There is a tendency, I believe, among the well-off to imagine the lives of the poor as a sort of noble struggle. People don't realize that, in reality, the lower classes live just as sordidly as the characters on Gossip Girl.
In October last year, the same weekend as the matric farewell, there was a rape of one learner, Sarah, by another, Paul. Sarah went to an educator, Sam, and reported it. He then reported it to the police. Fast-forward almost a year through the trial, and last week Paul was sentenced to fifteen years in jail.
Except that the educator, Sam, was having an affair with the learner, Sarah, and he manipulated her into testifying against Paul.
Or did he?
There's no way to tease out the truth from all the swirling rumours. I'd believe the learners based on Sam's odd behavior, but then as an occassional victim of village gossip I can sympathize. A few inside jokes with a male educator, and suddenly we must be dating! Loopeng is a regular gossip manufacturing machine. But isn't every rumour based on a shred of truth?
Anyway, I was on my way to school this morning when my host mother stopped me. "No," she said, "You must not go to school today."
At school I found a small huddle of educators, and across the road, in front of the school gates were dozens of learners and even a few community members. They were singing, dancing and drinking. It might have been a party were it not for everyone holding sticks and hurling rocks. The mass got bigger as more learners arrived and joined in. Burning tires added to the atmosphere of chaos. Signs waved saying, "No Paul! No school!".
Yep, that's what this is about. The learners have decided that Paul's sentence is too harsh and they've shut down the school in response. I guess Sam's involvement makes it a school issue, but the lack of critical thinking that has gone into this display is, well, I have no words.
After an hour, during which one educator was hit and received a small but bloody cut and Shaka took a rock to a back leg, I went home. I promptly locked myself in.
Several times in South Africa I have witnessed the violent potential of a mob. This may just be a band of schoolchildren, but it is large and in the frenzy of marching and chanting, rational thought sails out the window right along with individual responsibility. Collective action can turn violent quickly, and until everyone puts down their bull horns, I'm not going out there again.