Just two weeks before For the People was released, I deleted three whole chapters from the book, and rewrote the ending. It was a difficult decision to make, and it made me very nervous – especially as my editor Lucy at Carina UK had loved the “final” draft as it was. But, as William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” And although I had put a lot of time and research and thinking and effort into those three chapters, when it came to it, it felt like they were getting in the way of the main story.
I still think they tell stories that deserve to be heard, though. And so I’ll be publishing those “deleted scenes” here.
All I ask is that you don’t read these chapters before you’ve read the rest of the book. They’ll mean a lot more that way.
DELETED SCENE #1
This chapter originally came after the one about my trip to Tembelitsha, the township school. I wanted to show the contrast between what’s going on in the township today, and what it’s like now at the previously “white” school in town; the same school that my brothers and I went to. But in the end I decided it was taking too much of a detour from Temebelitsha and the story that was occurring in the “historical” chapters.
Still, I think it works as a stand-alone “essay” of sorts, so here it is…
Having experienced Tembelitsha, I’m keen to compare the situation at Knysna Primary, the school my brothers and I went to.
On my way there I drive past the school’s sports fields, which bring back memories of rounders and tennis practice.
On the rugby field today there are small clusters of children who look about twelve or thirteen years old. I remember my own class going across to the sports fields during break time. It was one of the things to look forward to when we became seniors; an independence from the school grounds that was reserved for the older kids alone.
If we were segregated when I was at school, it was only in terms of language. Knysna Primary, like Knysna High up the road, has always been a dual-medium English and Afrikaans school.
In my day, everyone in the school was white, so I find it strange to see black and coloured children on the rugby field. They don’t seem to be mixing much with the white kids, though. There’s a small circle of black girls and another of coloured boys. Three white girls sit by themselves on the grass against the fence. Only one group of boys playing touch rugby is mixed: coloured and white.
I stop in front of the school, where I thought I’d be able to leave the car in the teachers’ car park. But there’s an unfriendly, spiky gate blocking the way. I park on the side of the road instead, opposite a liquor store.
I remember my first day of school in 1985. There was no spiky gate here then.
To get to the front door I need to walk in through a pedestrian entrance with another spiky gate in front of it, but this one’s open. On my way in, I notice the whole car park is cordoned off from the rest of the school, fences blocking the way where you could once freely walk round to the swimming pool and the classrooms. The only way in to the school from here is through reception, and even then I have to get buzzed in through a security gate. It feels like I’m coming to visit a prisoner, not a primary school principal.
Mr Stoker’s office is considerably bigger Mrs Martin’s, with furniture that’s obviously more expensive. He sits me down in a comfortable armchair opposite him where he takes a seat behind his large, wooden desk. He’s a broad-shouldered man with brown hair neatly combed and a full, greying moustache. I’ve never met him before, as he’s relatively new to the school – unlike the receptionist who let me in, who was already here when I started school twenty-four years ago.
Like me, Mr Stoker is fluent in English, but we talk in our native Afrikaans.
When I ask him about the gates and the fences around the school, he admits it creates a prison atmosphere. ‘But it’s not to keep the children in,’ he says, ‘it’s to keep the criminals out.’
He tells me one story after another of break-ins and burglaries at the school. Teachers’ cars have been broken into, a DVD player was stolen from the school’s library, teachers’ mobile phones and wallets regularly disappear from their handbags. Even an old sewing machine, put aside to be donated to the local prison, disappeared recently.
The scariest story is of a man who ran through the school waving a knife, having been chased down the road outside. He used the hallways as a shortcut to the street on the other side of the school, where he made his getaway.
It’s the problem with being in the middle of town, says Mr Stoker. There’s the liquor store across the road, a sex shop around the corner. It all brings a ‘criminal element’ to the area.
‘That’s why we have these,’ he says, pointing to a CCTV camera in the ceiling that I hadn’t noticed before. ‘We have these in every office, every classroom.’
Often, he says, parents are hesitant at first to send their children to Knysna Primary because of the fences and the gates. But then they see how many good things are going on inside the school.
I saw the proof on my way in: there’s a gallery of pictures and a cabinet full or trophies in the reception area, showing off the school’s achievements in everything from swimming, tennis and dancing to netball and cricket. Most of the teams in the pictures have at least one coloured or black face among them, many have more.
Mr Stoker tells me that, of the nine hundred children in the school, around forty percent are black or coloured and sixty percent white. Most of the black and coloured parents want their children to be taught in English, so that there are now two English classes to every Afrikaans class in every year. It was the opposite when I was here.
