My name is Sitha Nkwali and I am a grade 12 student at and headgirl of Clarendon High School for girls in South Africa. I am a boarder, however, I am from Rabula Location. I love reading and writing. My story follows the story of a young black hockey player who experiences marginalisation at her high school. Despite integration in schools post Apartheid in South Africa, the black population still faces marginalisation in former white-only schools.
Her world was collapsing inside of her
The angry sun calms down and sets with the troubles of the day. Cows are roaming around, sheep grazing lazily on the withered soil of Sophumelela and the goats are bleating hazily. The children are playing with toy cars and adolescents hover with a newly found superiority. It is the perfect chaos that concludes the day at the Masimeni household. The disorderly order that camouflages itself with normalised repetitive actions. Majola calls out to Ntsikayomzi, who had lost track of time in a book, ”Ntsiki mntanam 1, the dishes are waiting. Hurry up, have you forgotten that you are a girl?”
“Dishes have no gender mama. Dali is perfectly capable of doing them as much as I am. We all have hands, you see.”
“ ‘Dishes have no gender.’ These books are filling your head with nonsense mntanam, back when I was your age, all I knew was labour and marriage. Come inside,” Majola laughs hysterically.
Ntsiki follows her mother and does as she is told, conversing with her mother as Dali enters,
“ What’s this I hear about hands and what what? Do your job and stop being defiant for once, Ntsiki. Stop filling your head with urban fantasies while your body is here.”
“Ha yourself! Just because your education is better than ours doesn’t make you better than us sisi 2. You can 'Ha' all you want. I can read all day and act holier-than-thou even tomorrow.”
Ntsiki quickly finishes the dishes and prepares for school for the following day. Bikotown is fourty kilometres away from Sophumelela, here stands the prestigious Saint Bridge’s College. A centre of young women excellence and honour, this vessel of prestige prides itself in its academic excellence and involvement in various sporting and cultural codes. Ntsikayomzi is particularly excited for her first day at SBC as she looks forward to playing for the school's famed hockey first team. Hockey is her life. She lives and breathes this sport. This foreign drug is her escape from reality and is one of her first loves. She looks forward to smelling the dry Astro, running closer towards her goal and most importantly- the thrill, the rush, the adrenaline of being totally immersed in a match. Heart pounding, head buzzing, body ready. The thrills of orchestrating an accurate pass and, of course, the cheers and singing of the lively crowd. Ntsiki does not work well in a team, but for hockey, she is a part of the whole. She was part of a team at Kern High School- her previous school. The youngest player, a grade eight, in a team of mostly grade elevens and twelves. Her former teammates embraced her quiet self and always pushed her to do better. Although they were not aware of this, Ntsiki always looked forward to seeing them after a hectic day of doing calculations and learning of scientific concepts. They trusted her. She was one of them, and them a part of her. Tragically, she was to learn that that was the last time she would feel like she belongs.
The sun rises over Sophumelela and with it the Masimeni home. The children are hurriedly preparing for school. Ntsiki looks at her green tunic and white shirt in the mirror. She ponders on this new chapter in her life and whether or not a new uniform means a new her. It is exciting. Green looks good on her. Everyone sits at the table as Dali pours porridge into everyone’s bowl. The table is lively with the news of current affairs and frustration.
“This country is doomed. I have never seen a government as corrupt, greedy, careless and incompetent as ours. They sold us an unrealistic dream twenty-eight years ago. Our people are getting poorer by the day whereas their comrades are benefitting off their poverty. Things were indeed better under the leadership of the oppressive regime. At least, back then, we knew where we stood.”
“How can you say that mama? You really prefer blatant discrimination over freedom? Perhaps we judge our leaders too cruelly and expect them to meet unrealistic standards,” Ntsiki replies.
“I hear you, mama. This country is on its last breath,” Dali replies as he pulls his chair back.
“What is the point of freedom if we do not enjoy its fruits?” Majola queries.
