Sunday, July 26th
It has been one week since my last blog post and two weeks since I lived among a portion of South Africa’s forgotten citizens: the more than 10 million people—most of them unemployed—who live inhumane existences in neglected settlements surrounding major cities.
Life has changed drastically for me since leaving Kliptown. I am now living comfortably in a 24,000 square foot property on the cusp of Soweto known as Meredale. Across the road, Southgate Mall—complete with water fountains, escalators, movie theatres, grocery stores, and elite black South Africans whose tastes in apparel are just as haute couture as their taste in cars—constantly reminds me of neo-conservative, developed, privileged and consumerist South Africa—and it’s sharp disconnect with a vast majority of it’s inhabitants.
It pains me now to say that when I used to go to this mall while living in Kliptown, I felt at ease; no longer forced to stare poverty in the eye each time I dodged toxic puddles that separated densely-populated tin shacks adorned with young women washing, cooking, and carrying infants on their backs; no longer immersed in darkness early in the night; no longer looked at as a bitter enemy and beneficiary because of the color of my skin, I felt less responsible, more ignorant in the mall.
Mere steps away from indignity, rape, alcoholism, human toil, suffering, and the want for basic necessity, I wrapped myself in a purchase of an England soccer zip-up and a movie ticket at Southgate. Even in the depths of Soweto, I could not evade Hollywood and the fickle, hollow perception of security that mindless consumerism with it brings. Or maybe it was just the mall itself: a warm, safe structure conducive to the gathering and interacting of people. Even today, while I can’t be sure what made me feel so peaceful at that mall, I know returning to a routine of abuse, labor, and stunted growth in Kliptown was daunting.
But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and since my time away, I realize what a blessing being exposed to such a jolting reality was; indeed, often times I wish of trading in the heated carpet under my back, the omnipresent light between the shadows, the constant internet connection, and the padlocked gate around this castle which I now call home, for the endless internal thought and societal pondering that I could not escape among the petrol-smelling, dilapidated shacks in Kliptown.
The Afternoon of Monday, July 27th
Living in Luxury
Driving to Peggy’s that whirlwind Sunday afternoon, I knew my South African and Soweto experience would dramatically change, both for the better and worse. The wheels of Thulani’s car rolling through the winding roads of Meredale, an upper middle class, predominantly black suburb on the outskirts of Soweto, we finally arrived at our destination, not even the brick fence fortified enough to shield us from the sprawling garden—only half of which was budding because of the current winter season—that beautifully crawled up and down the big, brick house like an overbearing poison ivy. Two small cars stood in the gated garage behind the powered fence and across from the house as if to symbolize the only remaining piece of the rich man’s puzzle.
Thulani’s eyes widened as he personally came to grips with his country’s crude, abrasive economic disparities. After only having driven less than ten minutes, Thulani, who has admitted to wanting a better life outside of the slum because of his lack of retaining it—due to communal gossip, envy, and misconceptions—in Kliptown, was confronted with another world, a world that blacks have attained and live while his day-to-day is confined within a shack.
The gate opened while a small, aged, friendly white South African couple greeted us at the front door. We would soon be told that this was Peggy and Bruce, or Foss—full of shit, as Bruce likes to say—and Brucie, or Presh—short for precious, as Peggy adoringly calls him. As they gave us a tour of their house and the flat that we would be occupying for the next month, I watched Thulani become increasingly anxious and uncomfortable, his face either expressionless or full of anger and embarrassment, the former a reaction to centuries of discrimination and tyranny by whites, the latter an undeniable shame in, regardless of what anyone else thought, knowing what filth you came from and were shortly returning to.
Peggy’s sweet, white South African accent interrupted my powerless sympathy for Thulani.
“And although there is no washer and dryer in here,” she said as my gaze went from her mascara’d blue eyes, across the flat, through both sets of windows, and finally to the crisp, still baby blue waters of the swimming pool in their backyard, “we do have a washer in the spare room attached to the house.”
