Ahead of Free­dom Day, City Press fol­lowed two chil­dren to doc­u­ment their vastly dif­fer­ent lives

CityPress - - Front Page - Tolga is the son of a City Press staff mem­ber


At 6am, Thuli – short for Thulisile – Malinga is awake. The seven-year-old lives in a one­room back­yard shack with her fa­ther in Katle­hong. There isn’t much in the room – a tele­vi­sion, two chairs, a bowl and a few dishes on the shelves. The bed takes up most of the space. Aside from stick­ers of smil­ing faces and stars, there isn’t much ev­i­dence that a child lives there.

Free­dom Day may not yet be sig­nif­i­cant to Thuli, but it is rel­e­vant to her life be­cause the promised equal so­ci­ety is still not avail­able to her.

His in­come is not al­ways reli­able, but Thuli’s fa­ther Lucky Fakude (32) works at a fu­neral par­lour as a tent, chair and ta­ble packer, for which he earns about R400 a week. When he can, he gives Thuli a packed lunch and some money, but there are some morn­ings when she re­ceives nei­ther.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, she has a lunch­box and R2.

Thuli’s mother lives about 5km away with Thuli’s younger brother. Fakude says he has not paid lobola for his girl­friend of nine years be­cause he doesn’t have the money. With­out it, her fam­ily will not al­low them to live to­gether.

Fakude en­sures Thuli has her morn­ing bath, eats her break­fast of two slices of bread with but­ter, brushes her teeth and combs her hair be­fore 7am. He walks her to In­tokozo Pri­mary School, less than five min­utes away, and leaves to catch his taxi to work.

Other pupils ar­rive, some with their par­ents, others alone and others by bus. Just be­fore school starts at 7.30am, the chil­dren as­sem­ble near the class­rooms and be­gin to sing the school song.

In­tokozo Pri­mary is a no-fee school, says prin­ci­pal Obert Maz­ibuko. But Grade R, which is not sub­sidised by gov­ern­ment, has to be paid for. Fakude says they paid about R800 for Thuli last year.

Maz­ibuko says most pupils are poor. “Most of the par­ents do not work,” he says.

Some­times th­ese par­ents can­not give pupils all the sup­port they need and the par­ents may have lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion them­selves. Fakude left school in Grade 7.

Maz­ibuko says, de­spite their prob­lems at home, his par­ents try to help the school with dona­tions. The “spirit of the com­mu­nity” is one of his favourite things about work­ing at In­tokozo.

“When we call a par­ents’ meet­ing, they come in great num­bers,” he says.

But prob­lems per­sist. There have been bur­glar­ies at the school and what lit­tle they have is lost.

“Our com­put­ers get stolen. It’s very dif­fi­cult to replace that,” he says.

In­side Thuli’s class­room, colourful letters of the al­pha­bet dec­o­rate the wall above the win­dows. Above the chalk­board, the num­bers one through 10 are stuck on the wall, along with posters de­pict­ing dif­fer­ent shapes. The class­room isn’t small, but with 37 pupils oc­cu­py­ing the space, it can feel cramped.

Thuli’s teacher, Ms Bon­isile Gule, faces her own strug­gles with her pupils and their par­ents, who bat­tle fi­nan­cially and so­cially, which af­fects the chil­dren. When she sends work home, some re­turn the next day with lit­tle to noth­ing done.

Ed­u­ca­tion is not pri­ori­tised in some homes, she says. When her pupils re­turned from hol­i­day last week, she had to reteach some of her first-term lessons.

At about noon, the chil­dren are fid­gety. It’s lunch time. Most are eat­ing a packed lunch from home or one pro­vided at school. One girl in Gule’s class has noth­ing to eat. Gule en­cour­ages her pupils to share their lunches and a child of­fers to do so.

Thuli knows there are dif­fer­ences be­tween her life and those of others in South Africa.

“I’d like to go to a white school,” she says, ex­plain­ing that she thinks they have bet­ter food. Also, teach­ers at “white” schools don’t mete out cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, she says.

Thuli says her teacher doesn’t beat them, but she hears that it is dif­fer­ent in other classes. Maz­ibuko says the school does not use or con­done cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment. In Thuli’s class­room, the chil­dren fin­ish eat­ing and go out to play. When they re­turn, it’s time for their isiZulu les­son.

There are few af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause there is no hall or sports field, and Maz­ibuko says they try their best with a com­mu­nity soc­cer field.

Thuli walks home by her­self, stop­ping briefly at her aunt’s house be­fore go­ing to a neigh­bour across the street.

She changes out of her uni­form into a pair of jeans and a pur­ple T-shirt.

