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

African Times - - African 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).

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