Once upon a time ago, before the invention of smartphones and tablets, prior to the arrival of the controversial, intrusive relationship-wrecking and somehow captivating social network WhatsApp; long before South Africans could imagine that in 2014 they would have a dilettante for a head of state and consequently be at the mercy of imbecility and corruption, a really phenomenal, caring, loving and wonderful lady with a towering personality said something to me that would and will remain with me for the rest of my discombobulated existence. I must have been ten or eleven years old when this aforementioned lady delivered what I deem a piece de resistance of her character building lessons. Like I said it was a long time ago.
She being a woman who is by nature soft spoken- a real lady of the 60s and 70s-everything she utters is without a doubt memorable and enlightening, particularly if she is engaged in a conversation that she relishes. She is a spellbinding raconteur, a quality she happens to share with her husband. I know this for a fact because I had the privilege of being her student for three years and on many occasions, before my inevitable divorce or fallout with the church and religion, I was part of the audience when she delivered her mesmerising sermons; but she is not a priest. Sometime ago I said to her that had it not been for the accident of history and misfortune she might have achieved great things, a rather stupid statement from a child to which she responded politely as if to acknowledge my naivety, ‘Maybe’.
With the benefit of hindsight I realise that she has achieved greater things; she has achieved far more than anyone of us can hope to achieve in a lifetime. Numerable times while pacing the small, quiet streets of where she has lived for over thirty years I would run into quite a number of people who spoke highly of her. Did I mention that she was once a teacher? A career that was once revered: The Mother of all professions. Yes, she was a teacher. She taught for 39 years and just as almost everybody in her community was readying themselves for what was touted to be a huge celebration of her 40 years as an outstanding pedagogue she decided to shock if not disappoint everyone and hung up her gloves-well in this case she put a chalk down and left the classroom, forever. A rather awkward number to end what was an illustrious career. I would of course later ask her why did she not spend just one more year and retire after what would be a memorable and indelible 40 years; I mean it has a nice ring to it when you say, ‘Well after four decades of slaving, I decided it was enough.’ Her answer was amusing as much as it was profound. ‘Ijoo! Imagine an old lady like me in front of a bunch of school kids and having to wipe my nose every second minute. No, I cannot have that happening to me. I do not wish to traumatise the kids, plus I have done my part. It is time to hand over the baton to the new generation.’ If only all our elders were this altruistic then perhaps South Africa and the rest of the continent would be better.
Those who had the fortune of being taught by this selfless, elderly lady will certainly agree that she has indeed done her part. She was equal to the task and she did exceptionally well. When in the last days a priest standing over her grave, bidding farewell to this exemplary citizen of our world, uttering those poignant words no child wants to hear, ‘Robala ka kagiso. Tiro o e weditse’, he or she would be merely echoing the thoughts of the masses of lives she has touched.
So on that given day, during an evening that was like any other, this lady imparted to me the wisdom that her mother had passed on to her while she was still alive. She said: “My mother shared with me a valuable lesson. In her calm, measured voice she said: ‘If it happens that your schooling career ends in Sub B (that is Grade 2 for you young ones), make sure that your children do not make the same mistake. Encourage them to go beyond Sub B. Do not hold them back.” And hold them back she never did.
Coincidentally today we celebrate Women’s Day in South Africa. Once a year-or maybe twice a year including Mother’s Day-we get an opportunity to celebrate people like this wise, inspirational lady I mention above. It is a chance to celebrate our women, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, nieces, girlfriends and wives. We humble ourselves before these selfless, resplendent creatures of nature to say the most beautiful words in any language: Thank you; for we know and understand that women are not boxing bags. Nor are they animals we get to belittle whenever we feel insecure. In them we see our better selves. Normally you would hear sentences like ‘Today we are paying tribute to ordinary women from all known and unknown corners of our vast country’; but the truth is there is nothing ordinary about women. Their relentless spirit and miraculous deeds are far from ordinary. If anything allow me to attach ‘extra’ to ‘ordinary’ to lend significance and show appreciation to their immeasurable contribution to our society. Think of the domestic worker who wakes up during the early hours of the morning to take three taxis to work so she can be at work to bathe her master’s kids before they depart for school because their mother is too busy sleeping, all so that she can put food on the table for her kids back in rural KwaZulu Natal. Imagine a female soldier serving in a military battalion based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, miles away from home, constantly under a barrage of attacks from a clueless band of misogynists who religiously cling to the notion that the only place a woman belongs is in a kitchen with an apron or a bedroom procreating. But despite all these hurdles and hardships-including a source of entertainment for racist, stupid and backward university students-they still overcome. This wonderful lady I write off reminds us that in their own these unique, indefatigable women from all walks of life are heroines. In their little way they achieve great things and that their successes are not broadcasted on television for the world to behold does not render their resilience and heroics any less significant.
Now closing in on her seventies, this phenomenal former teacher lives with her husband in the bucolic north-west parts of the country enjoying retirement, though she refuses to rest, constantly reminding me that resting is for lazy people. Whenever the path of life seems too crooked and dark to travel I know she is just a phone call away; and whenever I get a chance and a little money for transport I hitch a hike and pay her a visit just to be in that enviable, warm company of that wise lady, even if it is just for a few days. Ladies, you are our eternal inspiration and your kindness makes this world a better place. Happy Women’s Day. Kgotsong!