take that back, until this day all my Twitter rants, expressions of love, feelings of disappointment, anger, sadness or happiness are always expressed only in one colour, English. I can’t undo that!
It’s embarrassing and I feel foolish because everything I know in Xhosa I’ve had to teach myself, so it’s shaky and I’m not always confident of my spelling or what I’m saying. I’m always afraid people who know better will judge me or be offended. It’s always such a tricky space to be in.
Photo By: Lonwabo Zimela
What has been your experience with good schooling? What would you change about it and what would you like to stay the same?