My escape was also driven by a longing for freedom. And for that, I needed hope, but finding hope in the hopelessness was an indignifying process, an all-out psychological attack. To keep a sense of dignity and keeping the tender flame of hope alive became an all-out war—a war against all forces of society.
It was vicious a fight. It started at home and continued in all spheres of society. I think it was the worst in the family. It is in the family that my dreams were first squashed and trampled on. Inside my family, they did everything in their power to shatter dreams. And understandably so because their reaction was driven by their fear of failure, by their reality. They, too, were not allowed to dream, even though deep inside they wanted to.
Later on, I faced different levels of marginalisation in society. At first, it was class. As a poor boy, I soon realised that there were kids better socio-economically than me. And they made it their work to pointing it out. These bullies made sure you know your place in society. The parents and the teachers were no different. There were a few exceptions, but more often than not, they treated you with pity. They never believed that you can aspire to more. They looked at your clothes and where you came from, and that was it! They have made up their minds about what you will be in society.
Then race became a factor. At first, race was not a factor for me. I was too young to understand what it was. It was around 1997 that it started to make sense to me. In 1997 I joined Nuwerus High School. Nuwerus High was a “whites only” school during apartheid. However, after the 1994 elections and the 1996 Constitution, they were forced to take in learners that were classified as “non-white.”
At Nuwerus High, I not only realised how poor we really were but also experienced various forms of racism. The learners that were not white were treated differently. For example, I was able to distinguish which of the teachers treated us with pity and who treated us as underlings – as servants who were not worthy of being in their presence. They emphasised this part. For example, when the school opened in 1998, after the summer holidays, there were only three white learners left. They were the children of the teachers. The rest joined the more expensive school, which only white people at the time could afford. The high school had to close Grades 10 to 12 in 1999 because no learners were in these grades anymore.
This is where I realised that “non-whites” were “institutionalised” to serve white people. It was our destiny. It did not matter how young they were, you were supposed to serve them. I started to see how racism and poverty were connected. I am not saying that “white” people were not poor and that they were not subjected to similar experiences as I growing up. Some of the white kids were as poor as we were, but they were treated better – they were made feel at home.
I realised that I had several gifts. I was intelligent, athletic, and artistic. The harder society pushed me out in one area; I always seemed to find another interest and excelled. For example, I was overlooked in rugby because I was too small, and I didn’t have the finances to buy the gear. But I didn’t let that stop me from pursuing other sports. I started running. I realised that I was not the quickest over short distances but won middle-distance races because of my tiny build. And I applied this approach to all other fields I was in.
To be continued.