“Oh, so there is a washer,” I said, neither surprised nor disappointed.
“Of course,” she said, her mouth curdling to reach another puff of her cigarette, a permanent fixture in her hand. “I don’t do my own washing.” Although it was obvious Peggy didn’t have any ill-intentions or malevolent superiority in saying that, her innocuous comment was a perfectly smelted dagger in the heart of Kliptown, its words a constant reminder of the painful and seemingly permanent barrier between the haves and the have-nots.
After explaining that no, the flat wasn’t heated, Peggy stood over three invisible pads underneath the warm, fuzzy carpet, and said that once plugged in, the pads provided heat for the flat. Although I’ve never mentioned this to Foss or Presh, ever since tossing and turning in the cold on a rock-hard duvet that first Sunday night, I permanently relocated myself onto that heated floor, my preferred place of slumber until today.
Living in the flat reminded me what it was like to live in comfort, in luxury, in excess. It’s nice; neither necessary or unnecessary, heated floors, poorly-pressured shower heads, and hot water are undeniable satisfactions that more than half of the human beings living on this planet will not only ever enjoy, but will never even know the sensation of.
Alternatively, the flat has also brought uninvited problems into my daily routine. A long, confusing, impractical, and precarious walk from Kliptown, living here has banished me to a schedule not of my choosing. Instead of going to KYP to visit with Thulani, Pam, Christina, Nelly, and 375 of my closest brothers and sisters whenever I pleased or going for a run at the Kliptown field, my days are now filled with going to a fully air-conditioned, equipped, and modern gym, reading, and trying to get away from the relentless, persuasive beckoning of the single-most symbolic instrument of modernization, want, and mindless escape: the TV. Despite my earlier whining that living in Kliptown induced mental decay, it is surprising how little is accomplished in a modern flat where one’s personal space is limited, interrupted, and exploited by modern entertainment and interpersonal relationships.
South African Superstitions
After retiring around 10 PM the first night at Meredale, I fell fast asleep and woke early the next morning to find Bruce, who has accumulated his wealth by sustaining a lucrative blind manufacturing business, calling for Wonke, Bruce’s personal Zulu laborer who lives in a flat slightly similar—though less prestigious—to ours on Bruce’s property.
“Wooooonke,” Bruce loudly yells to the polite, 35-year-old Wonke, a man Peggy says is fine and good but is often spoiled by Bruce, who, according to Peggy, loans Wonke thousands of rand (ZAR), takes unexplainable days off without compensation, and cuts work. Wonke, who has three children to support, lives alone in the flat.
Yawning loudly and wiping my eyes with my fists, I walk towards the door facing the pool and turn the handle. Brucie, an avid conversationalist who will talk until either the sunset or narcolepsy hits his latest contender, spots me right away.
“Good morning,” he says, his bright blue eyes piercing mine, his Santa Claus stomach protruding from his torso slightly more than it was last night. “You haven’t seen the garden yet, have you?”
“No,” I said, perfectly conscious of just having committed myself to the arduous task. And so after an hour and half, I had finally seen the luscious Garden of Eden.
Mesh wire cylinders filled with rocks holding a pot of overflowing flowers, apples barely hanging on nails waiting for hungry birds, a myriad of different colored cacti, and water peacefully dripping from stone fountains, Brucie said the upkeep garden, which was, he carefully pointed out at least three times, both engineered and built with his bare hands, would not be possible without the help of hired weekly gardeners. He didn’t mention whether they were black or white.
South African Superstitions
Starring and diligently ‘ooo-ing’ and ‘aaahhh-ing’ at his various masterpieces and sometimes barely audible stories while my breath and urinary tract painfully reminded me of what I had left to do that morning, I noticed a break in Brucie’s stream of consciousness and decided to make a break for it.
“You see this,” he said, as if eager to foil my mental plan with a game of wits, “this I also made myself. He pointed to a bronze cutout figure hanging on the wall.
