Lebohang Letlape, a young African man, whose passion is so abundant and debonair that it valiantly illuminates his character. He was raised by both his parents, Mr and Mrs Letlape.
They lived in the dry and dusty streets of Mmotong wa Perekishi; Polokwane. It was a small village, rich with Sepedi culture and the so called “primitive practices” that were crippled by colonizers, political conspiracies and the hardships of poverty. His father was a working middle class man who earned a fairly generous salary, whilst his mother was simply a housewife. Lebohang was a reserved, stillness young man with ardent morals like his father. He didn’t have many friends, except his genuine childhood friend, Mpho, who stayed few houses away from his home. They both were attending the same school; Thutohodimo High school, and were in grade twelve in the same class. At school, Lebohang’s popularity with educators was generated by his uncle; uncle Jack, who attendant the same schoo a few years before Lebohang. According to his former class teacher, Mr Boroko, uncle Jack was the naughtiest student to ever attend Thutohodimo High school. “I used to share the same cigarette with your uncle”, said Mr Boroko reluctantly. “He used to wait for me at the gate. Once he saw my car, he would rush to me and ask for a cigarette: “Skyfe meneer! Skyfe asseblief tog, menneer” Mr Boroko reiterated. “Sometimes I would catch him smoking with the principal in his office….if not, I would catch him with a juice bottle sipping alcohol sheepishly at the corner of a classroom. And he would claim that it’s not alcohol in there, it’s his medication given by his doctor.” The boys cracked with laughter. “What a recusant young man he was.” He said; shaking his head to the memories. Lebohang and Mpho were cracking with laughter. Mr Boroko continued to entertain the boys: “Have I told you that, your uncle once left his shoes in my classroom?! Boy, even a fly couldn’t resist that bad odour.” Lebohang and Mpho cracked with more laughter, both eyes filled with tears. “He claimed to be removing bad luck which affected his marks during the class tests.” The boys couldn’t hold themselves. “But eventually you did proceed with the lessons, right?” Mpho asked. “No way”, replied Mr Boroko: “We had to dismiss the lessons for the entire day. And then your uncle went on to complain to the principal that I don’t want to teach him. He claimed that I am jealous that he might score an A+ on his next test”. “Wasn’t he passing his subjects?” Lebohang asked, wiping tears from his eyes. “The highest mark your uncle scored was 50%, after successfully copying other students of course,” replied Mr Boroko casually. “Your uncle was a definition of the word “Trouble” I tell you. At least, you are nothing like him,” he assured Lebohang.
It was almost towards the end of the first term when Mr Boroko announced to the students that they will be having visitors from Limpopo University on Friday. They will be briefing them about their career choices. The event was happening once every year for grade twelve students. However that year the window was opened for grade eleven’s too, since it was considered that they too are closer to complete their high school level. Lebohang and his classmates were excited and enthusiastic about the day. Most of the students knew which courses to pursue, but were not sure of the scores required from them. Among them was Mpho who wanted to study electrical engineering, but was struggling massively with mathematics. His alternate course was a Law Degree, but his English was as broken as a dry stick. On the other hand, Lebohang was worried about the relevance of the subjects taught at his school. He wondered if they would help him qualify for the course he intended to study. If so, what subjects were needed to qualify for such a course? Never mind the scores. Unlike his friend, Lebohang did not have an alternative course to pursue, except that his parents; like any other parent, wanted him to study medicine. The idea resonated sincerely in his mind. It endeared to him affectionately, but it was distant to his heart. He attempted to dismiss it, but it stubbornly remained. He knew that he does not want to be a social worker or a psychiatrist, not even a President of the country or a medical doctor like his parents’ wishes, or be an engineer like his friend, nor have Law as an alternative. He only had one option. He was determined and willing to study something different….something that no one in his village of Mmotong wa Perekishi ever dreamed of…… something his classmates never imagined….something his teacher, Mr Boroko, never hoped for.… something his parents never thought their child is capable of dreaming. As Lebohang’s imagination went wild, he found himself smiling alone with the entire class staring at him.
It was Monday morning, back at school, and every grade eleven and twelve student was still talking about their last week’s Friday career guide. A lot of students faces were enlightened by the information learned. Most of them were looking forward to the rest of the year ahead. It was a fascinating day for many. Unfortunately it didn’t seem so for Lebohang. He felt like an outcast. He was still clueless about which subjects were needed for the course he intended to study. He stood alone at the corner of the classroom, leaning against the wall, as he observed his classmates walking up and down like ants. They all seemed free, excited and on top of the world. Others were planning to attend extra classes on weekends, whilst others bragged to work extra hard in their next class tests. Among the students was Lerato; a very beautiful, attractive young girl; built like a glass menagerie, curvy hips, chocolate brown skin, afro combed hair and enticing breasts that gave both young and old men reason to empty their pockets in quick succession. His eyes stayed on her breast, whilst his mind, slowly, seductively, unbuttoned the top three knobs of her dress. Her juicy lips parted by few centimeters. He was already drooling as he inhaled her warm fresh breath. “Mmmh, what a yummy mummy!” He would say, biting his lips. “Yes! Right there baby, right there!” She would gasp for breath as her sweet melodic voice sang the “Ooh yeah” anthem. Lebohang’s wild imagination was disturbed by Mpho’s rough hand harshly tapping his shoulder, “O moja boss”? – Are you okay– he asked. “O bonagala okare o bone sepoko,” – You look like you’ve seen a ghost – he said, mockingly. “I am cool man”. Lebohang replied, embarrassed. Meneer Boroko o satse a tsene ka tlelaseng. A re ye bosso -Mr boroko is already in the class. Let’s go.”
