HIS STORY IS HISTORY
In this NEW series, featuring Dr. Tlou Setumu’s works on our own history, heritage and culture, this week the excerpt is from his autobiography, HIS STORY IS HISTORY
After passing my matric at GH Franz High School in 1983, I was employed right there immediately as a private teacher in January 1984, teaching among other subjects, History in matric. I effectively came to teach those classmates of mine who had failed that highest class the previous year! Coming to payments, I did not receive my remuneration for a long time because I was told that my documents were still being processed at head-office in Lebowakgomo, the then “capital” of the Lebowa “homeland” government. As a result, I continued to struggle financially. I still continued to put on the same old clothes almost every day to school.
My shoes became worse and I had to mend them regularly because they were old and they got torn very easily as I walked to and from school every day. Ndala Kgakwa, one of the private teachers employed with me in the same year, apparently felt pity for me when she saw me with the same clothes every day. One day she called me aside and she gave me two brand new shirts, which were still wrapped in plastic. I whole-heartedly thanked her for giving me the blue and green long-sleeved shirts. But I then began to worry as I began to realise that there were people who were closely watching my form of dress which was not up to the standard of being a teacher. As a result, my self-esteem and confidence were negatively affected.
I eventually received my remuneration after three full months. It came in one cheque of over five hundred rands. To me that amount was heaven and earth. To a young, tall, thin village boy who had never pocketed something over fifty rands, that amount was more than anything I had expected. That amount was an accumulation of all the months I had worked without being paid. At home my mother shared my joy as now we could buy what we have been running short of. I then agreed with Mmane Selina to accompany me to Dendron – a tiny, one-street Boer dorpie, in order to make shopping. I preferred Dendron to Polokwane because it was small and therefore less complicated as did not want to take chances with such a “large sum of money”.
I bought many different things in Dendron: trousers, shirts, T-shirts, shoes, takkies, socks and under-wears. I was tired of putting on old rags. I also bought my mother and Mmane Selina some clothing and light shoes, which they liked. As far as grocery was concerned, I bought so many stuffs which some of them I had never seen before. In supermarkets I just picked almost each and every item – particularly tin stuffs – which attracted my eyes. Because I grew up eating mostly pap and morogo, I thought that it was time for us to taste various delicious foodstuffs. The paper bags, which we carried, were heavy, full of different kinds of groceries.
Because I was still enjoying playing football, I bought a green pair of long socks and I also looked for soccer boots. In one shop I picked up a box containing a pair of soccer boots and while I was still looking at that box for prices and sizes, a certain lady who was assisting in that shop came over to me. She then whispered to me and promised to give me that pair of boots at half price. While I was still half-puzzled she took that box of soccer boots and hid it between her thighs and asked me to follow her outside. Just outside the shop, I paid her half the price of those boots and I put that box into my paper bags. To my dismay, when I arrived home I discovered that those soccer boots were of the same foot: they were all right-foot boots. I was shocked, and there was no way I could return them and get the right ones because I got them illegally. I did not have a slip that could prove that I had bought them in that shop. From that day I learnt that I had to buy things straight from the counter, no more moshashasha.
One of my favourite things I bought with my first salary was a small radio-cassette player – because I loved radio and music so badly. It was small but it produced a powerful sound that was enough to drive me crazy. I bought some few empty cassettes and some of the first music tapes that I bought were Burn Out, played by Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, The Best of Gregory Isaacs and another nice one of The Soul Brothers.
The year 1984 was one of the highlights in my life. It was the year in which my life suddenly changed. That was mainly because as a young boy of about nineteen years, I became crazy as I began to walk around with few rands in my pocket. The year 1984 was around the period in which South African music industry undergoing some kind of a revolution. It was around that period saw the emergence and shooting to the top of great South African musicians such as Sipho Mabuse, Chicco Twala, Brenda and The Big Dudes, Mercy Pakela, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Lucky Dube, Benjamin Ball, Ray Phiri and Stimela, Paul Ndlovu, CJB, Ebony, Cheek to Cheek, Condry Siqubu, Splash, and many others. My craze was obviously fueled by the hits of those artists who always kept us on the dancing floor.
