Date Released: Mon, 11 November 2013 15:49 +0200
TALES OF A DIVIDED CITY
This is a collaborative piece between learners from Ntsika Secondary School and Pedro Tabensky.
The learners have been having conversations with him for a few months and wish through this article to reflect their thoughts and feelings about growing up in Grahamstown East. The result is a reconstruction of these conversations.
The mandrax-fuelled tsotsis are like a pack of hungry dogs, waiting to accost us as we walk to and from school in our uniforms.
The uniforms mark us out as those wanting to get out of here, wanting to be successful (rich, fancy-car-owning people), like those living in Grahamstown West.
Nothing happens in the location.
This is a place of dread. We can only succeed by getting out. That is why we often admire those who end up in jail. They have broken out, found new horizons in the confinement of their cells. The power of the gang is sometimes overwhelming.
The tsotsis want to possess us, to steal from us, want us to become like them, to become members of a family held together by a pact of violence.
They envy us, that is, at some level they want to be like us, but they behave in ways that express the lightning certainty that they are beyond that, that all they have to assert their presence in the world is the violent logic of the gang.
The tsotsis want to lower us to their level in order to put off the inner fire of envy. They want us to confirm their decision to leave school and to give up by successfully claiming us.
Our desire to succeed is interpreted by them as a personal affront, and they cannot forgive us for that. Our existence offends them. So they accost us, hungry for blood.
We black people hate each other. We are envious of each other. This is no place to be. There is chaos everywhere, and almost no love, even in our homes. We are alone, living with a vague dream that keeps us going, languidly. Our parents or grandparents don't show us much love.
Perhaps they would if we were a little less out of control. They try to discipline us with the cane. They are hardening us, preparing us for the worst. Our parents don't talk to us about sex. So we don't know how to respond to this powerful force. It becomes a drug to us, offering us temporary relief, like the tsotsis' mandrax.
Some of us also exchange sex for money and presents. But personal control requires hope. Without hope, there is no point in forfeiting the immediate pleasures of the flesh for more significant and enduring ones in a vague future that can hardly be imagined. What future? A mirage, out of focus and always distant. There is no ubuntu in the township.
You never know when you are going to die. School life is hard. There are so many distractions, and it is unlikely that we will break free. It is extremely difficult to preserve the distinction between wishful thinking and genuine hope in conditions where deep disappointment is almost unavoidable. Our youthful souls have been flattened.
We live in a state of perpetual depression. We laugh and play, but we do this in order to relieve the pressure in our chests and the heavy weight between our eyes. Dark rain clouds permanently overhead. We feel stuck. There is nowhere to go.
You may ask, why do we even bother going to school? We bother because the alternative is the gang. And the pull towards gang life is strong in conditions where success is almost inconceivable.
The standard by which we measure our failures are embodied in Grahamstown West. That place, on the other side, ever-present, cruelly teasing, stupidly ignorant of the fact that it is. We are hungry, hungry for food and hungry for a better life. Hunger makes you angry.
What does one do then? Everything is heavy. You never know when you are going to die. We are stuck. Pedro A. Tabensky, series editor and author of this piece, is the Director of the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics, located in the Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University.