“Can you tell what it is,” he asked, hoping I wouldn’t guess.
“No, what is it?” I conceded.
“They are owls: scare away the blacks,” he said in a calculating tone, as if sharing an age-old secret with me. “They are afraid of owls, and snakes, too.” He pointed to his current work-in-progress, a slithering bronze snake. “If they see this, they’ll stay far away and never break-in. According to their tradition, or something. Weird, if you ask me.”
“Yeah, weird,” I said, glad I had stayed for the duration of the botanical tour to experience white South African stigma towards blacks, accurate or not.
Peggy and Bruce are not racists, nor do they hold certain stereotypes against blacks. Peggy is keen to recite me her favorite claim to fame on many an occasion: her brother Patrick was part of the South African Communist party and dedicated much of his life to the liberation struggle under apartheid before the iron hand of the Nationalists severely stifled any political dissent during the 1960’s with the passing of the sabotage, treason, and state of emergency acts that forced him into a self-imposed exile.
Peggy’s son has a black adopted son, and Brucie, although hesitant to admit Wonke as his ‘friend’ when I suggested as such, deeply cares for and nurtures Wonke as his own son, providing him a, relative to the standards of most black blue-collar workers, plush accommodation.
Despite those facts, Brucie has, more than once, admitted that for the majority of whites in South Africa during that blasphemous half a century—much like the majority of Russians and Ukrainians in the former Soviet Union who knew nothing of the outside world and swallowed Stalin’s propaganda of industrialization and growth through torturous five-year-plans and the supposed gains that came from the injustices of a communist despot—the prevalent idea of the white minority as inherently superior over the black majority held a lot of weight—the untangling of such an engrained theory would take Bruce almost 60 years to accomplish, he admits.
Still, despite their egalitarian stance—both in speech and practice—towards the 80% of the citizens in South Africa, there are times when imperialist philosophy can’t help but seep into kitchen conversation.
“But when you think of it,” Brucie says, not wholly confident, perhaps still reciting his high school lecture, “most of the countries in Africa would not be where they are today without the white colonizers. They built infrastructure, developed industry, and invested in trade.”
Although an argument I have heard before, even from the most liberal Iranian professor at UMass Boston when making a case for colonization, I decided instead of picking a useless fight, to give myself the most valuable of gifts: attentive listening.
But Peggy changes the subject.
“You know one thing that continues to make me mad about Patrick is the stuff that comes out of his mouth sometimes,” she said after a long and what appeared to be pleasing drag of her cigarette. “You know my son’s adopted child, the black one,” she said as she waited for my confirmation of her statement.
“Yes, I remember,” I answered.
“Well I remember a few years ago Patrick telling Dwayne, my son and the adopted father of this black child, that it wasn’t right adopting him and that the child belongs in his own culture, with other blacks. Can you believe that? And he even tells us that we don’t belong here in South Africa—that we should move.”
“And what does he suppose he’s doing here, living in the Cape, being just as white as you are,” I asked, dumbfounded that a liberal freedom activist who supported Mandela—a brave man who helped pioneer the non-partisan and multi-racial Freedom Charter, a document promulgating a united country for all South Africans—would disprove of a mixed family.
“I know,” Peggy said, “he’s insulting.”
Far from the racial harmony and understanding that the most ethnically and racially diverse country on the continent strived for at the onset of democracy in 1994, South Africa is still at bitter war with itself: whites, regardless of whether they are Afrikaans or not, continuously find themselves defending their political and cultural beliefs in the face of criticism again racism, historical affiliation, and work ethic, as a result finding solace only in other whites who bear the same societal burden—as the obvious minority—ultimately acting to strengthen ties between their cohesive community; Indians and coloreds are also united in their defense against the blacks, who resent their historical privileges during apartheid and continued affluence; while blacks—or Bantus, the name of South Africa’s original inhabitants who traveled from the Niger-Congo region—who comprise 80% of the country, psychologically revolt against all other creeds and colors, including blacks of other tribes (such as a recurring theme on the most popular Soap Opera in the country, Generations, where a ‘gogo’, the local term for grandmother, persistently, and in no nice terms, tries to persuade her Zulu granddaughter to give up her dreams of marrying ‘that Xhosa boy’) in an effort to show their disdain towards the stark socio-economic differences that persist in the country today.
