HIS STORY IS HISTORY
This series features Dr Tlou Setumu’s works on our history, heritage and culture. This week the excerpt is from his autobiography
LIFE begins at forty, so say some. “Life begins at birth”, say others, and others think that life begins in a woman’s womb while there are those who say: “Life begins when you start to stand on your own”, etc., etc., etc.
These are some of the few thoughts, which indicate how totally different we do perceive the beginning of life and life in general. It is not my duty here to bother to find an all-acceptable answer as to exactly when does life begin. Life itself is a mystery.
There are so many questions which we shall leave this world before finding their answers.
As mortal human beings, every day we are constantly perplexed by wonderful and amazing things we discover about life.
Just like any other human being, I am not quite sure how far back can I remember when I first began to feel that I am alive, I am myself, I can breathe, eat, laugh, cry, etc.
Maybe it is just a matter of forgetting. But with the little knowledge I have acquired thus far, and with the experiences I went through, as well as with the advantage of hindsight, it is apparent that a human being only begins to grasp and becomes aware of his or her existence at a particular point of his or her life.
But I really can’t tell when does that point come during the human development. This is perhaps because everybody is unique in which others begin to understand their environments quicker than others do.
All the things which happened before we were aware that we were alive, we only know them from being told or by reading about them and other means.
We did not actually experience them. For instance, if you say: “I was born on such a date”, you actually tell us about something you did not see yourself.
Actually, you were only later told that you were born on that date.
The earliest time and experiences I can remember myself – not having been told by others – was when I was about to begin with my schooling. Before that time, I remember absolutely nothing, except that I know some of my experiences from what I am being told.
What I can still remember by myself was that shortly before I started schooling, my aunt, Mmane Selina was in the primary school. Every morning when she was going to school I would wake up and ask her to take me along. To appease a young boy of my age, Mmane usually promised that she would one day go with me to school.
I constantly reminded her of that promise because I looked forward to that day of going to school. I would do almost everything which she asked me to do for her because I wanted to make sure that she was happy with me, lest she would withdraw her promise of going to school with me.
So, she found a convenient way of making me help her with many household chores such as sending me for water, fetching firewood for her, etc.
I made sure that I did as she asked me as quick and as correct as possible.
Mmane kept on postponing that day I so cherished and I was gradually losing my patience as a result.
She knew exactly that my time to go to school did not arrive and that I couldn’t just begin to go to school at any time of the year.
Apparently, feeling that Mmane was “wasting my time”; one day I insisted that the next morning I was going to school.
Mmane took it lightly and she jokingly agreed. I was extremely delighted and excited. I don’t remember why Mmane couldn’t see that I was hundred percent serious that I was going to school the next morning.
Early in the following morning there I was, washing myself in that childish manner, thinking about nothing else but going to school. I also took the outside covers of the old exercise book to be my stationary for my“new day”at school.
Mmane did not want to disappoint me by telling me in my face that she won’t go to school with me. She knew that that would have driven me mad.
She only let me wait while she secretly slipped out to school without my observation. I only realised late that she had long gone to school, and even though I cried my lungs out, there was nothing I could do!
My long-cherished day of going to school came at the beginning of 1972. My mother Blantina (Ramokone, her African name) - ensured that everything was prepared for me on that day, including my khaki and black and white uniforms. On my first day to school, I went together with my peer and neighbour, Mmanare Setumu, who was also going to start schooling. Mmanare’s mother, Agnes, also ensured that her son was looking like a schoolgoer that day. Our mothers accompanied us on our first day in order to register us.
Our new school, Noko Tlou Lower Primary, was situated “between” our village, Norma A, and Kgatu (Goedetrouw).
Theoretically the school was between these two small villages, but in reality, it was in Kgatu.
Although the school was built along the dividing fence between these villages, we, the children of Norma A, had to walk for more than an hour to school while those from Kgatu just walked for seconds into the school yard.
This was strange and surprising given the fact that the school was jointly built by the villagers of both Kgatu and Norma.