The children come from all sorts of backgrounds, says Mr Stoker.
‘I see our school as a “reality TV” school,’ he says. ‘Because we have a few rich children, and we have the poor children. And we have black and brown and white. What you experience here is what you get on the street.’
Those black and brown and white children don’t see colour as an issue any more, he says. They have sleepover parties and go on hockey and rugby tours where they share rooms. If anything, he worries that apartheid is kept alive artificially by the new school curriculum, which he feels focuses too much on the ‘injustices of the past’.
‘The children in these schools today, they don’t really know what apartheid was,’ he says. ‘I think it’s a pity that we can’t get over it and say right, let’s leave it for the history books and build. Why force it down the children’s throats and almost stir up this hate for white people?’
He quickly adds, ‘But that’s my personal opinion.’
I ask him what happens when the child hosting the sleepover lives in a township.
‘For parents there is still an issue,’ he says. ‘It’s not about the child, it’s about the circumstances. We have children who really still live in shacks, who bath in a basin of water, come to school in a taxi. Mother is a housemaid somewhere… It’s not easy to send your child to stay in those conditions. It remains a security aspect for your child.’
There are some white parents who allow their kids to visit their friends in the townships, he says. But it’s very rare.
And yet, he acknowledges that there are racially homogenous cliques like the ones I saw on the sports field outside. Especially the black girls, he says, tend to stick together in a group.
‘But between white and brown there’s no issue,’ he says. ‘They play together back and forth.’
He puts this down to the similarities in the upbringing of the white and brown children.
‘I don’t want to use the word “culture”,’ he says, ‘but their ways are much closer to each other’s; their lifestyles are much closer.’
Many black families, on the other hand, are still very traditional in their African ways. Mr Stoker says they get quite a few black children with the top joint of their little finger missing. Apparently it’s an old Xhosa ritual to cut it off, although he can’t tell me what it signifies.
To accommodate cultural customs and beliefs, he says, some of the school rules have had to be relaxed. Whereas we were never allowed to wear any jewellery except for simple studded or tiny hooped earrings, black girls can wear certain beaded necklaces as long as they’re concealed. And the short-back-and-sides rule for boys’ hair doesn’t apply to the Rastafarians, who are allowed to have dreadlocks as long as they wear a cap.
Despite many of the children at Knysna Primary now coming from genuinely poor backgrounds, the school is considered one of the richest in the country by the Department of Education, and gets very little financial assistance as a result. It all comes down to where the school is situated, says Mr Stoker. Just because Knysna Primary is geographically near a few wealthy neighbourhoods, it’s considered to be a ‘rich man’s school’. That, despite the fact that most of the children from those wealthy neighbourhoods go to the local private school instead.
I ask him why Tembelitsha, despite being technically open to all races, as all schools now are, is still entirely black.
‘I think it has a lot to do with the language,’ says Mr Stoker. ‘They’re children who are Xhosa, and the teaching there is in their mother tongue.’ He explains that a black child at Knysna Primary would have to learn in English or Afrikaans. English is probably that child’s second language, and Afrikaans his third.
‘And now in his brain he has to struggle between Xhosa and English,’ says Mr Stoker. ‘Many of those children might get grades of fifty or sixty percent at Knysna Primary. But if he could reason in his mother tongue, he might get eighty percent.’
But, Mr Stoker adds, he doesn’t think those schools give the children the quality of tuition that develops their ability to reason. He thinks it’s an attitude problem – a political attitude problem. He’s even seeing it among the children in his school.
He tells me about a recent discussion in one of the classes about why rules and laws are important. One question was: ‘What do we do if we disagree with a rule?’ A black girl answered: ‘We strike.’
But there are positive stories too. He tells me about a black boy from a township who was awarded a scholarship to attend a prestigious high school in Cape Town. The boy was from such a poor family, the Knysna Primary School paid for him and his mother to get a bus to Cape Town for the interview. He’s now studying at the University of Cape Town through another scholarship.
‘And,’ says Mr Stoker, holding up his little finger, ‘he was one of those with a short pinkie.’
After our conversation, Mr Stoker gives me a brief tour of the school. We walk past a class just as they’re filing into the corridor. At the front of the line is a little black boy, slightly chubby but walking tall. He smiles at me; a big, happy smile.
On my way out, Mr Stoker gives me a copy of a grade four textbook – standard two in my day – so I can see for myself how the curriculum has changed. It’s ‘social sciences’, or what we used to call history and geography. On the front cover there’s a collage of pictures: Nelson Mandela in a crowd, a black woman washing her laundry in a plastic tub, a coloured West Coast fisherman showing off his catch.
