This se­ries fea­tures Dr Tlou Se­tumu’s works on our his­tory, her­itage and cul­ture. This week the ex­cerpt is from his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

African Times - - Africa History -

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).

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