I enjoyed this 1984 craze with my peers and friends, particularly Nelson Tlou “Teenage” Ngwepe. Because of my intense love for reggae, I even earned a new nickname: “Toots”. I came to be called Toots because of my special love for Frederick “Toots” Hibert who led his reggae band, The Maytals. I acquired most of his records, and the first one I bought was his live album, Reggae Sunsplash of 1982 – and later followed up with albums like Reggae Got Soul.
The one hundred and seventysix-rand salary that I received every month was used for various family necessities. Even though that money was little, it was able to take care of our family as we bought food, clothing as well as other day to day needs. However, that money was far from being enough to fulfil all we wanted. For instance, despite that money, I still slept on the flat floor and I still lied on my stomach when I was writing my things. Not that I did not want to buy a bed or a table, the money was just not enough. I was often embarrassed when my friends came to my home finding that we did not have such things like chairs where we could let them sit. It also made me feel very, very bad to think that people knew that I was a teacher while I continued to live in the two old huts that we inherited from Malome Jackson. As a result, I was always worried about my situation but with my meagre salary there was very little, if not thing, I could do. I was also unable to save money because almost each and every cent I received, had to be used up for domestic things – supporting my sickly mother and my small younger brother.
The bad feeling that I was living in a not-good-looking home despite the fact that I was a teacher, continued to haunt me and it seemed to grow each day and night. At school at least, I solved the problem of how I was looking by buying clothes and shoes. I now felt better than before because I knew that I was nearly looking like my colleagues. Although that helped to boost my confidence and enhance my self-esteem at school, that was not the case at home. Because my home was very close to our playground, I often felt ashamed when we hosted matches during weekends because I knew that most of my friends; my pupils and colleagues from other villages would see our old huts that were my home. During those games we used to host, sometimes some of my friends would ask me to go and drink water from my home. I sometimes felt like taking them to some other people’s homes, but that was not possible. As a result, I would reluctantly take them to my actual home with great embarrassment. I always felt guilty when such friends came to see that a teacher was living in the two old huts whose grass on the roofs was almost rotting. I always blamed myself as if I was the one who created all the hardship and poverty in my family.
Most of the people who worked as private teachers during those days, proceeded to tertiary studies after saving the money which they had accumulated. However, that was not to be the case with me. It was difficult – if not impossible at all – to save money during the year 1984. All what I received was used up by family necessities, and that amount was not even enough for everything we needed at home. As a result, proceeding to a college or university, to me it was a pipe dream. Even if I had money to pay my initial tuition fees at a tertiary institution, I wouldn’t have had someone to pay for my other things such as transport, food and other day-to-day necessities.
Towards the end of 1984 Mrs. Ntjie called me and asked about my future prospects. The sense of guilt again hit me. I felt as if I played with all the money without thinking about my future, particularly my studies. I felt like being an idiot in front of Mrs. Ntjie as well as in the eyes of the whole community.
Instead of dismissing me as a fool, Mrs. Ntjie was very sympathetic and then extended my teaching post into the 1985 academic year, thereby giving another chance. She then came up with an advice which undoubtedly came to shape, determine and influence my future. She advised me to enrol for a BA degree on a part time basis with the University of South Africa (UNISA). I think she came up with that advice after realising that my financial situation was so bad that I couldn’t afford to go to university or college full time. I later learnt that she also obtained her university degree through part time correspondence. She suggested that I should register four courses at a go and then in the next year, another four, so that I finish my degree by taking the last two in the third year. She trusted my abilities but she warned me that distance learning required hard work, dedication and self-discipline because there was no one with a stick to force you to study or do assignments. There was no way I could have rejected Mrs. Ntjie’s advice. I knew that she knew me, and I trusted that she had all my interests at her heart.
I registered four BA courses for the 1985 academic year during 1984 December holidays at UNISA regional offices in Polokwane: Northern Sotho I, History I, Education I and Biblical Studies
I – with N. Sotho and History as major subjects. When the schools re-opened for 1985 I returned to GH Franz for another private teaching year. I still harboured a deep feeling guilty, thinking that other teachers thought that I ate up the money which was supposed to have taken me to tertiary institutions. But I concentrated on my UNISA BA degree which at least consoled me – and as they would always say, the rest is history.
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).