She claims not to have any home­work and takes a book that needs fix­ing out of her suit­case. She grabs a stick of glue and puts the book back to­gether. It is her isiZulu work­book. “It’s my favourite sub­ject,” she says, but quickly adds that there’s “too much work”.

Thuli dreams of be­com­ing a teacher. When she’s older, she says, she wants to pass her ma­tric, and buy a big house and a BMW.

Other chil­dren trickle in and Thuli starts play­ing hop­scotch and skip­ping with two other girls in the front yard. Their laugh­ter oc­ca­sion­ally dis­rupts the si­lence on the block.

A squab­ble erupts, and Thuli be­gins to cry. Her cry is loud enough to catch the neigh­bours’ at­ten­tion, but no one comes out­side to see what’s go­ing on. Her two friends re­alise they hurt her and try to comfort her with hugs, but Thuli, who hasn’t smiled much to­day, con­tin­ues to cry.

Later, Thuli fol­lows an­other child to the spaza shop on the cor­ner, where she buys and eats a bag of chips.

Af­ter 6pm, she re­ceives her sec­ond bath of the day and changes into her py­ja­mas. As she waits for her fa­ther, the neigh­bour gives Thuli din­ner of chicken and pap, which she eats in front of the tele­vi­sion.

Fakude ar­rives af­ter 7pm, but doesn’t stay long. He checks in on Thuli and leaves to take a bath him­self. She sits around wait­ing, watch­ing the soapies. When the TV no longer in­ter­ests her, she be­gins writ­ing in a mag­a­zine.

On some nights, she re­turns to her aunt’s home, where she falls asleep on the couch. When it’s time for bed at 9pm or 10pm, Fakude fetches her and takes her back to the shack.

MICHELLE BAO news@city­ Tolga’s day

It’s 6am in Blair­gowrie, 40km north­west of Katle­hong. Tolga Güles (9) un­tan­gles him­self from his blan­ket co­coon. He rubs sleep from his eyes and pads across his bed­room’s carpeted floor to give his mother a kiss.

“Come on, time to get dressed and have break­fast,” says his mother, Nicki. He nods, still half asleep. His mother checks that her daugh­ter, Saf­fiyya (11), is also up and hur­ries to the kitchen, where she pre­pares break­fast and packs their lunch of chicken sand­wiches and a naartjie. The gleam­ing is­land in the kitchen’s cen­tre is a cel­e­bra­tion of choice, with but­ter, bread, ce­re­als, veg­eta­bles and fruit on pa­rade.

Light pours through the large glass win­dows in the kitchen and liv­ing room. The din of the morn­ing news on the ra­dio, the whis­per of the stain­less steel fridge, the fi­nal zip of a school­bag packed and ready, and the du­ti­ful plink­ing through a pi­ano piece fill the four-bed­room house.

The framed pho­tos of Tolga and his fam­ily of­fer a glimpse into Tolga’s middle class life, the cul­mi­na­tion of gen­er­a­tions of priv­i­lege. His home was bought with the help of a de­posit se­cured by an in­her­i­tance from his great-grandfather. His life is en­riched by over­seas trips to Lon­don and Turkey to visit fam­ily. He spends hol­i­days with his univer­sity-ed­u­cated grand­par­ents, learn­ing maths and how to iden­tify 25 dif­fer­ent species of bird. His par­ents, who are both em­ployed, give Tolga and his sis­ter what was given to them, and more.

A lit­tle be­fore 7.30am, Tolga scram­bles into his mother’s com­fort­able SUV with his sis­ter and a neigh­bour­hood friend. They pass pri­vate se­cu­rity guards on pa­trol along their 1.4km route to Blair­gowrie Pri­mary School.

The for­mer Model C school, with its sports field, swim­ming pool, court­yard and state-of-the-art learn­ing fa­cil­i­ties – from the maths cen­tre to the me­dia cen­tre bursting with books – over­looks the city. Jo­han­nes­burg’s op­por­tu­ni­ties beckon the school’s 819 pupils, 55% of whom are black.

“I want to be an en­gi­neer one day be­cause I like to make things,” says Tolga. “I want to build a ro­bot that can cut bread for you. I want to cre­ate a choco­late that tastes the same but doesn’t make you fat.

“But I know I can be any­thing I want when I grow up. I can even be a cow – I’ve al­ways wanted to be a mas­cot dressed as a cow for some­thing.”

As the bell rings, Tolga and his fewer than 30 class­mates find their seats in Mrs Rene Nel’s Grade 3 class­room. Colourful lam­i­nated posters adorn the walls, urg­ing the chil­dren to “B Some­one U Would B Proud 2 Know!” and re­mind­ing them of their times ta­bles and vo­cab­u­lary in English and Afrikaans.

