All hail the teacher of knowledge
There are people in this country who are more powerful than philosophers. They switch on the light that chases away the darkness of the mind. They are our teachers.
My first teacher was Mistress Mathabela, who made me read newspapers in class and kindled my love of them. If you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it, it is thanks to a wonderful woman.
My first school became a victim of forced removals, so I moved to Theo Twala Primary in KwaThema. I was taught the importance of deadlines by Mistress Nyembe. Being the slowest in the class, I took longer over my work than my classmates.
Mistress Nyembe had to wait for me. One day she threatened to lock me in class if I didn’t finish on time. As the other children left, I shook with fear. And she did exactly as she had promised. She got up, closed the door, locked it and walked away. But she was back a few minutes later, to send me home.
Then there was Mistress Kali. When she heard me talking about “potolics”, she called me aside and warned I’d be arrested for using the word ‘politics’.
How could I not mention Father Benedict, who raised a fist in church and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika when it was banned? For the first time I enjoyed thesweetnessofdefyingauthority, eatingforbidden fruit inside the Lord’s house.
As for Mfokza, Principal Mofokeng, on the bus we used to sing: “Iyo, re bana baMofokeng. Iyo, Mofokeng oa kgona.” (We are Mofokeng’s children. Mofokenghasimmenseability.) Hewalkedaroundwith a small sjambok in his hand, saying: “Bafana, ngizon’ bulala.” (Boys, I’m going to kill you.) But he said it with affection, always. Unlike most teachers, Mfokza never punished an individual; he punished the whole class. KwaThema was a tough neighbourhood with many gangs. Hail Mofokeng. You beat the prison out of us.
My standard 5 teacher, Mr Fusi, taught me patience and forgiveness. One day in class, Mabhengu, Moses and I held a farting contest we called “chemical warfare”. Moses fired first, a small, quiet one. No one complained, a few girls trying only to fan away the smell. I was next. The fanning increased. Finally, it was MaBhengu’s turn. It was quiet but produced an industrial-scale smell. It stopped the lesson. I laughed so hard I was accused of being the perpetrator. ButMabhenguwasouted. TeacherFusi merely told him to refrain from doing it again.
Mnr Kodisang was the teacher who had the unenviable task of teaching us Afrikaans. But he made us love the language and literature. We lived Bo die Kranse and understood Die Ander Wenpaal. Beste Mnr Kodisang. Ek is baie dankbaar dat ek só ŉ goeie leermeester soos jy gehad het.
We devoured the Bambatha Rebellion through Thisha Nhleko. He read us Nje Nempela by BW Vilakazi until we were experts on African resistance.
Our biology teacher, Mr Mthombeni, reminded us that our rulers were dumb, and he expected us to be better in every way.
Finally, there was the late Mr TV Debese, or Cap, as we called him. He called everyone mazambane, or potatoes, but inspired each of us to do our best.
As a nation, we would be foolish if we failed to recognise the power of the teacher.