And still there will always exist the rare anomalies that confuse South Africa’s mixed political and ethnic landscape even further: elite blacks who, after working on gold mines, being employed by Afrikaan masters during indentured slavery, or going to a prestigious school, speak Afrikaans and are ostracized by the rest of their race; radicals like Patrick who think racial integration constitutes yet another form for white imperialism; or people like Peggy and Bruce, who, despite their most genuine efforts to remain just, constantly fight capitulating to stereotypes against blacks when they get stopped at a red light in Johannesburg by a threatening black man who demands money, as was the scene last week, a perturbed Peggy explained.
An extremely difficult country in which to live because of the visual contrast of us against them, or ‘the other’, and the multi-dimensional hierarchy of wealth and power, South Africa today is more divided than it is united. Indeed, many blacks have been left out of ‘Mandela’s South Africa.’
Madiba, Mandela writes in his ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’ is both the anti-apartheid hero’s Xhosa clan name and the name of one of his many sons, all spawned by different wives.
Madiba is also the endearing term which garners the most respect for the now ailing former President, and when Nastya and I were watching TV last Saturday, Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday, that term was most often used when referring to the ‘inspiration’ and ‘pride’ the living national icon instilled in not only South Africans or Africans, but the human race.
Throughout the duration of the day, TV programs had entire segments dedicated to Mandela the child, Mandela the Xhosa, Mandela the teenager, the man, the political pioneer, the prisoner, the president, and the legend. Men who spent many of their lives in Robbin Island with Mandela, former ministers in his administration, friends, and colleagues all donned themselves to speak about their experiences with Mandela; helicopters equipped with long-range video cameras swarmed Mandela’s mansion in Haughton—a multi-millionaire enclave of exquisite wealth, rivaling some of the most expensive and elegant Hollywood homes; and people all over the country were beckoned to do a selfless deed in their community for 67 minutes, a figure which, when subtracted from the current year, represents the year Mandela officially acted on his political consciousness and embarked on his long walk to freedom, beginning with rejecting the conventional wisdom elite blacks were taught about the honorable Englishman and climaxing with Mandela’s attendance at his first ANC meeting.
The Apartheid Museum
Keen on avoiding what was sure to be long, winding lines of locals and tourists alike at South Africa’s most comprehensive Apartheid Museum, my group and I decided to pay tribute Sunday to the most sophisticated and long-lived example of institutionalized racial segregation in the history of mankind.
The museum itself is situated right off the M1 highway, between Johannesburg and Soweto, on the same plot of land as Gold Reef City, a property now an amusement park but long ago one of the vastest gold mines, one that was owned by whites yet labored by black South Africans and foreigners from across the continent looking for work during an industrial boom. Workers were paid next to nothing in return for working more than 12 hours, were mistreated, beaten, exploited, and if lucky enough to survive the wrath of their master, died in work-related accidents in record numbers; the rich history of South African protest and revolt began with one of the largest mineworkers strikes organized by the Communist party and the ANC in 1946.
At the entrance of the museum hung three identical banners, approximately 20 feet high and 4 feet wide, that bore Mandela’s face in different colors—not unlike Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup cans. The museum, a large building that inside traveled through time with each tourist like a labyrinth, was more wide than it was tall, made purely of brick, and completely unassuming. In an effort to evoke emotion and create a sense of identification between the subject and the historical implications of apartheid, museum staff recreated the entrance as a typical 1950’s or 60’s South African entrance.