The content is surprisingly thought-provoking. In one exercise, children are asked to compare two newspaper articles about a protest against pass laws led by women’s rights activist Lilian Ngoyi in 1956. One article calls the marching women ‘troublemakers’ and the pass laws ‘a good way to keep people like Ngoyi in check’. The other gives a much less sensational, more sympathetic view.
I’ve never even heard of her.
Dotted throughout the textbook are little boxes highlighting ‘new words’. In a section devoted to Nelson Mandela, the new word is ‘negotiate’. On another page it’s ‘apartheid’, on another it’s ‘racism’.
I think about the smiling black boy leading his classmates and hope that for him, racism will only ever be a new word he learns at school.
DELETED SCENE #2
This was the third-last chapter in the book before I decided to cut it at the last minute. It describes events which, sadly, are all too typical in South Africa today, as crime continues to escalate. In deleting this chapter, I wasn’t brushing the problem under the carpet. In truth, I felt this chapter ended the book on a negative note that wasn’t representative of the general spirit of hope and optimism in the country, and in Knysna in particular. Yes, crime is a serious issue in South Africa. But people are going about their normal lives despite it. There’s no doubt that, in every other way, we’ve come a hell of a long way since 1994. We’re a resilient nation. We’re a positive nation. And I trust that, in time, we will be a safer nation.
My mother is working late again.
I’m in my bedroom, writing, when I hear the scream.
It’s a woman’s scream, so piercing I can feel it in my bones. And I can swear it’s coming from outside my window.
There are footsteps coming up the wooden stairs two floors below me and I run out of my room to find my father making his way to the kitchen, huffing from the exertion. He had a heart valve replacement three years ago and has had no stamina since. Stairs, in particular, have become a challenge and he often has to rest halfway up even one floor.
‘It sounded like it came from right outside,’ I call to him from the safety of the top floor.
‘No, I think it’s across the road,’ says my father. ‘The sound bounces off the neighbours’ houses so it’s hard to tell.’
I hear the back door open and close.
‘Shit, shit, shit,’ I say with each step as I leap down the stairs two at a time. My father was moving far too fast considering his condition and I’m worried his heart won’t cope with the effort, never mind the excitement.
At the back door I briefly stop, panicking. I don’t know how far he’s gone, or whether he’s taken his keys. I decide to pull the door closed without locking it and hope that whoever caused the scream won’t find their way in.
My father is in the street with two men I recognise as neighbours, and more men are emerging from houses all around. By the time I join them, my father already knows the basic story: two teenagers in the house across the street were home alone when they saw a black man outside their window, looking at them. The girl screamed and the man ran away, up the street where he disappeared into some bushes.
Some of the neighbours are heading in the same direction.
‘The police are on their way,’ says one of the men standing with my father. He has barely finished the sentence when a bakkie arrives with two big white men in the front and another on the back. The bakkie stops just long enough for the driver to lean out of his window and speak to someone on the side of the street, then it roars up the road, the man on the back now standing up and surveying the area like a lion sniffing out its prey.
‘Ja, trust the Armed Response guys to get here before the police,’ the neighbour says to my father. ‘The cops probably won’t even turn up, not for something like this.’
My father mumbles in agreement. His breathing is steadying, but his eyes are still alert.
‘It’s getting a bit worrying, hey?’ says the other neighbour. ‘First that woman next to you, now this.’ He looks at my father when he says ‘you’ and I follow his gaze. My father looks uncomfortable.
‘Next to us?’ I ask. ‘What happened next to us? Pa, what happened?’
‘We weren’t going to tell you,’ my father says. ‘But a few months ago there was a little incident next door.’
The ‘little incident’, he says, involved the woman who lives next door to my parents. She was home alone one day when a black man broke in. He tied the woman’s hands and feet with her shoelaces and, threatening her with a knife, made her give him the code to the safe. Once he’d emptied the safe, the burglar disappeared and left the woman there. Still tied up, she managed to knock over the phone and dialled her husband’s number using her tongue. The husband rushed home, where he found her on the floor and untied her.
Throughout the story, I stare at the house in question. It’s no more than ten metres away from where we’re standing, right next to my parents’ house. All around it there’s a tall concrete wall with an electric gate and an armed response sign on it. Inside, I’m sure it’s kitted out with the latest alarm system ready to wail its warning at the slightest movement.
My parents’ driveway, in contrast, is completely open: no gate, no wall, just an inviting stretch of cement driveway that splits towards my father’s workshop on the one side and the carport on the other. The Jetta is parked in the carport and the only thing between us and the car right now is a creaky wooden trellis that serves as a gate, its ‘hinges’ just a couple of pieces of wire wrapped around a pillar.
