But after a few weeks, most of the learners seemed to have forgotten about Edward Luthuli due to the daily, harsh reality of their lives.
Not Thato. He had seen with his own eyes that someone from a disadvantageous background could rise through the ranks of society to the echelons only seen on the magic screen of TV. As soon as he had left the assembly that morning, he began to change his life.
Leading up to his high school graduation, Thato quickly went from the ‘most improved’, to top of the school, and on to be one of the best students in the country. This feat blew a lot of people’s minds, including his own!
The Principal, having witnessed the ascent of one his students just after Edward Luthuli’s visit, organized for Thato to be mentored by him.
Edward was by now a famed and respected high court judge. He instantly admired what Thato had achieved in such a short time, and appreciated his drive for success, his intelligence, his energy. It all reminded him of his own youth. In Thato he saw a reflection of himself, as if he were gazing down into a pond.
And so he became invested in passing his baton on to the young man. He wanted to introduce him to a string of people who would open doors for him, doors that remained locked to so many. He wanted to show Thato how to stay on top, once he had got there.
But Thato got involved in things on campus which Edward did not approve of.
The new student discovered campus politics. With his fiery nature and wit, he soon realized he could sway a crowd. He felt powerful and was filled with righteous indignation for the poor and powerless.
One day he participated in a march against a property group who were planning on developing an area in the township that provided cheap student housing. Their interests clashed with poor students’ needs and the situation got very tense. Many more marches were held.
Then, following ongoing uproar and unrest at the University’s main campus, Advocate Luthuli called Thato up to his offices in Sandton.
It was a warm, sunny day, with a few clouds drifting through the sky. Thato’s mind was still preoccupied with the march and he wondered why his mentor had summoned him.
He went up the lift to the fifth floor and Edward’s exclusive corner office. He knocked softly on the silver double-door, and slowly pressed down the handle. He was met with a stern, “Come in!”
As he sat down, he saw the fiery infuriation in Edward’s eyes. He had never seen him in such an unpleasant state of mind before.
“Thato my boy, you shouldn’t even be seated before me, because I see you’re beginning to bite the hand that feeds you.”
It was clear to Thato that he was going to get a scathing tongue-lashing.
“I told you before young man, to report to me things of pivotal importance. Didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Thato answered with a hoarse voice.
“Then what is it that I hear about you going around challenging authority on your campus? Didn’t I tell you to lie low? Didn’t I tell you that acting like you are will hurt your chances of ascending to the top once your university years end?”
“Uhm, Sir, I don’t understand?”
“I was once in your position too. I thought I could change things. I was idealistic. I didn’t realize the true nature of how business works. The golden handshakes behind closed doors. This is how it has always worked throughout history. Do you get where I’m going with this?”
“You see, the scholarship, your sponsorship, the money … it’s not a free ride. The men behind your future success won’t like to hear about your involvement in rebelling against the way things work. You need to stop what you are doing now, before it further tarnishes your future. You don’t want to go back to shackland now, do you?”
After pondering thoughtfully about his predicament, Thato said, “No Sir. I will heed your wisdom.”
Thato left with his tail between his legs; defeated but angry at himself. He wanted out of this life that he now owed to Edward and his rich friends. He wanted to be of service to something, to improving society. But … more than that he wanted to escape the place of his upbringing.
Edward’s words rang in his head: ‘You don’t want to go back to Alexandra, do you?’ And so, he toed the line.
Tell us: Do you think that being a student activist really could harm your future career? Why or why not?