“European Entrance Only, by Order” the sign above John’s head read. The museum employee motioned him and Nastya through it.
“Non-European Entrance Only, by Order” was the sign under which I was told to walk. And so I did. Checking my dignity, pride, morals and smarts, I was now just a thing, distinguished only by race and the inability with it associated. I walked underneath the sign, between the walls, through the entrance and into a room full of giant ID cards that classified people as either Zulu, Xhosa, African, European, Colored, or Asian; as with all other layers of apartheid, material goods, including ID cards, become more desirable with rank—unchanging, permanent, hereditary rank. While the cards—referred to as passes, to be shown by all citizens at all times to enforce apartheid rules and regulations such as residency, familial ties, and segregated employment—for Europeans were professional and organized, the cards for Zulus were thinner, carelessly signed, an lacking order. Although by 1955, eight years after apartheid, some 12 million people had been registered under the Pass System, the security measure was in reality implemented to control and targeted at South Africa’s silenced democratic voice: blacks.
The museum, complete with riveting photography, video, audio, hanging nooses, regulation prison cells, Nationalist propaganda in the form of newspapers, radio broadcasts and movies reminiscent of Hitler’s Mien Kampf, and millions upon millions of words of commentary, was a vast time capsule that left no injustice unprovoked.
After the Brits and Afrikaans signed their Treaty of Union peace accord 6 years after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, they drafted a constitution that largely left out South Africa’s primary inhabitants, blacks. This marked the motivation for the 1912 inception of the ANC. After contestation within the organization about whether or not to support struggles at the same time independent and overlapping with ANC principles of democracy and racial unity, the ANC unanimously agreed upon a coalition of forces including trade and labor unions, communists, feminists, Indians, and Coloreds, forming a hypothetical document called the Freedom Charter, signed in Kliptown in 1955. The beginning of defiance against the state also marked the escalation of its suppression: the violent quelling of women’s revolts against the government banning their homemade beer production, one of the only sources of income for African women, made international headlines, as did the enormously successful 1952 Defiance Campaign.
Mandela, who was one of the architects of the ANC Youth League—a younger, more exuberant ANC branch meant both to bolster membership and revitalize the dimming organization—was also an ardent proponent of racial inclusion in the ANC and the most faithful advocate—in the face of strong opposition—of the MK, the ANC’s military wing.
Once Mandela was certain that freedom could be achieved only by taking up arms and fighting the state with its own weapon of callous indifference, the MK began training for acts of sabotage, guerilla warfare, and ultimately, revolution. Mandela was sent to Ethiopia to meet the last emperor, to the Congo, Sudan, and at least five other countries on the continent to secure regional support and funding for what would become South Africa’s ‘final solution’ to apartheid; he was arrested in Durban upon his return and sentenced to five years in prison. Once the MK headquarters was raided two years later, Mandela and half a dozen other MK organizers were spared the death sentence and charged with life imprisonment on Robbin Island, a time during which the strength of the ANC waned and labor unions such as COSATU played an integral role in mobilizing radical opposition to apartheid policies.
The last two decades of apartheid were marked with the most radical, mobilized, and determined youth movements in South African history, leading to the famed, bloody 1976 Soweto uprisings, a single picture of which remains one of the most memorable of all time: A crying woman, with fear and irreversible devastation in her eyes, as the backdrop to a young, bleeding, unconscious man being frantically carried away during the riots that left hundreds dead, most at the hands of vile and careless police brutality. The young man, who died instantly, was Hector Petersen, to whom a Museum is dedicated in Soweto; his sister is one of the KYP board members and I plan to interview her at the next meeting in early August.
The Nationalist reaction to the stiffest form of defiance the state had ever seen was unprecedented: torture—including rudimentary water boarding—exile, lifetime imprisonment, draconian prison sentences, summary executions, political assassinations, and assisted suicide were all tools by which to punish, muffle, and prevent opposition. The sporadic yet nevertheless practical use of biological and chemical warfare by the Nationalist government against political dissidents, later to be sold and used in Angola, was another covert instrument of the state.