‘When was this?’ I ask my father.
He looks uncomfortable again.
‘Ag, I don’t know,’ he says, not looking at me. ‘About two weeks before you got here.’
The police have arrived and I overhear one of them talking to a girl who must be the screamer.
‘So he didn’t do anything but look at you?’ the policeman asks the girl. He sounds a bit annoyed and I doubt anything will come of the case.
‘I’m going inside,’ I say to my father and to my relief, he joins me on the short walk back to the house. When my mother phones soon afterwards to say she’s done at work for the night, my father goes to fetch her.
When they return, my mother is visibly concerned about the incident, but she assures me that she and my father are fine.
Really, they’re fine.
‘If they want to get in, they’ll get in,’ she says. Look at all that security next door, and they still got in. The walls and the electric gates and the alarms just advertise the valuables inside.
She reiterates what she said when I got here two months ago: ‘What would they take from us? It’s all just things anyway.’
But it’s not the things I’m worried about.
DELETED SCENE #3 AND ALTERNATIVE ENDING
Below are the original penultimate and final chapters of the book. As with ‘The incident’, I felt that the ‘Johnny’s house’ chapter changed the tone and pace of the ending too much, so at the final hour I deleted it. But, as it describes a scene between me and Johnny that I found very moving at the time, I wanted to share it here. As for the final chapter, the one that made it into the book was more of an echo of chapter 1, so that it completed the circle for a more satisfying conclusion.
I’m annoyed that the incident with the neighbours leaves me feeling scared again when I’d just started getting over my paranoia. But I’m mainly nervous at night, in my parents’ house.
The townships no longer frighten me. I’ve come to know my way around, and haven’t had any reason to feel threatened up there. So on my last Tuesday afternoon in Knysna, I offer to take Johnny home after work.
I have an ulterior motive: I’ve been wanting to see where Johnny lives, to get a proper look inside a house in one of the last remaining ‘informal settlements’ in Knysna.
Johnny looks bemused and a little embarrassed when I ask whether he’d mind if I take the video camera along, but he doesn’t object.
Although I’ve never been to Johnny’s house, I don’t need directions. It’s near the Paula Witney crèche, the first crèche Lesley Satchel took me to almost three months ago. We park opposite the playground with its big, boat-shaped jungle gym.
Johnny leads the way down a steep, uneven path strewn with broken floor tiles that crunch and slide underfoot. I’m recording the walk on the camera and, with one eye on the screen and the other on the path, it’s hard going. My shoes – wedge sandals with a slippery wooden heel – aren’t helping either, but taking them off isn’t an option, as the edges of the tiles are jagged and sharp.
When the path drops at an even steeper angle towards the bottom, I lose my footing and skid across the tiles. I don’t fall, but Johnny looks concerned. He reaches out his hand and I take it. It’s rough from calluses.
Johnny’s house is bigger than I thought it would be, but it’s showing its age. There are gaps where some of the wooden planks are missing from the walls, and the ones that are left have faded from black to grey.
All around the house there are empty plastic packets and cartons littering the ground. It takes some effort not to pull a face when I see a dirty nappy on the grass next to an outbuilding made from sheets of rusty corrugated iron.
There are other people here: one man I recognise as one of Johnny’s twin sons, but a little boy and girl are far too young to be Johnny’s.
‘My sister’s children,’ says Johnny when he sees me looking at them. The girl hides behind his legs.
The first room Johnny wants to show me has its own outside entrance. There’s a big padlock on the door and he shouts at a young woman to come and open it.
It’s a bedroom with a comfortable-looking double bed, a microwave on a shelf and a TV that I recognise as the one my father recently gave Johnny. It’s the same TV my mother had jokingly said no one would want to steal, now under lock and key. I assume it’s the woman’s room. She looks at me suspiciously as I point my camera at the bed.
Next, Johnny takes me into the main house through the kitchen. In contrast to the outside room, the rest of the house is in a state and I feel both relieved and uncomfortable to have the video camera – relieved because it gives me an excuse to divert my eyes from Johnny’s; uncomfortable because it makes me feel even more of a voyeur.
The rooms are depressingly dark and sparse, and what little furniture Johnny has is worn and tattered. A sofa in one room is stained and permanently sunken where the springs have collapsed. Except for that sofa, there’s no other furniture in the room.
The walls are papered with pages from old Heralds and Burgers, their news stories faded with time.
‘It’s big, isn’t it?’ is the only positive thing I can think to say about the house.
