Sunday Times - - Humour -

The best days of pri­mary school al­ways co­in­cided with the few weeks the lo­cal teacher ed­u­ca­tion col­lege, Mpumalanga Col­lege, sent us stu­dent teach­ers for prac­ti­cals. The rea­son is ob­vi­ous to my fel­low Bantu Ed­u­ca­tion sur­vivors. “Nor­mal” school­ing in our time can fairly be de­scribed as one long, vi­cious beat­down by our teach­ers. And trainee teach­ers tended to be averse to met­ing out beat­ings.

Also, most of these young­sters in their late teens/early 20s were as meek as lambs. I re­mem­ber one trainee who was so ner­vous dur­ing her first les­son that gal­lons of per­spi­ra­tion flowed down her neck and into her blouse, while she tightly squeezed her han­kie into a sorry wrin­kled mess.

There was an­other stu­dent teacher who stood out: a cer­tain Mr Mafoko. I re­mem­ber his name be­cause af­ter he com­pleted his diploma, the school hired him per­ma­nently. He was a bun­dle of en­ergy, oozed con­fi­dence from ev­ery pore, and took to the class­room like a cadre to ten­ders.

But he had a habit of punc­tu­at­ing ev­ery sen­tence with, “Are we to­gether?” This might seem like an in­nocu­ous quirk, but when you’re 45 min­utes into a dou­ble phys­i­cal science pe­riod and you’re be­ing bom­barded with your 79th serv­ing of “Are we to­gether?”, it can be a tad an­noy­ing.

So, af­ter Mr Mafoko de­liv­ered what seemed like his mil­lionth “Are we to­gether?”, a voice at the back piped up: “Hhayi, u-to­gether wedwa!”

(You’re to­gether by your­self). Si­lence en­gulfed the room. His bright smile turned into a men­ac­ing scowl. “Who said that?” I sym­pa­thised as the blows from a bam­boo cane rained upon the poor bel­liger­ent soul.

That’s my segue into the fact that there are phrases folks use in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion that drive me to­tally bonkers. “Are you with me?” is one, or the equally in­fu­ri­at­ing, “Do you un­der­stand?” I feel like in­ter­rupt­ing with: “Have faith in my com­pre­hen­sion skills. You’re not daz­zling me with the me­chan­ics of In­ter­sect­ing Stor­age Rings, Te­va­tron or IS­ABELLE in the Large Hadron Col­lider fa­cil­ity. You’re only ex­plain­ing to me why my elec­tric­ity bill is so high.”

Other vari­ants of the same patho­log­i­cal need to be un­der­stood in­clude the equally an­noy­ing, “Al­right?”, “You see?” and the Afrikaans ver­sion, “Ver­staan?” (Un­der­stand?) I start fan­ta­sis­ing about grab­bing the other per­son’s ears and twist­ing them un­til they scream “Of course you un­der­stand!”

Do not get me started on the ti­tles and salu­ta­tions con­ferred on me ev­ery day. What grinds my nip­ples about this phe­nom­e­non is that folks ad­dress you with these ti­tles from a well-mean­ing place in their hearts. This is what made it dif­fi­cult, for in­stance, to tell the sweet old lady in the Dis-Chem at Kil­lar­ney Mall to stop call­ing me “sweet­heart” a few days ago.

I have no words for how much it grates me to be re­ferred to as “sweet­heart”. Or “dar­ling”. Or “skat”. And, like I said, these are the favourite terms of en­dear­ment of pleas­ant, friendly leop­ard-print ladies.

As for my black broth­ers, I have sim­i­larly big is­sues. The turn of the mil­len­nium co­in­cided with the as­cen­dancy of one Pres­i­dent Mbeki to the high­est of­fice in the land. He was re­ferred to as The Chief be­cause of his pen­chant for call­ing peo­ple “chief”. And so the “chief” era of salu­ta­tion was ush­ered in (along­side a grow­ing ten­dency for peo­ple to som­mer stick a ran­dom “in­deed” any­where in a sen­tence).

Ev­ery­where I go nowa­days, peo­ple ad­dress me as “chief”. The word con­jures an im­age of a grotesquely ro­tund man sip­ping sorghum beer, with a knobker­rie un­der his fleshy armpit. And I don’t think that’s me. Even in my na­tive isiZulu, my brethren call each other “nduna” (chief) all the time. It’s a term of ar­ti­fi­cial re­spect. It’s not ma­li­cious at all. That still doesn’t stop it from ril­ing me.

I’m not even go­ing to go down the mad­den­ing salu­ta­tions that, be­fore the dawn of democ­racy, were re­served for a white fig­ure of au­thor­ity. All of a sud­den we’re all “ngamla”, “mlungu”, “boss”. Drives me ba­nanas. As for my neigh­bours in Boks­burg, Benoni, Brak­pan, please ease up on the

“china”. I’ve never been to Beijing.

And see­ing as I’m in an equal op­por­tu­nity air­ing-of-griev­ances mood, my black sis­ters be­hind ser­vice coun­ters ev­ery­where, what is up with that con­de­scend­ing “Papa” when you’re ex­plain­ing some­thing? You know the one I mean: “No, no, no — your board­ing time is 12h35, Papa neh?” It makes me feel like a three year-old with my un­der­pants around my an­kles be­ing told, “Papa, we pee in­side the bowl, al­right?”

The word con­jures an im­age of a ro­tund man sip­ping sorghum beer, with a knobker­rie un­der his fleshy armpit


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