“The Condition of Native is a Nervous Condition”
(Jean-Paul Sartre, in an introduction to Frantz Fanon’s work)
The few months I have been a matriculant have been the most enlightening months of my life. I have learnt lessons that were never taught to me in any history, economics or mathematics class. Self-reliance, resilience and bravery are traits that will continue to best define me, even after I enter the job market or pursue the degree of my choice at a higher learning institution.
It is only this year that I diagnosed myself with severe short-sightedness.
When I speak of short sightedness I speak not of a medical condition, but rather of a condition whose severity could never be cured by the best of optometrist. I speak of the native condition; a condition that to many is the result of decades of colonialism. My condition. The condition of many others whom like me are the beneficiaries of the imbalances of racial prejudice, humiliating economic deprivation and most importantly, toxic masculinity.
For the past 12 years I have been blind, ignorant, unaware of the dehumanising manner in which natives are treated. I was oblivious to the ever-so evident victimisation and discrimination prevalent in many South African schools.
The cure to my blindness came not from a specialist. My ignorance was not driven away by intense study of native history but instead from personal experience. It is only when one is exposed to absolute poverty that you start to appreciate the little you have. It is only when you becomes a cripple that you yearn for one last walk on the beach.
I did not receive my Grade 11 progress report on the day it was scheduled to be given to me. This was due to my mom’s inability to settle my school fees debt. The little that she had was turned down by the school.
This encounter left me disheartened, disgruntled and bitter.
Those who know me would describe me as a committed scholar. Over the past years, I have distinguished myself from my peers through my zeal and passion for education. But don’t be misled, I am in no ways perfect, and at times I tend to get carried away by the mischief that most teenagers indulge in.
At school I’m an exemplary learner, every teacher’s dream student. But at home I confess I’m my mother’s nightmare; defiant, rude and sharp-tongued. Certain things I just cannot control. Not receiving my report made me even more defiant.
While my peers, who have never been able to match my academic excellence, applied for further study at various higher education institutions, I did nothing but wallow in my self-pity. No Grade 11 report meant I could not apply to institutions in time, and this meant I might not further my studies.
Seven months into my final year at school I learnt that a school withholding a learner’s report is guilty of victimisation. The school fees agreement is between the parent and the school. A progress report belongs solely to the learner and should therefore never be withheld for reasons pertaining to school fees.
I learnt this fact from a Facebook status update. A status update by a woman whose kindness amazes me still today. A woman with a passion for justice. She runs an organisation that voluntarily assists learners and parents with school fees exemption. Reading her status update brought to me the relief and hope that I had lost.
I sent her a message, with very little optimism that she would reply. To my surprise and delight, she replied to my message the next day. I gave her all the details, and she immediately sent an email to the school, requesting that I be given my report.
I was called to the office the day after the email was received. The deputy principal and her assistant spoke to me in a patronising manner. I felt intimidated when the principal asked me, “Why did you seek external help as this was an internal matter? You should have come and spoke to me.”
So I should have gone to the same people who infringed on my rights, to apologetically beg for my report? My emotions could not bear the humiliation. Tears unexpectedly raced down my cheeks.
Those tears, I believe, had been triggered by my remembrance of my native condition. I still feel distaste for having revealed my vulnerability in the presence of my oppressors. I felt I had betrayed myself in the worst way a young girl could. I made myself a subject of pity.
I half expected my principal to show some remorse. Minor remorse for this young girl whose only possessions are the dreams she has swept under the feet of her superiors. I inwardly pleaded that they not tread on my dreams.
But no remorse was shown.
Instead I was further victimised by being told that I would not be allowed to attend my matric dance. But I had no interest in attending it. Then I was then told that I would not be given my matric certificate. After 12 years of schooling, the only certificate I was to possess would be my birth certificate.
I later informed my Facebook Angel of this. Oh boy, was she livid? She advised that I toughen up and stand up for my rights. My future was at stake.
Her words to me have been tattooed in my mind. They are words that will take me through this merciless journey. (I still wonder how such kind-hearted people remain unshaken by the ogres that will stop at nothing to dispirit them.)
I was for a second time called to the office. In a day, my energy had been renewed, my focus shifted. I promised myself that I would not let tears get the better of me. Memories of my bitter past were exactly that, mere memories. And I would look my ‘honourable’ principal in the eye and remain unwavering.
I am filled with pride because I fulfilled my promise. I made it known to her that I would not be made a victim of my poverty, my blackness and most importantly, that which I have fought against all my life, ‘I WOULD NOT BE MADE A VICTIM OF MY FEMALENESS.’
I quoted to her the school act that states that a school may not, for any reasons, withhold the report of any learner. The assistant said arrogantly that stating my rights was unrealistic, and I had apparently spoken like a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters political party.
I came out victorious in the end. My report was given to me, and my Facebook friend has applied for school fees exemption on behalf of my mother.
My story is not my story alone. It is the story of many others, whom like me, have been denied access to the fruits of their labour.
My experience has invited many unanswered questions.
Have our schools, that are meant to pave the way to our destinations, instead built walls that hinder us from achieving our potential? Can we really scorn the youth who have sought solace in drugs and alcohol? The very same people who encourage us to study hard are the same who withhold our reports and matric certificates, punishing us for our poverty.
Tell us: do you know of cases where reports are withheld because school fees aren’t paid? Did you know that this is not legal?
This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.