Although the scars of apartheid were deep and the casualties many, the loss of life during the transition period to democracy, from 1991-1994, were more than four times that of the apartheid era. With Afrikaan communities betrayed over the Nationalist government’s concession to hold peace talks with kaffirs, the Afrikaan term for the N word, black communities betrayed over the ANC’s concession to hold peace talk with the devil, and bitter in fighting among ethnic South African blacks, the country that was praised for being the only in the history of mankind to come to democracy without a battle was indeed on the crumbling verge of civil war.
After Mandela’s release from Robbin Island following 27 years of imprisonment, a portion of which was solitary, the man with the support of the nation was able to quiet the people.
Peggy’s chilling words still echo in my head: “If that man, and I can’t even say his name because I’ll cry, if that man came out of prison and he was mad….”
She didn’t have to finish. I did for her.
8 Minutes to Midnight, Monday, July 27th
“Many blacks have been left out of Mandela’s South Africa…..”
Referred to as ‘service delivery’ protests, slum riots have captured the front-page news again and again the last few weeks: one in Durban, one on the outskirts of Johannesburg—all desperate, all violent, all hopeless.
Midnight, Tuesday, July 28th
Images of burning tires surrounded by angry faces waving metal rods and clenched fists fill South African newspapers daily as of late. Underneath the photos, journalists quote locals proclaiming to be ‘tired of broken promises’ by ANC councilors and ‘demand to have their needs met.’ Those unmet needs—lack of electricity, power, infrastructure, health care, and education—are the same as the needs of millions of others waiting to die in South African ghettoes, all of which were, according to the ANC, slated for abolition in 1994.
‘SERVICE DELIVERY RIOTS TURN XENOPHOBIC,’ one headline read last week about the Durban riots, which began with loud singing and chanting and evolved to the violent looting of shops owned by Ethiopians and Zimbabweans.
12 months shy of the Soccer World Cup, suffering South Africans continue to have at their whim plenty of attention—and courage—to exploit towards their own justified ends.
At last word, the Zuma administration appointed a committee to investigate the so-called lack of ‘service delivery’.
Teacher Training II
Early Tuesday Morning
The second batch of teacher training—consisting of the ten out of the total 13 teachers at Lilydale—occurred on the 15 and 16th of July, when we met with the teachers for four hours each day. Although we had two previous teacher training sessions in late June where all teacher attended, disparities between the rate of understanding were evident among the teachers and it was obvious we had to start from scratch—not a play on words, for all those OLPC-friendly readers who may be confusing ‘scratch’, the term used to refer starting from nothing, to ‘Scratch’, a program on the XO that allows the user to create graphic animations and designs—during both July sessions.
The days were divided by a noon lunch; the first portion of the day revolved around basics such as battery life, turning your XO on and off, saving files, a brief introduction into the most useful—subjective indeed—programs on the XO such as Read, Write, Calculate, Scratch, Record, Memorize, and Wikipedia, navigating your XO, accessing the mesh network, and most importantly, stopping functions using the border.
Although most of the teachers’ English skills were commendable, to some teachers, who have never even used a computer before, if was tough to teach simple technical lingo that we take for granted, such as mouse, hover, drag, ect. Phindile, who acts as the spokesperson for all the teachers at Lilydale, instructs math, and speaks almost impeccable English, had the XO down in a matter of hours and her agitation for the redundancy of the training was apparent. That redundancy was also necessary, though, for teachers of the Zulu tongue, like Job, had a very difficult time keeping up with the speed of the training and almost at all times required assistance.
