Beating David at something, anything, elated me beyond explicable belief. My neurons fired up joyfully, like wires attached to a battery for jumpstarting a car. At the same time, I grew fond of him, because he pushed me beyond my comfort zones. I borrowed from his larger-than-life arsenal of boldness, and sometimes, beneath his jokes, lay some sage advice.

We were in Grade11, and David was still a stellar object I regarded as flying above me. He was already playing varsity rugby, for Tukkies (the University of Pretoria), and one of the country’s hottest prospects to be drafted into the professional ranks in due course.

On the other hand, over the past few years I had gained academic fame, blazing in the upper echelons of achievers each year-end, and representing the country in Beijing for the Maths Olympics. We came in third just behind China and Russia. But I felt I was still lagging in luminescent stardom compared to him.

Two dissimilar characters and personalities, ever so close, but separate, like two oceans that won’t mix, with one being too salinized, and the other too alkaline …

Yes, we were close, and people envied our odd pairing.

Twelfth Grade. We faced each other to be elected leader of the prestigious school student body. And it was a sparring with no holds barred.

It was a cool day, a breeze blowing among those gathered at the school’s draughty hall. The air was ominous and the assembly resembled an ancient Roman coliseum, with fanatics, eyes bulging, lusting for the dismembering of a contestant’s head from his body.

After weeks of tedious electoral campaigns, only David and I remained. And on that day, all eyes were on us. The debate moderator at last asked: “For your parting words, summarise what you believe you’ll bring to the table for the school, the governing body, and for the students. Three minutes each. Sibusiso, you go first.”

Seeing that, inherently, I’m not a crowd-pleasing person, I was drenched in sweat, my heart raced, thumping aggressively against the walls of my small chest. My tongue clumsily rolled and twisted: “Um … um … I will … I ought …”

As the quiet murmurs gradually swelled into louder concerns from the audience, I managed to begin:

“Ah yes, I, Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, vow to see that the needs of the learners are met, to the utmost satisfaction. I promise to uphold the principles and ethics that differentiate our school from others. This will be accomplished by enhancing communication between all parties, including the community, the governing body, and the students. I will see that we cater for the needy, and draft policies that drive a healthy environment for learning and teaching. Thank you.”

There was some clapping, ululating, and stomping that echoed round the hall, but it quickly died down, in anticipation of their darling.

He wasted no time: “I, David Maatla, promise to look after the needs and wants of the school, the surrounding neighbourhood, and foremost the learners, without whom we wouldn’t be here. And that’s why I promise you more events and parties than my opposition. Yeah!”

The whole crowd was electrified as he abruptly passed the mic on to the moderator. The girls chanted, the boys whistled energetically. The exuberant mood only subsided after five intense minutes.

And so I was vice-head of the student body, in his shadow once more.


Tell us: Who do you think deserved to become head of the school body, and why?