As they were walking inside their classroom, Lebohang was forcing to steal one last glimpse of Lerato.
In the classroom, everyone was taking their seats. Mr Boroko was shouting on top of his lungs to quieten his students. After exasperating minutes, he managed to get control over them. They all sat quietly facing him. They were waiting for the first word to come out of his mouth. He took his moment, eyeing everyone like a shepherd counting his sheep. After clearing his throat, he greeted everyone, took a pause and eyed the students at the back row. “I hope you all know which courses to pursue next year at the University.” There was a response from half quarter of the class, with others nodding commitally. “I also hope you know which subjects will help you qualify and how much scores are needed for that to happen.” There was another response, this time, a boy and a girl at the back row confidently exchanged high fives. Mr Boroko couldn’t help it but to give them attention. “You two at the back”, he called. “What do you plan to study next year?” The boy couldn’t allow a second to pass him: “I want to study civil engineer, sir”. He said loudly. “You will be constructing roads. That’s good.” Mr Boroko approved. “And the young lady?” “I want to be a social worker, sir.” She replied, dryly. Mr Boroko then asked several other students, who were enthusiastic about their career choices. He then turned his attention to Mpho. “I want to study electrical engineering, meneer. Heavy current.” Said Mpho. “Well, that’s good young man. Are you aware you have to score higher marks in mathematics?” He asked with concern. “Yes meneer.” Replied Mpho, confidently. “Are you up for a challenge?” Mpho took a split second before giving out his answer. “Yes, meneer” He replied, his confidence slightly shaken. Finally he turned his attention to Lebohang. “At least you do know which of the subjects to score high marks on now Lebo, don’t you?” He starred directly into Lebohang’s eyes. Lebohang felt shy to give out his answer. He was worried that his classmates might laugh at him. “Lebohang?!” Mr Boroko called. “No, sir. I still don’t know.” He replied with a low voice. Surprisingly no one laughed at him as he expected. Instead, they all turned their attention to him. “Why?” asked Mr Boroko, concerned. “They don’t have my course over there, sir”. Lebohang said, with the shyness covering his voice. There were slight giggles, but everyone was curious to know which course Lebohang wants to study which is not available in universities. “How possible is that?” Mr Boroko asked. He couldn’t make sense out of Lebohang’s words. He decided to press on: “What is it that you want to study, Lebo?” Lebohang took his time before giving his answer. His fingers were slowly tapping on his desk. “I want to be a pilot, sir.” There was a silence for five seconds; and then everyone, like a choir, almost simultaneously, cracked with laughter. Lebohang was embarrassed. He felt humiliated below his belt. A part of his heart was begging him to run away, whilst the other part encouraged him to man up and take the punches like a fighter. He remained intact. His classmates continued to laugh at him, while others mocked him: “Bosso are you crazy?! You are a black student. You struggle to buy yourself lunch during school breaks. You are from a dusty, dry village. And you want to be a pilot?! Are you out of your mind?!” Mr Boroko attempted by all means to quieten everyone. Since then, Lebohang never entertained his pilot dream. His classmates hysterically, kept mocking him by imitating planes whenever they see him. He was irritated at first, but as time passed, he found courage within their tactless daring.
Lebohang completed his matric with satisfying results. Although he didn’t score distinctions; his results allowed him to enroll for a medical course as his parents wished. He was doing exceptionally well and was fondly with both professors and classmates alike. He was in his second year. Unfortunately his friend, Mpho, didn’t qualify to study his electrical engineering course. He didn’t
bother to consider Law as his alternative either. Instead, he started his taxi business which was promising to do well in future.
It was midyear when Mpho came to pay him a visit at his medical school. They were relaxing in Mpho’s taxi and reminiscing about the good old high school days. On his hand, Lebohang was paging through a newspaper which he found on the dashboard. He was listening to Mpho telling him how he wished to have Lerato’s curvy hips and enticing juicy breast for breakfast, lunch and supper. But he was, somehow, scared to approach her. While Lebohang shared with him the same sentiments, he spotted an advertisement about a pilot school on the newspaper. “This is what I want to do. This is me!” He shouted, leaving Mpho confused. “This is what I want to be.” He pointed out the advertisement to his friend. “I thought you gave up on that dream a long time ago” Said Mpho with confusion on his face. “No way. This is me. This is who I am. A pilot”. Lebohang confirmed.
