The anticipation of what school held in store was as great as the pleasure of waiting to unwrap a gift on a Christmas summer morning. Jonny woke up at dawn, fixed a lunch box, and headed out to his first day at school, being one of the earliest to get there.

“Good morning, my Grade 6 class!”

“Good morning, Mrs Lukhele,” the class sang.

“How were your holidays?”

“Fine, thanks Mrs Lukhele. And yours?”

“Good, good. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you had splendid holidays, however short-lived they were. There’s someone new and special amongst us, you may have noticed. His name is Jonny Tintswalo and he’ll be a new student. He hails all the way from the village of Nwakhuwani, near Giyana. Play nicely with him. Now, Jonny, sweetheart, please stand up and say hi to your new classmates,” she said cheerfully, quickly sitting down.

He stood up clumsily with his eyes fixed on his feet, shaking, and spoke. “Hi everyone. It is Jonny.”

“Yoh, Jonny the JoJo tank,” Makhosonke, the class clown, shouted from the back, and everyone bawled with laughter.

“Sies wena, man. What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you learn from last term? I’ll deal with you…Sorry Jonny. Don’t mind this idiot. Please be seated.”

At lunchtime Jonny roamed around the premises aimlessly, bought a packet of snacks from the tuck shop, and headed to the playground, where all the action unfolded.

“Gents, gents. It’s Godzilla,” Makhosonke said, to uncontrollable laughter from his henchmen. “Shangaan. You’re not from here, wena. What do you call this here, if you’re from here, in isiZulu? He pointed towards his elbow.


The whole crowd erupted in tears. Not knowing isiZulu, he’d given a butchered answer, pronounced awkwardly. Snide, demeaning remarks flew around the playground, which made Jonny run to the toilets and lock himself inside a cubicle until lunch time was over.

He only managed to get through the rest of the day’s classes by the skin of his teeth while wallowing in loathsome thoughts. He couldn’t wait to rush back home. Maybe he’d made a mistake by coming. Maybe he had dreamt too big, bigger than his given destiny as a mere herdboy.

He thumped the door behind him, bouldering into the RDP house like a madman.

“Woah, woah, nephew. What’s wrong? Tried talking to a lady and got turned down, huh? Don’t worry son, there’s plenty more. I’ll teach you a thing or two about how to magnetise and mesmerise them,” Uncle Charles suggested, his humour hiding his genuine worry for his nephew’s wellbeing.

Going from being respected and venerated in his village to being bullied and ridiculed in the township made Jonny answer out of character. “Shut up, Uncle! Shut up! Woman this, woman that! And all I see is some ugly old hags, poster girls of apartheid with their struggle looks. You don’t know jackarse about anything but being a professional drunk and making stupid decisions! I regret ever coming here! Everyone hates me!”

Shook beyond his comfortable shell of jokes and drunkenness, Uncle Charles retorted with authority, “Don’t you ever dare talk to me in that manner, sonny. Who the hell do you think you’re talking to, and in whose house? Look at me, boy. You can’t stand for yourself with all that size, huh? Look at me. Don’t cry now. Be a goddamn man. I may be a fool but I do take full responsibility for what happens to me. This is Joburg, boy. Grow a thick skin, or go back to the villages!”

Tail between his legs, and all the pent-up anger let out from his system, Jonny asked for forgiveness. The song that spread in breath in his skull was to take life head-on, and stand up for himself. For the road ahead was wide, long, and thorny.

Tell us: Do you think Uncle Charles is right? Does Jonny need to stand up for himself?