I use this as a forum for what I call “Occasional Opinions” these opinions are entirely my own and these grow at will from various different stimuli. This past fortnight I have felt bombarded with different things which have in some way or another sparked off a chain reaction of thought. They may well feel to others as completely unrelated but together they have sparked off ideas in my woolly head.
The TV has been full of issues on Hair, I have been reading a novel set around the Atomic test at Los Alamos, today at TGIF I heard a wonderful speaker on dealing with privilege in the way that Christ did, and various bits of music old and new have been circulating in my mind.
Before the Municipal elections there appeared to be a growing need to stir up emotions relating to “racism”. So much so that it felt as though there is an underground chamber somewhere where political gremlins are at work and their only occupation is scouring social media for any instance of racism, which would have gone completely unnoticed by the general public and blowing it up to cause the most social antipathy and divisiveness possible.
The elections came and they went with all the excitement and change, the like of which we have not seen in years. Immediately following the first Municipal council meeting in Pretoria which was now no longer under the control of the ANC …… we got racist HAIR.
I am sure that if you checked with older teachers, and they gave the matter some consideration, you would find that they would all agree that girls in Standard 7 / Grade 9 are probably at their most inflammable. Just give them even the sniff of a grievance and they will go off like a bomb. I can only speak for girls, as I was one, and my school experience was of a “girls-only” school (but so is Pretoria Girls High). We were probably younger in our Standard 7 class than the current girls in Grade 9, both chronologically and emotionally. But believe me we were horrid. It was in Standard 7 that we tormented the nun in charge of our class into a near breakdown. It was in Standard 7 that we went on strike after a school swimming gala, when we were told to go back to classes for the afternoon sessions. It was in Standard 7 that we played tricks on our science teacher that nearly drove her bonkers. It is in Standard 7 that it is very easy to see yourself as “badly done by”. In Standard 7 you are the center of your universe, and nobody understands you at all. Nobody has ever felt like you do ever and never will. In Standard 7 we all looked prim and proper …… but we were little different from the Grade 9s of today. The nuns did not make a big issue about hair, in government schools (particularly Afrikaans medium schools) they were far more strict about tying back long hair … but this was 1962 … By the end of the next year a large number of the girls in that class went out to work, I think that for most of us, we knew that our parents were having to pay for us to be at a “good” school and we were preparing for exams which would allow a lot of us, who were not going to go through to Matric to leave school with a qualification. When we were not tormenting the teacher we worked hard.
I have absolutely no problem with uncovering issues of racism, particularly towards the young, but the timing and the highlighted issue is, in this case, very suspect. There have been small mutterings about issues of girls being challenged for speaking their mother tongue, but these have largely been glossed over, there have been remarks about teachers treating girls differently based on their colour, but these too have been glossed over. The issue for the girls (which in a way I can understand) and less understandably for their parents, has largely been one of HAIR. I suppose that it is the one thing which they can make visible. And while they are getting all hot under the collar and marching around feeling great at being one of a mob and “getting at the teachers” what is not happening is ….Education. One of the biggest problems underpinning all the other problems in South Africa.
There was one girl who, in a sense, became the TV face of the Hair issue.
This is in fact a “privileged” child. She is the daughter of a family who can afford to send her to one of the best girl’s schools in Pretoria. She belongs to a family who can afford for her to have the full uniform and the fancy hair. She is articulate as she is receiving a good education. In a few years, her parents will be able to send her to the University of her choice. But she is badly done by. Because someone might have objected to her Afro – a fashion from 1970’s America. Had she spoken about mistreatment in the classroom, I would be sympathetic. As it is my mind goes back to 1962 and us going on strike because we wanted to go home instead of back to class..
This girl is at a school surrounded by beautiful grounds. She is not in a township school with classrooms like this one in a primary school we used to use for Church services in Mamelodi. This school was well cared for by the school authorities but still had holes in the floor, sagging ceilings and drab walls. But still learning takes place there.
