by Sinethemba Vumazonke
© Sinethemba Vumazonke 2007.
It's a Friday afternoon, two-thirty, Thuli is on her way to St. Paul's Church. The last time she had set foot in this church is about six years ago. Slowly she walks, as if a tortoise. The reason is that she didn't want to get there in a hurry, yet that was her destination. She was nervous of meeting people for the first time. There was also the desert sun that made the place unbearable and like a oven.
Thuli sighed as she walked towards the church entrance where Reverend Mkhokheli stood to welcome all the young people with open arms. He has a smile written all over his face. When I came before him, he said in a very loving manner, "Welcome, I'm glad you've come, my child. I'm sure the Lord is too." (These were words I had not heard for a long time for I was constantly hearing insulting, degrading words and abusive language all the time.) He hugged her gently and said, "Go ahead and meet the young people who are here already." The Rev. later walked in and introduced her to the rest of the group. All eyes were on me as he said, "Guys, I'd like you to meet someone who has not been around for a long time. Here is Thuli. Let's welcome her in the normal way." A thunderous sound followed. The group then rose and one by one gave Thuli a hug.
After some fun and games, the group settled to a snack. As we were eating, the leader, Cheryl, said, "As some of you know, we've the competition with the other branches. The topic, as we all know, is "How racism can be better dealt with by all South Africans". If we want to be the number one group, and are to beat the other church branches, then let's get cracking. Whoever has an idea, just stand up and say it."
Thabo stood and said, "I think there should be a reality TV show. This show should be about two families, one a Black one, the other a white. These two families should exchange their domestic environments and learn to adapt in the other family's environment and surroundings. This will afford the opportunity to learn about the different situations, appreciate the differences, acquire a new perspective of the plight of other people as well get an insight into their different cultures and practices."
"Thank you, Thabo. We value your contribution, but the ‘catch' is that we don't have the money for a reality tv show", said Sizwe.
"What do you think, Thuli?" Wayne asked.
"Well, I think what we need is something simple. Let's have a ‘Blind South Africa' day. When you're blind, the one sense you cannot use is the sense of sight. When you see a blind person, don't you see that person getting along with those around him / her regardless of the differences that might be there, like, different racial backgrounds, cultures, experiences. We, who are, sighted, do not get along with fellow ‘people' because we do not see someone who looks different to us, as not being people, not human, as beneath us and we see the worst in them. Why do these differences exist? Why do we see things not experienced by them? Why do we do all this?" said Thuli. She then sat and there was a deafening silence for a moment. Were the members digesting this information? Were they up to it? Do they agree with what Thuli has shared?
Cheryl then stood excitedly, "I like it, Thuli. What if we have a role-play on the day of the competition."
Everyone was mumbling in an excited manner and thought seriously about the role-play idea. A creative, planning, debating, sharing and a questioning session followed. The noise was that of a well-run production factory. The topic generated was "South Africa, Blind to Racism".
"Okay, guys, let's call it a day and come back next Friday." "Thuli, I hope i'll be seeing you next Friday," said an ecstatic Rev. Thuli responded in the affirmative.
The group prayed and all together had a group hug. The group dispersed in all directions as the sun began to move over the horizon. Thuli walked with a spring in her step, far different to how she walked towards the church. She had mad an impact on the group.
THREE WEEKS LATER.
It's Saturday, the day of the competition. The group from St. Paul's Church had been looking forward to this day. Anxiously they waited at the church for their members to arrive and for them to embark on the journey to the competition venue. When the check was done, it was discovered that Vuyo, a key member of the group, was not present. "What could the problem be?" seemed to be the question on everyone's mind.
Let me tell you what might be the problem. During the past three weeks, much rain had fallen in the area. Vuyo, who lives in an informal settlement, had had his house, together with other fellow residents, flooded. These people had to be evacuated from their areas and were accommodated in the local Community Centre. This venue was bursting at its seems as the people jostled for the limited space.
