An uncomfortable answer – Lereko Mfono

“AFRICANS NEVER HAD FENCES! Or did they?” Shouts Mr. Samuels.

Mr Samuels, a history teacher in the Batho region loves questions. He makes strong statements but backs them up with questions which always lead to heated debates in his class. Today he is teaching his history class on the origins of separatism… “You see class, it is a lie this idea that Apartheid was the originator of hate, yes it did bring a new, more organized, more brutalized form of hate but hate was always there, and to make my point, Apartheid is gone now, but hate is still there, why so?”

Class Prefect Boitumelo is the first to oblige Mr Samuels, “Sir, surely Apartheid was the worst incident of hate in this country and that is why most people are still affected by it today” he says. Another shoots up a hand, Millicent Ndlovu, “Sir, a lot of people can’t get over Apartheid because they can’t forgive! And that is why hate has power, because of the lack of forgiveness”. Millicent’s statement is followed by a barrage of disagreements from her classmates “She’s crazy this one, how can you forgive apartheid!” “Why must we forgive but white people still live like kings!” “I hate Millicent’s comment!

Mr Samuels is all too familiar with the subject of hate having experienced it through his life. He witnessed hate when he was denied a path of medicine in University only because he was black. He witnessed it on many more occasions throughout his teaching career across diverse schools, but his greatest experiences of it have been in the Batho region where fences have formed the basis of his impassioned argument.

“There was a time where this region was known for its influence on ubuntu philosophy. There was a time where Batho were well acquainted with each other, there was a time where the people of this region were referred to as a family instead of families! But there exists, since my childhood these pillars of separation, these long, tall face brick fences that have acted as an instrument for our own separation!” says Mr Samuel.

“Mr Samuel how do you include fences in a conversation about hate?” A pompous Boitumelo asks. “Well”, Mr Samuels responds, “The concept behind these fences was that people could have privacy, so when these fences were gaining popularity, it was out of no other reason but privacy. Well guess what, privacy Batho got more than that, Batho became more and more estranged from one another. The fences created a distance and mistrust between neighbors, because at the end of the day, how do you trust someone you can never see again? These fences are a form of separatism, a domestic Apartheid if you may call it. Do you now understand what I am putting across?”

The class bowls over in laughter, fascinated by Mr Samuels’ analysis of the subject matter. One of the ‘cool’ boys seated at the back of the class, Kamohelo, responds “Mr Samuels, I think you are just trying to sound clever, we all know that the purpose of a fence is to stop the nonsense of thieves and house robbers, that is why they are called ‘di stop nonsense’!”.

This time it is Mr Samuels who gives off a sarcastic chuckle, “Well there are many events in Batho region that these fences could not stop Kamohelo, in fact they have done more for hate than stopping hate”, Mr Samuel responds.

“Events such as what Mr Samuels?” Kamohelo asks.

Some subjects hit straight to the heart, and such is the case for Mr Samuels. He retreats to his desk, having no desire to continue Kamohelo’s challenge. “Anyway class, hate has many layers to it, and I hope we continue to engage with the subject”, he says.

Mr Samuels still remembers very well the day his late father came home shaking and shivering because of an altercation he had at his family home in Qwa-Qwa. Mr Samuels’ father had gained an inheritance from his father that the Uncles were demanding that he split it amongst them.

“I don’t understand why they are demanding what does not belong to them. Bo Malume have never seen Ntate at all, even during his sickness they never came to see him or contribute anything to his hospital costs, everything was on me and now they want Ntate’s money, they will have no cent of it!” Mr Samuel’s father said.

It took not long after that for Mr Samuels Snr to catch on to the popular wave that had started to run through the Batho region. This popularity of constructing high wall fences. He took all the money from his inheritance and pumped it into the fence, building the most expensive of them all; a marble and tar fence that was at least twice the size of the regulars. For a while there was joy in the Samuels household, with passersby heaping praise to them and the family enjoying a great sense of privacy.

But that day came when the Uncles came to Batho region to observe what had become of the inheritance. They were met with the “Stop nonsense fence” and all hate broke loose. They marched into the yard demanding their shares of the inheritance, and when Samuels Snr told them that his money was all spent on the fence, an onslaught began.

Mr Samuels saw his father being paltered with di knobkierie by his uncles, a tradition only practiced to teach the young a lesson, “You see wena Teboho, we are doing this to teach you a lesson, for your father has done very wrong by using money for this fence here!” the uncles said to a young Mr Samuels. Young Mr Samuels shouted and screamed for help that day but none of the neighbors could hear him because the fences were too high and the house too enclosed for sound to travel out. The injuries Mr Samuels Snr received from that onslaught eventually lead to his death.

-“Mr Samuels you never answered my question” cool boy Kamohelo asks.

-“Well I just thought your question had greater effect left unanswered”

-“I think that’s a cop out Sir, you always say questioning is the basis of all learning, but if you are the only one who gets to ask the questions than when do we get to ask to learn?”

-“Okay fair enough, remind me your question again Kamohelo?”

-“You said there are many events that fences could not stop, so my question was events such as what?”

-“Well many events Kamohelo, if you want me to pin point one I’d say the death of my father could not be stopped by the fences. He was beaten in the yard by his uncles and no one could hear my cries for help, and no one could see what was happening because of the privacy afforded by the high wall fence”

Class Prefect Boitumelo enters the conversation, “Mr Samuels Sir, sorry for that tragedy but would you say that the fence was the problem or your uncles were the problem?”

“Interesting point, I would say the uncles were the first problem, and the fence the second, because of its failure to expose the crime to Batho” Mr Samuels responds, as the school bell rings and class adjourns. “See you tomorrow class, remember what we spoke of, Africans never had fences!”

As the learners exit, forgiveness advocate Millicent Ndlovu approaches Mr Samuels as she goes out, “You forgot to pose it as a question Sir, like you did at the beginning of class”

“Well Millicent I am stating it as a point of fact now, Africans really had no fences” Mr Samuels notes.

“You have taught us many things Sir and today you taught us that if a fence is a barrier, than Africans had many barriers and for you perhaps the barrier your facing now is forgiving the fence Sir, it did nothing wrong, people construct fences, not the other way around”, Millicent remarks and then leaves.

My students are really growing, Mr Samuels contemplates. He entertains the train of thought precipitated by his class. What is then the bigger problem, the fence or my uncles? My uncles became hateful to my father because of the fence or wait, was it their desire for money that started the hate? I am getting as confused as first year philosophy class. What is the problem, Apartheid or the architects of Apartheid? The architects caused apartheid, but even after they died apartheid continued which makes apartheid a sustained problem yet not the cause? Maybe I just need closure. Maybe I just need to hear my uncles say we are sorry and, and, and…

Mr Samuels on his way home looks over hundreds of fences, this time with a desire to look beyond them, there are good people on the other side, he comforts himself…

 

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

 

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