When I woke up this morning the music in my head was from the musical Hair, I never saw it back in the 70’s and am not relating to the music for any other meanings than that of Hair as a form of rebellion. I watched the video this morning, after we came back from TGIF and the very thought provoking talk given to us by Themba Gamedze on privilege and healing in Christ, and was fascinated by the beginning of the video, where the woman immediately linked long hair in a man to homosexuality. (One of the matters which had been mentioned during the talk having referred to the way in which the initial Rhodes-must-fall movement has started to fragment into more and more specific protesting groups some of which are based on gender issues.) This video was made nearly 40 years ago in the dark old days – but even then Hair was seen as a form of rebellion.
In 1964 when I was in Standard 9 (grade 11) there was a new Teen Magazine which came out called Fabulous. It was an A3 size mag with full size pages which could be used by teenage girls as posters. It arose in the days of the Beatles, who in the eyes of our parents, were positively outrageous, their hair was SO long.
Then came the Stones – the group that the parents “loved to hate” – I find it fascinating today to look at those pictures which brought forth such ire! That Terrible Hair
most of our parents have not lived long enough to experience what they have become!
You simply have to laugh!!!
Issues of Hair will come and go. I guess it may always be an outward sign of rebellion. But here in our country, we have much bigger issues hiding behind this. Yesterday on ENCA they had one of their earnest staffers interviewing a young black woman and asking her about White People’s opinion about Black Women’s hair. For me this displayed, exactly, one of the problems of our old and tormented history. If ENCA wanted to find out what opinion White people had about Black Women’s hair, why not ask someone white? If she wanted an opinion from a Black Woman, why not ask her about her feelings related to her hair, and why she may or not feel that white people had any opinions about it at all. She may well have been surprised, and may have opened the window to a discussion.
It all eventually boils down to Education.
In 1976 there were the first really severe rebellions linked to Education and started a whole era where the mantra was “Revolution before Education” which certainly brought change in the next 20 years but led to a whole generation of uneducated and unemployable people. In the new South Africa of 1994 there were a number of educators with vision for something better, most of whom ended up side-lined as the years have developed a system in which the lowest-common-denominator seems to be the acceptable mean. Now we are already losing educators of the calibre of Prof Jonathan Jansen to retirement. Instead of providing an education which challenges to excellence, over the past 20 years we have lowered standards & passing percentages. Instead of providing a better education for all we have just made it easier to pass.
An obsession with University Education as the only option has lead inevitably to the current problems of there simply not being enough available money to give University Education to all. Back in the bad old days, there were Teacher Training Colleges, there were Technical training schools, there were apprenticeships. Many young people chose technical training and by obtaining skills have been able to make a life and a job for themselves, not all went to work for others. People were able to make things with their hands. Many years ago, at the initial emergence of the NDP I remember Blade Nzimande talking on the radio about plans for educating people at all levels – I assume that this is still just a plan! Now all we seem to get are endless people with an MBA who want to draw exorbitant salaries and manage other people. They announced the other day on TV that our Iron and Steel industry is about to collapse. Who cares?
When I left school the girls who went to University, firstly had to get a Matric which was good enough to allow them to go and were those who
- would need a specific degree in order to do what they needed to do and had parents who could afford to send them – or were clever enough to get a bursary
- those whose parents could afford to send them, and who would probably meet “Mr Right” in their first year and drop out.
Students have always been revolting. It is in the genes of students to rebel. It is their right to ask for things to be better. Through all time they always have. The question is – does burning down a Law Library make anything better? Destroying knowledge, and denying it to students who want to learn. It just smacks of the Nazis. It smacks of ignorance. It does not say anything about the value of education.
Back in the days when Teachers themselves went to be taught at Training Colleges we were living in Durban North and involved in a Youth Group at our church. One of the people who used to come and talk to the group was one of these “teacher of teachers”
He is one of the people who said memorable things and was particularly gifted in encouraging people to think. There are two particular things which have sprung to my memory this week.