These were some of the things, which always made one to question the rationality of some of the decisions taken by our predecessors. Perhaps we only blame those who came before us, as perhaps that is natural to do so!
Norma A and Kgatu are both tiny villages in the Makgabeng area, which were brought about by the South African government’s land system of purchasing farms in the 1940s.
Norma was bought and occupied by the families of the clans of Ngwepe, Ramoroka, Mojela, Masekwa and Setumu. Norma A is surrounded by the villages of Uitkyk Number 3 in the east, Norma B in the north, Vienen (Viana) in the south and Kgatu in the west. Most of the clans in Norma A are the Bakone who originated locally in that Makgabeng area and they fall under Kgoši Matlala, under whose jurisdiction they bought that farm. Uitkyk Number 3 and Norma B were mostly bought and occupied by Batlokwa from Botlokwa while Viana was inhabited by various populations of the Mamabolo and those of Tsonga origins. Kgatu was bought by the clans of Manamela, Choshi, Boshomane, Sepuru, etc, who mostly originated from Moletji.
According to my later observations, among all the people referred above, the Bakone clans who occupied Norma A farm, appeared to have been the last ones to come into contact with western influences, including Christianity and formal education. The Moletji clans of Kgatu seem to have taken advantage of lack of education on the part of the Norma A clans when they entered into a deal of jointly building Noko Tlou Lower Primary School and Mogohlong Higher Primary School. That is why at the end of the day both schools were built on Kgatu’s backyard while the children from Norma A had to travel such a long distance to the schools which their own parents sweated to build.
During breaks, children from Kgatu were able to go to their homes and enjoy their meals while we, the children from Norma A, remained with dry lips because we couldn’t manage to go home and return within the break time. We only played with our hungry stomachs and back then we did not feel that unfairness, hence break was even called “play time”.
This implied that to those from Norma A it was “play time” while to those from Kgatu it was “lunch time.” Sometimes some people look at you scornfully when you frankly question such unfair things.
I really enjoyed going to school because that was something for which I waited for a long time. Our teachers at Noko Tlou were Mrs. Desia Ramoroka (principal) who was also living in Norma A; Mrs Ramashala, who came from Uitkyk Number 1; Mrs. Nkhumishe, who was living in Ga-Raoweši; and Ms Morifi from Early Dawn. In Sub A we were taught by Mrs. Nkhumishe and she was a wonderful mistress. I still believe that the first class in the child’s life should be the most difficult of them all because the child needs to be shown everything from scratch. Mrs. Nkhumishe was hundred percent good at that.
Noko Tlou was a well-built school with an attractive surrounding of jacaranda, fence and mulberry trees. The garden was looked after very carefully and it was always green and prosperous. Lemons, peaches, oranges, papaws and other different kinds of fruits and vegetables were grown in that garden. The garden was always watered from the nearby water hole, Nonono, which never ran dry. The fountain of Nonono also provided us with drinking water because by that time there were no water pumps or water taps. During breaks, those of us who could not go home to have lunch – because of long distance – the only thing we could “eat” was water from Nonono, and then we had to play, especially run around and kick tennis balls.
Although I am unable to recall exactly how was my performance in Sub A (1972) and Sub B (1973), what I still remember very well is that while I was in Standard One in 1974, during the mid-year examination I got position one!
I was tied to that position with a certain girl also from Norma, Tsoho Masekwa, while Richard “Sample” Boshomane obtained position two. Sample, who had just joined us in Noko Tlou from Tembisa Location – a big township near South Africa’s biggest city of Johannesburg – did not believe that a small rural boy like myself could snatch the first position ahead of him.
He openly complained about it and he showed that he did not expect a rural boy to be in front of a clever township boy. Anyway, that was that, and during that day of announcing mid-year results, lemons, peaches and other fruits were served to us in large buckets.
We were lined in queues according to our positions, and I – together with Tsoho – was leading the standard one pupils, followed by the complaining Sample. I was the first one in our class to receive fruits, and I received the most.
What a great joy that filled my little heart that day! It was really a good thing to have been the best among the rest.
Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).