“To­day, for our les­son on healthy eat­ing, we’re go­ing to do a tast­ing ac­tiv­ity,” says Nel. “You’re go­ing to get a plate of ap­ples, grapes, or­anges, car­rots, peas and toma­toes, and I want you to taste each one and write down in your work­book a word that de­scribes what it looks like, feels like, smells like and tastes like. Re­mem­ber, we don’t want to use the word ‘good’ to de­scribe ev­ery­thing and I don’t want to hear any­body say things like ‘yuck’ or ‘ew’.”

Tolga rum­mages through his pencil case, filled to the brim with a variety of sta­tionery. Nel pe­ruses each pupil’s work, en­cour­ag­ing them to use creative de­scrip­tions and spell out words they are un­sure about.

“You can make or break a child who is strug­gling,” says Nel, who has been a teacher for more than 30 years.

“I try to in­stil a sense of self-aware­ness and pride in every child to get them to be­lieve that they can if they try.”

Nel cred­its prin­ci­pal Pat Oosthuizen with fos­ter­ing an en­vi­ron­ment of aca­demic achieve­ment, but also one of sup­port and de­vel­op­ment.

“The ethos of our school is all about the unity be­tween the par­ents, the teach­ers and the chil­dren,” says Oosthuizen, who has taught at Blair­gowrie Pri­mary since 1984.

“We have a strong school gov­ern­ing body and a strong par­ent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tion, which al­low us to raise ex­tra funds and charge school fees. It means we can con­stantly im­prove our school, hire ex­tra teach­ers and keep our classes small.” Tolga’s school fees are R18 715 a year. Close to 1.20pm, Tolga and his class­mates get antsy. As the fi­nal bell rings, Tolga grabs his back­pack and winds his way down the steps, past the Grade 1 class­rooms, to the pick-up area. His pri­vate trans­port, Granny Ann, drives him home and to the fam­ily’s do­mes­tic worker, Aun­tie Mma­pula.

Af­ter un­pack­ing his bag, Tolga finds his mother’s lap­top, con­nects to the fam­ily’s un­lim­ited fi­bre­op­tic in­ter­net and plays one of his favourite on­line games.

When his sis­ter re­turns, she signs in to the same game from the desk­top in their par­ents’ bed­room. The house is quiet ex­cept for the click of the key­board and the soft siz­zle of the stove as Aun­tie Mma­pula makes lunch.

When the vir­tual world no longer holds their at­ten­tion, Tolga and his sis­ter delve into the depths of their imagination, cre­at­ing fic­tional worlds and breath­ing life into their toys. Later, as Tolga does his read­ing home­work with his sis­ter, he voices each char­ac­ter dif­fer­ently, in a tone and an ac­cent he imag­ines would be­fit such a char­ac­ter.

“We try not to limit him,” says Tolga’s fa­ther, Bü­lent. “We want to be home early to look af­ter them and help them. Ed­u­ca­tion starts at home.”

It is im­por­tant to his par­ents that Tolga un­der­stands he is priv­i­leged. “To whom much is given, much is ex­pected. He must have em­pa­thy for and help those who don’t have,” says his mother. “Priv­i­lege is largely about what you have, but it’s also about what you have in your head: the tools you’ve been given to suc­ceed.” For Tolga, this is beginning to sink in.

“Priv­i­lege means I’m very lucky to have what I have. I have an ed­u­ca­tion, toys, books, ex­pe­ri­ences like trav­el­ling, a fam­ily, a roof over my head, clothes and food,” he says.

“I would say my life is lucky, ap­pre­ci­ated, lovely, full of fun and ex­cite­ment, and happy.”

Af­ter din­ner, a lit­tle be­fore 8pm, Tolga’s mother tells him it’s time for a bath and bed.

“Come lie with me,” Tolga says to his mother as he climbs into bed.

Tolga wraps his arms and legs around her as the two share a pil­low, touch­ing fore­heads and whis­per­ing about his day. As he drifts off to sleep, she gives him a kiss, turns off the light and wishes him good night.


OUT OF HABIT Tolga Güles plays pi­ano at home be­fore school


FAMILIAR SIGHT Thuli Malinga watches a soapie on Thurs­day evening in her neigh­bour’s house

LI­CENCE TO SUC­CEED Tolga Güles in Mrs Nel’s Grade 3 class at Blair­gowrie Pri­mary School in Jo­han­nes­burg

AGAINST ALL ODDS Thuli Malinga in Ms Gule’s Grade 1 class at In­tokozo Pri­mary School in Katle­hong

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