At one of the meetings with the Youth Group young people of 13-16, children of middle-class families at good schools. Driven kids who needed to perform at school. Very articulate. The youngsters were incensed over the issue of a caning that had happened at the Boys High school in the area. Railton let them talk about it and then asked them – What have you learned from this? In the resulting discussion he brought them to see that “You do not have to love your teacher, you do not have to love your class, you can go to school and learn nothing but that what you learn is what you make yourself available to learn. You will learn about injustice be being exposed to it. It does not make it right, but it is still an opportunity to learn” He encouraged them to open themselves to all sorts of learning and not to shut themselves off by anger. Yes they could be angry, but they should learn from it.
At another time he asked the group – “How do you define ‘Intelligence?” The kids talked about it at some length about it and put forward all sorts of definitions. At the close they said to Railton – “how do you define it?” His answer has always resounded for me for the past 40 years. He said – “Intelligence is what shows in what you do when you do not know what to do”
Where are the teachers like him now to challenge the youth to channel their anger? We have too many adults just too willing to add fuel to the fire.
On the way back from TGIF this morning a different tune was running round in my head which somehow also spoke to me about the fact that things do not ever really change, this tune goes back to the late 1950s which makes it 60 years old but the things (and the places) it speaks about are the same today.
THE KINGSTON TRIO
“The Merry Minuet”
They’re rioting in Africa. They’re starving in Spain. There’s hurricanes in Florida and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans. The Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch and I don’t like anybody very much!
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud for man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.
They’re rioting in Africa. There’s strife in Iran. What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man.
I have been reading a novel by Joseph Kanon called Los Alamos, in which a man called Connelly is employed to solve a murder, in the midst of the secret testing of the Atomic Bomb at Los Alamos. Everything there was secret. People had numbers. There was one Post Box address for all the people working on the project. Security watched everyone. There is a fictional description of the Trinity Test in the book which paints an effective picture
Suddenly there was a pinprick, whiter than magnesium, a photographer’s bulb, and he was blinded with light. It flashed through his body, filling all the space around them, so that even the air disappeared. Just the light. He closed his eyes for a second, but it was there anyway, this amazing light, as if it didn’t need sight to exist. Its centre spread outward, eating air, turning everything into light. What if Fermi was right? What if it never stopped? And light was heat. Bodies would melt. Now a vast ball, still blinding, gathering up the desert at its base into a skirt that held it in place, like a mesa made entirely of light. The ball grew, glowing hotter, traces of yellow and then suddenly violet, eerie and terrifying, an unearthly violet Connolly knew instantly no one had ever seen before. Eisler’s light. His heart stopped. He wanted to turn away, but the hypnotic light froze him. He felt his mouth open in a cartoon surprise. Then the light took on definition, pulling up the earth into its rolling bright cloud, a stem connecting it to the ground. How long did it take for the sound to follow? The hours of light were only a blink of seconds and then the sound, bouncing between the mountains, roared up the valley toward them tearing the air. He staggered, almost crying out. What was it like near the blast? A violence without limit, inescapable. No one would survive.
Los Alamos – page 555
this is followed a few pages later by an obviously fictional conversation with Oppenheimer
…. “Out there” Oppenheimer said, indicating the far edge of the blast area. “ I want to get away for a bit. It’s quite safe as long as we don’t go near the crater. You need a lead lined tank for that.” The paved road ended a short distance past the bunker. Out on the dead sand , Connolly looked toward the huge blast crater, the sun reflecting off what seemed to be pieces of green glass. “The ground fused. In the heat” Oppenheimer said calmly. There was no destination. After a while they simply stopped and got out, looking around at the empty desert. There was no sound at all in the new silence, not even the faint scratching of lizards and insects. Oppenheimer stood still, looking at nothing. “The worst part is, I was pleased,” he said suddenly, still looking away. “When it went off. It worked.” Connolly looked down to where the funhouse mirror of the morning glare stretched their shadows out along the ground. “They will blame you’ he said. Oppenheimer turned to him slowly, surprised. “You think so? Prometheus?” “No. Fire was a gift. This is a curse”
Joseph Kanon 1997
The question in my mind this morning was – are we in the middle of a “Nuclear Test” of our Education. When all the protesting and the fire and the burning and the righteous objections to everything is over will everything of value be gone? Will those who have worked to stoke all this righteous anger say “When it went off it worked?” and will the reply be “Learning was a gift, This is a curse”