In the last room we come to, there’s a single power socket with an extension cable plugged into it. The cable disappears out an open window, presumably to the locked room with its TV and its microwave.
Although there’s electricity, there’s no running water in Johnny’s house. But he reminds me there’s a tap up near the community centre. I look back up the hill and imagine him carrying buckets of water down that steep path.
There’s one more thing I want to see before I go.
‘The toilet…’ I say, a bit embarrassed to ask. ‘Can I have a look?’
‘Ja, ja,’ he says, waving an arm in the direction of the tiny corrugated-iron cubicle outside.
I step over the dirty nappy to get to the toilet and open the ‘door’; a metal sheet balancing against the walls.
Inside, under a crudely assembled wooden bench, there’s a hole in the ground. The hole is big, not quite a metre wide but not far off, and filled to about halfway with rotting compost and plastic bags of rubbish that cover the waste that must be right beneath.
‘We put ash on it,’ says Johnny. ‘It keeps the smell away.’
It’s true, there’s no smell. Small blessings, I suppose.
This time I don’t have anything positive to say, so all I say is I should get going.
Johnny walks behind me this time and halfway up the path, I realise there’s a slight pressure on the small of my back. It’s Johnny’s hand, barely touching me but there nonetheless to protect me from a potential fall.
We’re about to say our goodbyes when Johnny’s next-door neighbour calls me over and invites me into her house. It’s Lena, Johnny’s on-off girlfriend of many years.
In contrast to Johnny’s house, Lena’s is neat, clean and fully furnished. In the kitchen, I recognise a set of Formica chairs from my childhood. On the floors, red and white carpet tiles match the ones in our playroom. All those hand-me-downs my parents have given Johnny over the years, given to Lena while he has nothing.
* * *
After dinner with my parents that night, I bring up the state of Johnny’s house.
‘Was it really that bad?’ asks my mother. ‘Was it as bad as Esther Xokiso’s place?’
‘It was worse,’ I say, and I mean it. Esther’s house was poor, but at least it was clean. I pull out the video camera to prove it.
My parents are quiet while they watch the footage. When the screen goes black, my mother speaks, quietly.
Neither she nor my father has actually been into Johnny’s house for many years, she says. They usually stop at the roadside to drop off and collect him.
‘There must be something we can do,’ I say.
When my father speaks he sounds defensive, saying he pays Johnny a good wage, well above the minimum set by the government. Plus Johnny gets his transport and his food on top of that, and a Christmas box every year.
And Johnny chooses not to work on Mondays, says my father. If he had to work a full week, he’d be getting almost the same as my father gets from his pension.
I don’t know which is more surprising: how much Johnny could earn, or how little my father’s pension pays out.
But I’m not thinking about money. Johnny has a drinking problem, so chances are anything extra would be spent on brandy. And there’s no point in helping him do up his house, as the Dam-se-Bos area is up next for development and so he’ll finally get his brick house from the RDP.
‘A toilet,’ I suggest. ‘How about building him a better toilet to see him through until he gets his new house?’
‘That’s an idea,’ says my mother. ‘Theron, what do you think?’
My father throws us a look of reservation, his one eyebrow raised in a half-frown. But I can see he’s already drawing up the plans in his head.
My father spends my last few days in Knysna building Johnny’s toilet.
He considers every practicality: the cubicle has to be strong enough not to fall over, but light enough to be portable so it can be moved to a new site once the pit is full. It has to stand up straight on uneven ground. It needs enough room inside without making the whole structure unwieldy. And it has to be waterproof to withstand Knysna’s winter rain.
He’s been mulling over the plans for days, mumbling about measurements and materials and weights. Over lunch and supper he doodles his latest ideas on the backs of envelopes and invoices.
The wooden outhouse is almost finished when it’s time for me to go back to London
* * *
George Airport is tiny and check-in is quick, making the goodbyes both frustratingly and mercifully short. My mother and I cry. My father sniffs and looks away.
Tomorrow they’ll just be two voices on the other end of the phone again.
I hope they’ll be safe in that house with its lack of fence or gate or dog, in this country with all the grudges it still bears.
I leave South Africa with as many questions as answers, not just about the past, but about the future.
Will our nation ever be genuinely integrated? Will the violence ever end? I think back to the township houses with their burglar bars and the protests and the burning Tembelitsha sign.
But I also recall the Tembelitsha children singing that hymn with their eyes closed, and the face of the little black boy leading his classmates at the once-white primary school, and the crèche children belting out Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
If it’s down to them, I think we’re going to be okay.
* * *