It’s December holidays and as with every year, I’m at my mother’s house in Mohlakeng. It’s a medium sized kasie (slang for township) house 45 minutes outside Jo’burg. It’s around midday and I’m sitting outside the house on the pavement with my 9yr old nephew and his friends. They are telling me what they want to do when they grow. We chuckle at the cool and somewhat strange career aspirations while they compete to talk. I sum up the talk with the ubiquitous “you can be whatever you want to be”. I zone off in my mind as I watch them debate who will have more money. There’s a bitter taste in my mouth. I had looked them straight in the eye and, I lied.
I can’t find it in my heart to tell Tumi that the odds say he’ll have a child by 21 and will never get anywhere near an aviation school. How do I tell Kgomotso she’ll never be an accountant. She’ll never even make it through high school. Lebo has better chances of going to jail before he can utter a single word of the Hippocratic Oath. This is not pessimism this is real talk. The are more 21yr olds with kids than there are black pilots. There are more high school dropouts than there are chattered accountants. There more black males in orange overalls than there are ones in white coats and stethoscopes. If you’ve ever lived in the hood you know what I mean. You “make it out” the ghetto, you don’t leave. You move “into” the burbs but you move “back” into kasie. Regression. The township has come to represent a lot of things but dreams and aspirations don’t make the list.
One morning, around 9am, I went to the spaza by the corner to get milk. A ragged looking man was dancing by the gate at the spaza. You know the one, the township drunk. Never sober, no one know his real name and all the kids make fun of him. His stench of cheap traditional beer and illegal cigarettes grabbed me by my nostrils. He paused and looked up, fixing on me two dilated pupils floating in bloodshot puddles. He called me by my English name. That can only mean one thing, we went to the same primary school. A smile cracked across his face. I remembered. I’m a decent graphic designer today but back in standard 3, this guy was, creatively, light years ahead of me. We shared a desk. He looks 10yrs older than me now. Too scares written on his face. He pockets the R2 he asked me for and shuffles off.
When we were young, me and my childhood best friend would talk about what we would achieve in life. He was much smarter than me. He was going to do politics and philosophy at Fort Hare. On the day we he was buried, 2 years ago, the only occupation listed on his obituary was “security guard”. It seems as though ambition is a luxury few can afford. The feast that aspiration promises for tomorrow does not quiet a grumbling stomach today. So we bow our heads and give thanks for our daily bread.
But dead dreams aren’t just a township phenomenon. No, failure is a side effect of this fallible state of being human. But in the hood dreams don’t just die. No, here dreams are the black dude in the horror movie. They meet the wrong side of a chainsaw way too early. What’s even more sad is that we all saw it coming. Eventually we end up celebrating what should actually be a norm. As the matric results come out news broadcasts keep ending with these “miracle” stories about “boy beats the odds” by passing with good marks. I promise you they are not talking about Steve from Greenhills. The odds in townships are heavy weight champions.
I keep trying to figure out where it all goes wrong. I want to look past the “our history”, economics, broken families and peer pressure. Is it even possible to look past these? I try to look at the person. I know you have a timeline full of @RevRuns about positivity but have you ever seen a person who has been defeated by his own future? So many gifted kids don’t even stand a chance. You find them roaming the streets with a look on their face that no child should ever have. A look that says they have seen what no child should ever see. And, all too often, all too soon, we tent them on Saturday. Scavenge for decent sentences to put their names in. Then we throw dust on them as a little part of us in lowered into the ground. Each time it’s a little less painful. Each time a little more normal. Soon enough we pop bottles.
I realize, defeatedly, that I can’t fully grasp it. There are so many in the hood who would be amazing in one career or another. I wonder if it was by luck that I got out. After high school I spent a year doing nothing. My parents didn’t work. I managed to get a bursary. I bolted out the hood like a runaway slave out the south. Now when I visit home, the mere mention of my job is enough to silence most group of people I’m with. An awkward silence.
I feel a sense of betrayal when I’m home. But I can’t figure out who betrayed whom. For all the hopes and dreams that kasie gave us when we were kids, did we betray kasie by not becoming what those dreams had envisioned? Or, for the aspirations kasie gave us, did it betray us by not telling us that most us are screwed from the get go. Sometimes I’m glad I don’t see hope because, like a missing family member, there’s still a chance it’s alive, somewhere. Instead of knowing, for a fact, that hope is dead.
I would like to dedicate this song to anyone who calls kasie home.