In a village where I come from there is a now former teacher who taught many of the community members. Her teaching, I think, has contributed enormously to not only the community at large but also to the individuals who were the recipients of her teaching. So when you want to honour someone like this former teacher whose name I would reserve for sometime until the right time, where do you start? What do you do? How do you go it?
For a long period of time now I have struggled with these questions myself. And it was not until recently that I decided to do something I have never done before and one which I have no experience of. And it is writing something about it – a documentary, informed blog posts or even a biography, if she likes – that will give detailed information and insight into the life of the said teacher.
And it was in an SMS to the teacher’s daughter, also a very good friend on mine, that I said this:
“Hi. I’m interested in doing a short story (or a proposal, if you like) for your Mother. It is something I have been thinking of for about a year now but haven’t had the guts to tell her. I think I should tell you this, but will discuss it even further when I get home. I’m interested in doing a short story (or even a write her Biography) and or documentary about her as an honour. I think she’s the community’s treasure that I personally would not want to honour when she is no more and dead but would want to do that while she is still alive so that she can add her voice to it. Please advise if the issue (of her Biography) has been discussed by you and the rest of her family or not. Please reply”.
I am not trying to place myself as any a better person by saying I had been thinking to do this over a year. I am not. I am just telling the truth. And the reason I wanted to enquire if the idea had been discussed in her family was so that I would not want there to be duplicity, especially on the biography point. Had the idea already been part of the family discussion, I think I would not have bothered in pursuing it. That she is a treasure to the community, I am not lying. I am telling the truth.
And it did not take long to get a response from the teacher’s daughter that read:
“Hi dear friend. Wow, got to say that’s huge, the thought never crossed my mind. Think that’s great, I’ll talk to her and then you can explain to her personally. How, I really do not know what to say. Will call you tomorrow. Night dear.”
At the time of her retirement from the school where she had been a teacher for over 30 years, the retired teacher was made a farewell party which I, unfortunately, could not attend as I was not around at the time.
But it was the ordeal with the processing and later the payment of her due monthly pension with the Department of Education that she had to deal with and endure. The department, she told me at the time, had put her through hell. She had to fill in the application forms for pension twice, if not thrice, because some of the department officials had lost all of her documents, including the pension application, which had since delayed her receiving the monthly pension for over a year. It took more than a year for the retired teacher to get what was due to her: monthly pension from the department of education.
She told me once that during this up-and-down with her pension application, she even told and advised her children not to consider teaching as a profession. This may have been out of frustration.
The former teacher also told me that many of the other former teachers that had went to pension before her told her that they sometimes even had to wait for over two years before their pensions could be finalised, while it took others more than three years to get their pension. She further told me that there were many others who died before they received their monthly pension from the department after they had waited and waited due to the delay from the department.
This and many other stories are just some of the issued I would like to cover.
In an SMS I sent to a couple of friends of mine asking advised on how to go about this project, I wrote:
“Dumela tlhe. Ke tshepa fa o siame (Hi. I trust that you are fine). I need your advice. I want to write a Biography about a teacher in my community, my friend’s mother who even taught my mother at some stage and many other people in my village. She’s on pension and I want to honour her while she is still alive so that she can add her voice to it. I want to do this not because she’s my friend’s mother (she never taught me anyway). She was a teacher for 30 years. She went through hell when the Department of Education had to giver her her pension. I’m interested in her life as 1) A Human being who lived to the tell the apartheid tale, 2) A Mother, 3) Widow and a single parent, 4) A teacher during apartheid and democracy after 30 years and its challenges, 5) Woman of God and Christianity, and everything there is to know. I just run the idea part her daughter (last born) and she’s ecstatic, saying it never crossed her mind. She said her mom’s biography had never been discussed before by her and her siblings”.
In response, a very good friend of mine had this to say:
“Don’t be discouraged too early on. We, black people, are more private about our lives, especially the older generation. So things like autobiographies are often taken to be the revelations of one’s most intimate beings, rather than a celebration and documenting of our lives. If you come up with a concept to show her, you know, something like what the focus would be I’m sure you can win her over. Talk to her and assure her that you will respect her privacy. She may also be concerned with the bad memories that could be stirred up, things she’d rather not remember, so your approach should also assuage such concerns”.
It is not the second time I have thought of something like this. FormerBophuthatswanaPresident, Lucas Mangope, is one such person who I would like to write a piece of biography on. But with this project of the former teacher, I hope it succeeds.
So if you have any advice for me please do not hesitate to contact me on one or all of the following details:
Mobile: 073 142 3040