Snor City, like most others, has a certain magic when the night shifts over for the day and swathes of pink mist up the spaces between black silhouettes of buildings. The last of the streetlights, the neon of commerce and the traffic lights punctuate this movement of time, this instant in which the world is both mysterious and beautiful, everywhere, and its confounding whims are momentarily forgotten.
Its confounding whims are all I could think about, however, three hours later in the echoing foyer of the Mmabatho High Court, having made the journey for nothing. The court personnel were on strike because, the registrar told me when I was begging her to come in and give me the file I have travelled since five that morning to collect, they have been threatened, their families have been threatened and their homes have been “visited”. So I found myself on the opposite end of the wonder spectrum as I sat and waited for my lift to finish his matter, the smell of strong disinfectant in the air, wondering what time the marching masses will reach the local legislature opposite the square from the High Court.
Part of the wonder at that end of the spectrum was at my own idiocy of not phoning the day before. Obscene intimacy with the paucity of reason of more than one government department since January had clearly not conditioned me to accept that just because the clerk of the court says “come any day” it does not actually mean “any day”. It means “any day that we are not on strike”. I felt like a real idiot. I tried to convince myself that it was not unreasonable to believe that the justice system, at least, would limp along after a fashion, as I had been to two other courts since the beginning of the strike and they were at least functioning, in a manner of speaking. The Protea magistrates’ courts were remanding cases at relatively normal speed.
On the way there the radio announced that municipal workers (haven’t we just HAD weeks of refuse piling up on the sidewalk?) may soon join the strike in solidarity, immediately after the report that a court interdict prevented the police services from downing tools. Callers-in sympathise and sound off; I sat and wondered why, as Adam Habib said, we are the richest country in Africa and we have the worst exam results for maths and science on the continent. I was tempted to say that, depending on one’s teacher, maths and science can be the most brain-numbing subjects in the history of education – mainly because my own achievements in these subjects at a privileged white school were barely above shocking – but instead I tried not to make a national crisis about me.
It is about the teachers. I think SADTU’s tactics are beneath contempt, I think the union has too much power; it champions incompetence and shields thugs and sloths. It has turned teachers into political animals and stripped the profession of all respect, for itself, for and from others. Its leaders’ attempts to distance the organisation from the violence and intimidation we have seen are feeble, laughable really. I don’t believe them when they say that they condemn incidents where teachers were pulled from their classrooms and children and parents were threatened with violence. I don’t believe them.
On the other hand, I think that the government should get its house in order. Teachers’ salaries are shocking, as we saw in Carte Blanche last night – how can someone with a PHD and ten years’ teaching experience take home R13000 a month? Surely we want the brightest and most dedicated people to teach our children – and surely a proper education should not be a private-school privilege? I remember when I was at school that teachers lived fairly moderately, but that they could afford to buy a house and have a holiday with their kids once a year – what has happened since then?
No wonder they take to the streets or the airports. (More wondering.)
I want to say something more about the useless trip to Mmabatho, that it was perhaps not the worst thing in the world, that the North West has a landscape that appeal to me, that I had an interesting conversation in the car… something. Perhaps next time.