LETTERS

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

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It was 8 June, my 14th birth­day, and I was filled with that fool­ish de­light that this ran­dom oc­cur­rence will deliver to those who are still im­mor­tal. As I tripped into school bear­ing a birth­day cake for my fel­low im­mor­tals,I was stopped in my tracks by a Ms. M (I shall keep her name from you for the sake of pro­pri­ety). She was a flam­ing red head who had is­sues with bound­aries. For ex­am­ple, the life-skills class had re­cently taken a turn into the sur­real and the supremely gross when she had las­civ­i­ously demon­strated the cor­rect way to slide a con­dom onto the erect male mem­ber by us­ing a banana. Not cool.

Par­tic­u­larly un­cool be­cause she also hap­pened to be hav­ing trou­ble with the stu­dent­teacher re­la­tion­ship boundary at the time. Word in the cor­ri­dors, heav­ing with teenage pheromones and Axe de­odor­ant spray, had it that she was con­duct­ing a fla­grant af­fair with a grade 11 pupil.He was the kind of boy who hap­pened to be adored by ev­ery­one. By ev­ery­one, I also mean me.

Charm­ing, smart, sporty, po­etry-read­ing and beau­ti­ful. He lived in that glow­ing, blond, an­gelic space cer­tain boys oc­cupy just be­fore they reach full male­hood. As a lowly 14-year-old I did not fea­ture in his 16-year-old uni­verse, not even as a speck of so­lar dust. But I would watch him cir­cle my fir­ma­ment with much moony-mooching and an in­ex­pli­ca­ble feel­ing of deep de­spair. Did I men­tion I had just turned 14? Ms. M, de­spite her ques­tion­able for­ays into sex ed­u­ca­tion, was, it tran­spired, also an author­i­tar­ian. In my ears on that fateful morn­ing were my new birth­day ear­rings from my par­ents. Care­fully pur­chased to co­in­cide with the ‘rules and reg­u­la­tions’ that stip­u­lated girls can only wear one ear­ring per ear,and this soli­tary adorn­ment should be a sleeper or a stud. My birth­day studs, as it hap­pens, were square. Teeny, tiny, per­fectly formed flat squares. Not ugly, round, pro­tu­ber­ant lumps (I re­jected those out of hand), but sub­tle, clever, prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble squares. Sadly Ms. M was like a small, red-ear­ring aber­ra­tion-de­tec­tion ma­chine. She swooped in like a drone and dropped her ma­li­cious bomb. ‘These ear­rings are not reg­u­la­tion.’ She was not in­ter­ested in the se­man­tics of square ver­sus blob, or the birth­day cake I was car­ry­ing and high-hand­edly broke my spirit with a dou­ble de­ten­tion. She did it with much evil cack­ling, just be­fore she took off on her broom­stick, to shag the kid next door. I was in­censed. I was livid. I was shaken to my very core. Here was a per­son in a po­si­tion of ex­treme author­ity who bla­tantly broke the 30-cen­time­tre rule (you know the one stat­ing boys and girls should main­tain a dis­tance of a ruler be­tween them at all times). Surely two rulers should ap­ply be­tween teach­ers and pupils? Yet, this child mo­lester was nev­er­the­less in a po­si­tion to dis­pense ex­treme pun­ish­ment for a mi­nor in­fringe­ment that had ar­guably never been com­mit­ted.

There are cer­tain wrongs per­pe­trated against one’s per­son, that the per­son can never re­ally for­give. Ever. These wrongs tar­nish your once-in­no­cent out­look and charge your life with the fire and brim­stone of re­tribu­tive jus­tice. These wrongs take the world and shift it in­stantly into a new, brighter, harder place where you see the in­jury with the pierc­ing clar­ity of the mad and the young. The sheer in­jus­tice of it all burnt a stripe of an­gry re­sent­ment in my teenage heart at all ob­vi­ous abuses of power. A week later I took to hand­ing out 16 June pam­phlets, which some friends of mine had brought onto school property and which got ev­ery­one into some real trou­ble. My dou­ble de­ten­tion sud­denly looked like child’s play by com­par­i­son.

Clearly this is a story about how a fash­ion choice can be­come the cat­a­lyst for a youth spent in pur­suit of so­cial jus­tice. But it is also a story about e-tolls, and Nkandla and the com­ing elec­tions. Be­cause un­like my be­lea­guered 14-year-old self, who had no means to al­ter the course of her swift and damn­ing de­ten­tion, we now live in a democ­racy. And when our lead­ers think noth­ing of ap­ply­ing the rules se­lec­tively for their own ne­far­i­ous in­ter­ests, we do have a way of putting a brake on their broom­sticks.

It’s the new sea­son and we have a bumper fash­ion edi­tion to share with you – I am to­tally ob­sessed with the new take on la­dy­like glam­our, shot through­out with se­duc­tive, sexy charm. Bring it on, I say (page 89). This month, you can­not have failed to no­tice we are naked… 2014’s cam­paign is the re­sult of a chance meet­ing with Topaz Page-Green, who in­spired me with her bril­liant project The Lunch­box Fund and Feedie. Help us feed our na­tion’s chil­dren (page 45).

(PS:Years later I met the mother of the boy in ques­tion,who told me this harpy had in­deed been sleep­ing with her son and it had taken him many years to re­store his equi­lib­rium, stop smok­ing the spliff she had in­tro­duced him to and come back from her ma­lig­nant im­pact. I have no words.)

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