Mr Wilson, the Principal, is making an announcement about the xenophobic outbreaks in the community at assembly. I can’t listen properly as I am distracted by a few students next to me. They’re speaking in hushed voices about what happened at the local KwaLanga shop.
After Mr Langa, who owned the shop, died in a car accident last year, Mr Abdirahim, a Somalian man, took over. Last night the shop was burnt down because people claimed they were tired of shops being run by foreigners. The attack was so terrible that the old Somalian man burned with his shop, and died. The police didn’t come, and it is now being labelled a ‘rightful’ killing.
“These people must go home Meneer!” a fearless voice hurls from the back of the hall, and everyone cheers.
“They’re taking our jobs and are practically running our country!” another one adds and the students cheer, all riled up.
Mr Wilson turns pink as he tries to control the outbursts, with no success. Some students start a song at the back, determined to have their opinions heard.
The angry students chant. Everyone knows the revolutionary song and almost everyone starts joining in. The song catches on and soon Mr Wilson’s voice is drowned out in the chaos. He raises his hands, fixes his tie, raises his hands again; he looks like he is about to have a stroke.
Most people around seem to agree; even Nonny, my best friend, starts to hum along to the song. I’m terrified, to say the least. I don’t think any of this is right. I search for my boyfriend, Tony, in the crowded, singing assembly of students. I can’t find him.
“Okay, okay!” Mr Sibangu jumps in to help Mr Wilson control the learners. “Enough now! Go to your classes!”
The students boo at Mr Sibangu and walk to their classes, still humming. I stay behind to look for Tony but I can’t find him anywhere. Maybe he is sick. I scurry to class when one of the prefects gives me a warning for disobeying instructions. Nonny is already seated. She smiles gleefully at me.
“You know, I think this is a rightful cause,” Nonny says, when I sit down next to her. I take my Maths textbook out and browse through the topics Mr Chiwaya said we will be covering today. I like being prepared.
“Cos think of it, these people are literally making our lives hell!” Nonny continues. “They come here, take our jobs. Imagine, my uncle Sbu hasn’t worked for about 10 years now. If these people hadn’t come to overcrowd us maybe my uncle Sbu would be successful by now. Our family really does need the extra help.”
She plays with her chewing gum and I can tell that she is very into this … ‘movement’.
“Okay,” she finally gives in and asks, “what’s up with you today? You’re awfully quiet and everyone knows what a mean-ass activist you are!” She gives me an encouraging nudge on the shoulder and a proud nod.
“I don’t feel like being involved in this whole thing,” I say politely, not wanting to spoil her mood. She rolls her eyes in disbelief.
“Okay that is so not true!” she giggles and blows her chewing gum. “You probably just miss your boyfriend. I noticed he isn’t at school today. Maybe he has the flu.”
“Maybe,” I say, pondering the idea. It’s not like him to be this quiet. I usually wake up to his sweet texts every morning, even though we will see each other for the few classes we take together every day. Most days when he doesn’t have morning classes he walks me to my class and stays with me for a while, only leaving when the teacher comes.
Nonny used to complain at first – last year when we started dating. She said that we were making her feel like a spare wheel. Eventually though, she warmed up to him and got used to having him around.
School is demanding, especially now that we are both doing Matric. I try to understand that sometimes we can’t meet up. But, no matter how busy Tony is, he always makes time for me. That’s why I’m worried about him not coming to school. Maybe one of his younger brothers got sick and he had to stay home and watch him. He’s so thoughtful. That’s one of the million reasons why I love him. I love how overprotective he is of his siblings. He reminds me so much of my brother Fana, who is also annoyingly overprotective of me.
Tell us: Do you believe that ‘foreigners’ are the reason that many South Africans are unemployed?