Life was different in Kuilsriver. It was quiet, nothing like Gugulethu where the kids played in every street, sharing the road with speeding cars. Our house was separated by high walls from those of our neighbours. I had no friends and I missed Thabisa.
My mother wanted me to study medicine and my father couldn’t stop raving about how in demand civil engineers would be in the future. Neither of those futures appealed to me. I just wanted to fight crime in the townships so that there would be no need for families to relocate to suburbs to feel safe. Against my parents’ wishes, I trained as a police officer.
In 2004, I was stationed as a constable in Langa Police Station. I found myself a flat to rent in Gugulethu so I would be closer to work. Even after so many years, I had not stopped thinking of Thabisa. I hoped she was still living in Gugulethu. I couldn’t wait to give her a surprise visit.
My parents were worried when I told them I was moving out. I was moving back to the Gugulethu that they ‘kept me safe’ from.
“Simphiwe, we were not pleased when you wanted to become a police officer. I even asked you to consider doing law instead, but you were so sure that this is what you wanted to do. So we supported you, because we wanted you to be happy,” my mother said.
I waited patiently to hear what she really wanted to say.
“I understand you want to work in the townships, but don’t you think it is too soon to move out?”
“I understand your concern, Cirhakazi, but I can’t manage the distance from Kuilsriver to Langa every day,” I replied.
“You know why we left the township, Simphiwe. If you need to be closer to work, at least rent a flat in Claremont or Kenilworth. You don’t have to live in the township to protect the township. We hear about what happens to police officers in townships every day on the news. If they are not corrupt they get killed,” my mother said.
It wasn’t just that my mother was totally against the idea of me renting a flat back in the township. Status mattered big time to my mother. When I was in the police academy she would phone to tell me about the children of her colleagues who were doing potentially lucrative degrees at top universities. She would tell me it wasn’t late for me to change my mind.
“I promise to call you every day so that you know I am fine, Ma. There’s no need to worry about me,” I said.
My mother looked at my father who had been sitting quietly as if he was not in the room. “Please say something Tata kaSimphiwe.”
“Constable Simphiwe Pongoba,” my father said, smiling.
“Tata,” I said, blushing a bit.
“Uhm, wait, you are a constable right? Or am I wrong, Sonny?” my father asked.
“Yes, Tata, I am.”
“You’ll forgive me, Sonny, these police ranks always confuse me. You know, I have been quietly listening to your conversation with your mother. When I look at you I see a younger version of myself. The stubbornness and hard work you put in to achieve the goals you set yourself. I am proud of you, my son,” my father said. He understood me better than my mother.
“Heee wethu! Tata kaSimphiwe. This is our only child and we can’t allow him to move out so soon. Especially moving out to a township,” my mother said in disbelief.
“Ewe mamCirha, he is our only child but we can’t treat him like a child forever. Let’s allow him to make his own choices. Yazi, Simphiwe, my father was also against my career choice. He said there were a lot of teachers already and I would have hard time finding work. He wanted me to study agriculture so that I could come back to farming his lands and look after the livestock. Now I am working the job that I love, as a school teacher. I have the happiness I wouldn’t have had should I have studied agriculture. You have my blessings, Sonny. Your mother is just doing what many mothers do when their children choose the career that you have chosen. She’s just being protective of you,” my father said.
My mother took in a long breath: “Okay. Just promise to visit us whenever you get a chance. We will miss you, my boy.” She stood up and hugged me.
“I will visit, Ma. It’s not like I am going to another province,” I said.
I moved in to a one-roomed flat that was not going to take away much from my salary. A day after moving in, I drove to where Thabisa used to live. I got lost many times because Gugulethu had changed so much since 1993. People had extended their houses and there were RDP houses in some of the places that used to be just bushy fields.
I parked my car two houses from Thabisa’s home. I watched the gate so I could spot her when she walked out or in. A boy who was around seven years old came out and I called him as he was walking past my car.
“Hey boy, is Thabisa in the house?” I asked him.
“I don’t know who Thabisa is,” he said.
“Don’t you live in that house?” I said, pointing at the house.
“Yes I do,” he said.
I let the boy go and soon a familiar face approached my car.
“Eita, are you not Sonny?” the guy asked. When I was living in Gugulethu other kids called me by the nickname my father gave me – “Sonny”.
“Yes, I am – and you are?” I asked.
“It’s me – Thando. It’s been years since you left. What brings you back here?” he asked. Thando was one of the boys that I used to play soccer with.
“Oh! I remember you now. You looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure who you were. I am looking for Thabisa, bro,” I said.
“Thabisa, Thabisa,” Thando said, scratching his head. “Oh! You mean the girl who used to live in the house next to yours? Her family moved out a couple of years ago and I haven’t seen her since then.”
“Eish yeah, neh!” I was disappointed. “Thanks Thando, it was good to see you again.”
“Sure, my guy,” said Thando.
I drove away wondering where Thabisa’s family had relocated to. I also wondered what she was doing with her life.
Tell us: Do you think Simphiwe’s father’s response to his career choice is the norm? Do parents generally support their children’s career choices?