As the panic continued, someone said, "There's Vuyo!" Vuyo joined the group, with sweat pouring from his brow and said, "Sorry, guys. I had to wait for the adults to take their baths and then I was given a chance to quickly freshen up. Believe me, you don't want to live in the Community Hall. It's degrading, uncomfortable and unpleasant." This all said with him gasping for air.
"Let's all get into the taxi. Is everyone now present?" asked the rev. "Yes, Father," said Cheryl.
"COMPETITION HERE WE COME!" shouted everyone. "Let's rock ‘n roll!" Thabo disturbed the cry. The driver started and we were off.
Stellenbosch is playing host to it. Stellenbosch is a small University town close to Kuils River and Somerset West. It is known for its many vineyard farms and world-class wines. Because of its beautiful scenery, people have this to say, "Why, do you need to go to the Eastern Cape (homeland of the Xhosa people), whereas right here in Stellenbosch you have the countryside in immediate reach of the urban dwellers?"
As the group disembarked from the taxi, the scenery, the silence of the area, its clean fresh air, and its cleanliness astounded the group. Their areas are infested with loud noise, filth, small hovels made from whatever material has been found. "It's so quiet here," Thuli whispered to Thabo as they were making their way to the conference hall where the participants were anxiously awaiting their turn to make their mark, convince the audience with their bottled messages, as well as, to impress the judges.
Cheryl's group sat nervously and when told it was their turn to perform, a frightened mouse expression enveloped them. "What if I trip whil'st performing my role on the stage?" Sipho asked as they were in the dressing room adding their final touches before going onto the stage. Butterflies were flying in the stomaches.
"You'll be fine, man. Don't worry, just take a deap breath before going on stage," Cherky said as she tried to motivate Sipho as he shook as if he were a tree in a gusty wind.
For the next few minutes the stage was going to be their domain and their message, their world. Even Vuyo had no thoughts of the situation back ‘home'. The group's performance of "Blind South Africa" resulted in a standing ovation from the audience. The ululating, the whistling, the stamping of the feet from the audience brought tears to the group's eyes. The sacrifices were well worth it.
The tension mounted as the group waited in baited breath for the announcement from the judges. The judges deliberated for a lengthy period. There seemed to be a ‘problem'. What could it be? Butterflies once again made their way into Thuli's stomach.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, let's give everyone a round of applause for their contribution to making the evening the success it was. We are very impressed and delighted with the standard of the presentation. There was a fierce competitive rivalry that existed and each Church can be proud of the youth serving it. We have come to a decision which has never happened before. There is tie. We need these two groups to do an impromptu act which will finally separate the one group from the other. Let's put our hands together for, Mannenberg and ………." A deafening silence existed amongst Thuli's group. Were they the other group? Who is it? The announcer kept the audience in suspense. The groups were huddled together. Teeth were been bitten. Sweat flowed down the brows. Then came the name of the other group. "It's St. Paul's Church!" Cheryl, Thuli and Vuyo led the celebratory dance for that moment.
Mannenberg decided to do their act first. Hip-hop acts like Beat-boxing and Break-dancing were the order of their act. When the performance ended, a sudden silence suddenly rained on Thuli's group. What were they going to do? Did they have something ready for the judges? It did not seem so.
"What are we going to do?" asked a desperate Sipho.
"I have something to do", said a voice from the back of the group. Everyone looked worried. Who was this? What is going to be performed? ….
Up walked the person to the voice. She took hold of the microphone confidently, looked at the judges, then at the group, who huddled like a fear-filled group on the verge of being attacked by something, finally the audience. A broad smile etched on her face.
"I am going to recite a poem for you. So let's give it an attentive ear."
A DIAMOND, IN THE DIRT, THAT IS NOT PROUD
A diamond is a very valuable stone, don't you agree?
We are those diamonds
"I thank you!" said Thuli.