He never felt so complete in such a long time in his life. His face was glooming with excitement.
Since then, Lebohang never looked back. During the midyear holidays, he informed his parents that he won’t go back to complete his medicine course. He showed his parents an advertisement from a piece of a roughly cut newspaper. His parents protested of course, but Lebohang couldn’t take a word for it. His father begged him to at least, complete the year, and then they will figure out what to do next. Lebohang retorted, stubbornly. He completed his next six months at home. Sitting. Doing nothing. Once in a while he will drive a taxi for his friend, Mpho. They were spending more time together. Lebohang’s mother was not impressed to see her child being called a taxi driver instead of a pilot.
One day, she had a very tense discussion with Lebohang’s father about the future of their son. They both agreed on getting a loan for him and gave it a go. Lebohang was overwhelmed by the news when his mother delivered them to him.
For him, it was the beginning of a dream coming true.
It was at the beginning of a new year, when Lebohang and his mother finally arrived at the pilot school advertised on a piece of a rough newspaper cut out. They had been going in circles the whole day after taking the wrong taxi. The architecture of the school building was breath taking. It had big shinny glasses that were reflecting sunlight like a mirror. Lebohang’s attention was on the different types and sizes of planes parked on the open field. Other planes were in their hangers. They’d entered the school offices and were greeted by a friendly white lady who warmly welcomed them. Within the building, there were a lot of white pilot students. The only black people were the two security guards at the entrance door. As Lebohang’s mother explained their intentions, she was surprised to hear that Lebohang was the first black student to enroll for a pilot course over there. The school owner and his partners were excited to have him. They even took photos of both Lebohang and his mother for their historic record book. He felt honored. Unfortunately, they also found out that the loan money they had, could cover a quarter of the fees required to complete the course. Nevertheless, they went ahead with it and promise to cross that bridge when they get there. That day, Lebohang received all the material needed to learn to fly a plane.
This was not only big for him, this was a dream he cherished.
It was three months since Lebohang enrolled for his pilot course. Since he was the only black pilot student, he didn’t make any friends but was spending most of his time reading books. This other day he was joined by a couple of white pilot students. He then had an opportunity to ask them how long it took them to get their private pilot license. According to them, the shortest time someone got their private pilot license was one and half year. For others it took two to three years. “It probably will take you six to ten years to get your private pilot license. This is no child’s play. ” One student said, mockingly. They all laughed at him as they walked away. As time passed, Lebohang left everyone in his school with their jaws dropping. His parents couldn’t even believe it when they received the news. He became the first pilot student ever, to receive the private pilot license within eight months of study. It was a new record. They took pictures of him again for their historic record book.
Once again, Lebohang felt honored.
Although Lebohang proved his white friends wrong, he was still facing obstacles. He knew that, the next step for him was to study for a commercial pilot license. His father couldn’t qualify to get him another loan since he was struggling to settle the previous one. His mother suggested he should apply for work to fly small planes with his private pilot license. The problem was, they required a minimum of two hundred hours to qualify for such job, and Lebohang had only one hundred and fifty hours. They also didn’t have money to book a plane for Lebohang to build the remaining hours for him to be able to qualify for a job. They were stuck. “What a waste.” Lebohang thought to himself one day, sitting underneath the peach tree. He was forced to spend time back at his home in Mmotong wa Perekishi. He tried applying for bursaries, but there were no replies. He spent more time with his friend, Mpho, again; occasionally, driving his taxi. Just to keep himself busy. One day, late afternoon, when he was driving home, he picked up a soldier who was from work. As they were enjoying their casual conversation, Lebohang ended up sharing his story with the soldier who then advised him to apply for air force. Lebohang couldn’t waste time but went to the army recruiting offices the following morning. By the stroke of luck, he met Major General Mabotša who also grew up in Mmmotong Wa Perekishi. After sharing his story with him, Major General Mabotša was convinced. “The way I see it, you have two options. It’s either I find you a place in the army, or I help you find the funds from the government.” Major General said, firmly, brushing his podgy belly. Within two months, Major General Mabotša secured funding from the government office; but Lebohang had to wait until his funds were transferred before returning to school. They were transferred at the beginning of the following year. It took him two more years of hard work and dedication to complete his commercial pilot license. He is now flying commercial jets for South African Airways.
It was two years later when Lebohang was invited to share his experience with the students from his former school, Thutohodimo High school. “When they tell you the sky is the limit, tell them the sky is too low for you. And then shoot straight for the moon.” Lebohang concluded his speech. Next to him, was his former teacher, Mr Boroko. “You see students, everything is possible. You must always…always, and I emphasize on “always” dream beyond the sky”. Mr Boroko added, proudly patting Lebohang’s shoulder as the students cheered for him.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo