Interesting Developments Locally and Nationally


In my last blog, I told the story of the invading cows and their wanton destruction.  I posted a photo of what they did to the Ancestors’ House.  Since I am only the observer of the events of my host family, they come to me in pieces, from observation, and in answer to my questions.   When an ancestor’s house has been damaged, the family needs to repair the damage.  First, they remove the ancestors to a “safe” place while repairs are taking place.  A goat is sacrificed at the beginning of the process.  Last week, a goat was slaughtered here in the yard, a bit away from my rondaval because my host mom thought I would be freaked out.  There was a lot of unusual activity going on outside that evening with the dad and his sons but I wasn’t told anything and really just stayed in my house.  The next morning, I noticed the older boys were near the cook shed with a large knife.  I asked what they were doing.  Mfanelo (20) told me they were cutting up the goat they had slaughtered and were going to cook it.  I asked if I could see and could I take pictures. They were fine with that.  I was not freaked out at the sight of a dead goat being cut into pieces.


Mfanelo cutting up the goat

Mfanelo asked if I ate goat and I said I never had but would like to try a small amount.  He was so gracious and wanted very much for me to share in their tradition. He said he would let me know when the food was ready.  Thulile (host mom, wife #1) told me that a goat is slaughtered rather than a cow when it is just a family event and they are not feeding huge numbers of people.  I brought a bowl and spoon and tried some goat (very salty, rich) and pap.  The boys (brothers all) were eating in one room of the “new” house and the women (wife #1 and #2 plus a sister-in-law) were sitting and eating on the floor on grass mats in another room.  I joined the women.  I sat awhile, then thanked everyone for including me, and went back across the yard to my house.  Dad (the policeman) was working in Ingwavuma at the Reed Festival (virgin girls parade before the Zulu King).


Qhawe washing the goat meat prior to the cooking


Mfanelo with the tray of cooked goat meat


Family women eating their meal of goat and pap. Notice how handy their cell phones are.

The repair began on Monday and by Friday, the Ancestors’ House had a gorgeous new thatched roof with a concrete top. It was done by a couple, working both alone and together, and they did a fabulous job.  It was fascinating to watch this “work of art” be completed.  Thatching is definitely a skill that should be taught to the young so the tradition can continue.


The woman is layering the lower levels of thatch over the solid grid structure underneath.


The man is outside laying on and securing the thatch with wire. The woman is inside feeding the needle back to him as he moves around the hut.


Qhawe is watching and occasionally handing the man bundles of thatch.


This is the finished Ancestors’ House. It is so beautiful!

Apparently, another goat is to be sacrificed when the ancestors are returned to their place in their repaired dwelling.   [The house appears empty.  When a person dies, their spirits are invited to come and live in the house.  At times, people can go inside and the ancestors are consulted on certain issues.]

Now, we MUST keep the gate closed all the time so the cows don’t get in and eat the new roof!


As I have reported, the ANA was scheduled for mid-September and teachers around the nation spent much of August teaching to the test in hopes that their learners would pass the literacy and numeracy exams.  A week or so before the test, rumors were flying, and teachers were getting messages from the largest teacher’s union (SADTU) indicating that they should not “invigilate” the tests.  The union feels that there are many problems with the assessment, including that it is used to target and punish low-performing schools, that it takes a huge number of hours to mark (YES!), that the tests are poorly written and don’t assess the skills the children are learning, and it is given too often so the children don’t have time to completely learn the material.  Just one week prior to the scheduled administration of the test, the Department of Basic Education announced that the ANA was cancelled and would be postponed until February 2016.  They felt the union actions would be too disruptive to the schooling of the children.  They said they would investigate the issues the teacher’s union raised.  There would be a Task Team assigned to work on it.

ANA test packets were taken out of the safe at school and returned en masse to the local Circuit Office.

Apparently it costs R300 million to produce this assessment. Whew!

Reaction at my school was mixed.  The children were disappointed because they had been getting ready for it for so long.  The teachers were both relieved and disappointed.  They wanted to see how the kids would do.  They were relieved not to have to do the marking and moderating.

Reaction among Peace Corps volunteers was just relief.  Everyone agrees that the tests are poorly written, poorly designed and skewed towards city kids with more worldly experience than our rural children.  There was a small part of me, however, that even knowing these truths, wanted to know if my English learners would show any advantage.  (Ego.)

Then, just yesterday, the DBE announced that they have changed their mind and ANA is now to be administered in the first week of December 2015, at the end of fourth term.  Surprise!  One of our volunteers heard it on the radio and sent a Whatsapp text to all of us.  I showed my principal who was surprised to hear the news.  I again heard it on the evening SABC news.  The union rep said that DBE has declared war against the union.

The drama continues to unfold.  I am an observer because I am not in the union.  I am a participant because if we have to administer the damn tests, I will have to mark them.
65 English Grade 5.  50 English Grade 7.


I interviewed Sifundo’s  (our wonderful teaching aide, my tutor and my “son”) gogo (Rosina Mkhabela). Sifundo was the translator.  He adores his gogo because she took care of him when he was a small boy and gave him lots of love.   She is 85 years old according to her ID book but that number may not be correct.  She lives with her wheel-chair-bound husband in the family home.  She agreed to answer my questions about her life but in reality doesn’t remember too many details especially regarding dates or ages.    Not only is she old but the culture does not put much emphasis on “time.” She didn’t smile much or give very detailed answers to my questions.   Here are some things she does recall: she got married after she had the first six children and then they had four more, 4 boys, 6 girls; two of her children have died; her family grew all their own food; she did not go to school and can not read or write; all her children went to school; school cost 10 cents/year and you had to buy a slate as there were no exercise books. She mostly stayed home and thinks that one big difference for women now is they work for themselves.  They also have their own homes and don’t stay home working in the garden.  She lives in a more modern world now: she has a cell phone, the government gives her a pension, water is delivered to the tank, and she and her husband have a full-time caretaker.  Her husband recalled that in 1947 he walked to Johannesburg with gume (corn) and water as provisions. He does not know how long it took.  He worked in the mines and stayed in housing for mine workers.  She doesn’t recall anything specific about the apartheid years.

Gogo now mostly sits, cooks a bit, talks, and goes to church.  Gogo was amazed that I walked so much. She agreed to the interview but thought I was going to be a man. I was also the first white person to come visit them in their house.


Sifundo (22) and his gogo (85) at her home.


Sifundo’s grandfather, Sifundo, and his grade 8 sister.


Me and his sister and his gogo.

Local again:

My host mom, Thulile, invited me to attend a “traditional” Zulu (and Shembe) wedding.  A cousin was getting married.  The wedding, on September 20, was held just across the road, easy walking distance from our homes.  I walked over with her, in the rainy misty weather, about 11:30. She had already been there a long while, helping with the cooking.  The cousin being married was about 45 and had been living with his bride-to-be for a while and they had several children already.  He had grown children as well, from a former wife, now deceased.  While we were walking into the fenced yard, a “band” was playing and young dressed-alike men were dancing a traditional dance.  The band was a drum and vuvuzelas.

Thulile introduced me to some women who were helping with the cooking. I had a sip of traditional beer made from maize.  Then she left me to continue her jobs. I waited alone awhile and then stood in the misty rain with some of my grade 5 boys, Qhawe, and then Mfanelo came to say hello.  I was content to watch and people were both surprised to see me and very welcoming.  I overheard some whispered explanations, “she is a teacher at Okhayeni.”  I was the only white person there.

The ceremony started with a group of Zulu men, wearing Zulu attire, coming outside the house with the groom, to dance. (Very stylized, rhythmic, careful, slow steps.) They were accompanied by a big bass drum with 2-liter soda bottles for drumsticks.  Perfect!  Then the bride and her women’s contingent began dancing toward the men, carrying interesting objects, such as a knife, reeds, a hatchet, a lantern.  The two groups went forward and back barely mixing.  Eventually, the bride and groom were dancing next to each other.


Zulu men dancing with drummer.

When the dancing finished, there was a large circle of spectators.  At the center of the circle, two grass mats were stretched out on the muddy yard and the bride and groom kneeled together to begin the vows.  There were friends/relatives holding big umbrellas over them to somewhat protect them from the increasing rain.  A few “pastors” assisted with the vows, putting their hands on a Bible passage, and an exchange of rings.  Then there was ululations from the crowd, some dancing in and out of the circle, a circle of women around the seated bride, and then a dance where the the newly married couple flirted with each other a bit, dancing close enough for a quick butt bounce and a shy smile.  That was the only time I saw them smile.


Bride and groom dancing.


Kneeling Couple doing vows.

I had a good view because early on, I was spirited away across the circle to stand with some church elders, including my host dad.  They made sure that I could see, that the hood on my jacket was protecting me from the rain, that I knew I could take photos, and I was enjoying the event.  Very solicitous.

Fortunately for me, about the same time as the ceremony ended, I had had enough of activity, noise, rain, mud, and the crowd.  I walked home in the slippery mud and was grateful that I had been invited, that it was so interesting, and that I could so easily be at home when I was ready.