Teachers at the front gate recognised where the sound was coming from. They headed to the school lawn at the back, canes in hand. Nhlanhla ran and bulldozed over the security guard at the locked front gate. He jumped over the fence with a surprising spring for a short chubby dude. Onto the street he ran.

He tried chanting the slogan through the loudspeaker. All we heard was panting, followed by the clang of Hlabelela High School front gate padlocks. Teachers with their flailing ties and canes quickly closed the gap on him. Nhlanhla slowed down and jumped into the back of a waiting van. Between panting breaths we heard his loud chuckle through the loudspeaker as the van peeled off the chasing pack.

“Revolution! Together! Hlabelela! Take your school bags! Go home! Young lions of Hlabelela High School. Amandla!” He faded out with the disappearing getaway van.

Behind cursing teachers all the learners poured from the front gate. Mission ‘School Disrupted’ was accomplished. That day, Hlabelela High School officially joined the revolution.

That victory for revolution placed Nhlanhla on the blacklist of all township schools. It was rumoured that he was enrolled in our school only because he threatened to burn it down if he was not accepted.

He behaved all year in 1989. It looked like the revolutionary Nhlanhla had disappeared until he staged a play titled: Portrait of a Necklacing.
It was a strange play. Fifteen minutes of a youth acting out a terrible death by fire of a burning tyre worn like a necklace. Nhlanhla designed the only prop in his play – a tyre with orange paper cut out to resemble flames and stuck to one side.

He made the make up out of coal mixed in water. The black liquid was just poured over the actor. Nhlanhla also performed the one line of dialogue in: Portrait of a Necklacing.

“This is what happens to a traitor.”

He made like he was striking a match to the tyre around the already blackened actor. The make-up and prop suggested the youth was already burning. Still Nhlanhla ‘struck’ the match and walked off stage.

The whole school suspended disbelief and watched as the actor with the ‘burning’ tyre as a necklace writhed in the ‘agony’ of imaginary flames for fifteen minutes.

Our English/Drama teacher banned him from staging plays after Portrait.

But it was not his play that caused the sensation in Matric. It was his relationship with a student teacher. They were chummy at school. She broadened his mind with history books outside setworks. There was a chemistry there. I enjoyed their discussions in class. They made History fun.

Rumours spread of how they were spotted at the movies together. How they hung out on weekends. Nhlanhla did nothing to dispel the gossip. He just chuckled and said, “Leave other people’s lives alone,” whenever he was asked.

The township concluded the rumour true.

I left high school for the same university as Nhlanhla – the boy who went steady with a teacher.

What do you think of Nhlanhla?