Because we didn’t want to have the teachers constantly depend on us for help and instead wanted to empower them with the tools necessary to lead a successful school deployment at Lilydale, we decided it best to prepare subject-specific questions that can be solved using programs on the XO—and require navigational skills to complete—for the teachers. In total, four questions based on Math, Science, English and Social Studies were created. The teachers did relatively well, completing—in varying degrees of success—the first two problems. The next day, the teachers worked on the remaining two problems for the first two hours and following lunch, we discussed practical matters including their thoughts on the deployment, on the XO, on its practicality in class, the storage of the XOs, and the most contentious issue to the teachers—while the most integral to the OLPC mission—the ownership of laptops.
Although all of the teachers at the first training agreed that the idea of joint ownership—official ownership of the XOs would be had by the school while each student would be granted the opportunity to take their marked XO home once the learner, as they call students in South Africa, demonstrated a commitment to the program and his/her education—could be successfully enforced at Lilydale, the second batch of teachers were opposed to it entirely, or at least until they could discuss the advantages and disadvantages in depth as a collective group.
Most of the teachers agreed with Phindile that the XOs, especially in a high-risk area like Soweto, represent an attractive bounty for criminals.
“We are worried that when these kids take the XO home, their unemployed brothers, sisters, and maybe even parents, will steal the XO and sell it, or keep it for themselves,” Phindile said during day two’s discussion to the agreeable murmur of the group. “So I don’t think we are prepared right now to make that decision, but we are so grateful to have been chosen as the school receiving these computers.”
Similar heartfelt sentiment followed from the rest of the teachers as we wrapped up the training session and began talking enthusiastically of the July 22nd launch.
“We truly feel so blessed to be a part of this project and we are so excited to begin,” said Joyce, a grade 5 Social Studies teacher.
“So you think you will be ready to incorporate the XO into your curriculum as soon as next Friday,” I asked with hesitation.
“What are we waiting for,” Joyce exclaimed at the top of her lungs while the rest of us, full of glee, piled out of the administrative building.
The OLPC Lilydale Launch
We arrived to Lilydale Higher Primary School at 8 AM for a 9:30 AM OLPC launch and began assembling chairs, preparing audio equipment, and perfecting the speech we had prepared the night before. It was a beautiful sunny winter day and I, along with my group members, was walking around in only my KYP t-shirt, one that, might I add, garnered much praise and admiration.
As the clock neared 9 AM, dignitaries from the Guateng Ministry of Education and local community leaders began sticking out like sore thumbs among the 300 uniformed children that swarmed the outside courtyard where the festivities were to be held—their sharp attire and gigantic height compared to the kids gave them away.
As the kids noisily shuffled into the five rows of multi-colored chairs at a quarter past ten and Mr. Mohamed, the District Director of the Ministry of Education, and my group members and I watched them with delight from the podium row, Phindile began her headlining role as the Master of Ceremonies.
“Good Morning and thank-you for coming to the One Laptop Per Child Lilydale Launch,” she said into the microphone before inviting the courtyard to join her in the singing of the national anthem, a mix of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, and Sesotho—its awkward breaks made apparent by mumbling children and adults alike.
Then the choir, the District Manager, Mr. Mohamed, and Phindile all extended their most benevolent words to OLPC, our team, and Thulani—who is himself alma matter of Lilydale—for bringing XOs, education, technology, and incentive to Lilydale’s young generation.
After my speech, which will be posted shortly hereafter, John, according to a list of all grade five learners, called each name one by one to receive their XO while Nastya assigned each XO a number with a permanent marker.
The children were chaotic with adrenaline.
Mesmerized by the energy of the explosive potential the 89 learners giddy with excitement about their very own XOs were dispelling on me, I failed to notice Mr. Mohamed motioning for me to join the District Director and him on the other side of the podium row. Jumping at the chance to sell the idea of expanding the project to the entire municipality of Gauteng—the smallest yet most populous and industrious in South Africa—I pulled up a chair and rushed to be of assistance.
The District Director didn’t waste time.
“I want to make this project Soweto-wide, maybe even Gauteng-wide,” he said as I tried to mask my excited shock. “Can we make that happen?”