“Mama, it's very complicated. The struggles we face today are a legacy of the past. Apartheid simply morphed through privatisation and decentralisation of the economy. Capitalism is the host through which this virus thrives and our leaders inherited a country that was shaped to
accommodate the minority. It's a shame how we are always too quick to judge the leaders without taking into consideration that they steer an already broken ship.”
Ntsiki's transport hoots impatiently for her to get out of her home. She rushes out calling, “Bye-bye mama! Bye guys!”
“Have a good day sweetheart, enjoy your first day at school. Give them your all.” “Bye Sisi, good luck!” Dali encourages her sister with a warm heart.
Ntsiki travels on the road that will soon become the connection between home and dreams. The familiar sounds and scenes that carry her soul to Nirvana. The morning breeze that blows through her hopeful heart carries the car to Bikotown, a town of fulfilling her high hopes and daring dreams. Hooting cars run parallel to livestock grazing the barren rural land. The smell of automated machines mixed with the smell of nature, each co-existing peacefully in their chaos.
The majestic gates of Saint Bridges' College open. Parents drop off their children and head to the corporate world. A sea of green washes over her eyes as she struggles to navigate her way through the exotic crowd.
“Owwww, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?” Ntsiki asks as she pulls Emily to her feet. “I swear I didn’t see you, I didn’t mean to-“
“Relax, girl, it’s all good. Are you new here? You look new. Anyways, hi, I'm Emily Snipe.” “Is it that obvious?,” she asks nervously, “ Hi, I'm Ntsikayomzi Masimeni.” “You just look different, that’s all. Which class are you in?”
“Hectic! They put you in Deaths's class upon arrival? Yep, she's a mean one. Anyways, shout if you need help. Bye!”
“Wait! Where can I sign up to play hockey?”
“Go to the hockey notice board next to the tuck shop!” Emily shouts as she drifts away in the busy crowd.
Ntsiki looks for the tuck shop and finally finds it outside the building with a gigantic ACCOUNTING BLOCK sign on it.
All players invited to the first team trials next week Wednesday. Take note of the following items to be brought:
● Shin pads
● Gum guards
● Hockey stick
● Your ‘A game'
We hope you join us for a wonderful day of hockey.”
Suddenly excited and approaching her new environment with purpose, Ntsiki finds her way to Mrs Sternberg's class and meets her new classmates.
She sticks out like a sore thumb in a school of middle-class teenagers who are vastly influenced by American and Eurocentric cultures. Her pride in her African self and her appreciation of the beautiful black embodiment that is the diaspora of Africa and its people is prevalent in a hollow and a largely artificial generation. Intellectual, outspoken and inhabiting a deep care rooted in the concept of Ubuntu, Ntsiki inevitably makes friends easily and familiarises herself with this new environment.
Wednesday comes and she is over the moon. The clock strikes two o'clock and she rushes to the Astro field. She immerses herself in the warm-up routine of the other contestants. They are sorted out in teams and play matches against each other as the selectors keep an eye out for the best. These selectors could not keep their eyes away from her raw, natural talent and the praises from other team players confirmed this talent. Picked to play for the first team, Ntsiki goes home ecstatic. She tells her family and they all join in in her joy.
“I knew it!” Dali exclaims, “ I would have been surprised if they didn’t pick you.” “It’s only the beginning brother. The real work starts now. I have my first practice tomorrow.”
“Let me not hold you then champ. Have a restful night,” Dali fist pumps her sister goodnight, “WATCH OUT WORLD, SHE'S COMING!”
The atmosphere is different. She is self conscious of her blackness in the unpleasant way. Not her prideful, usual manner but in a “I'm the only black player here” way. The atmosphere is unwelcoming and ominous. Nevertheless, she plays the game she knows. The players gather around for a drill and watch the coach as he demonstrates what they should do. Ntsiki watches as the first few dribble in a circular motion around beacons and sprint to the end. Her turn finally comes and she does as all those before her have done.
“You have such length,” said the coach, “but you are not doing it right.”
Ntsiki watches closely as another player does the drill.
She tries again determined to get it right. The next exercise is a team building one. The ball is passed from one player to the next as they are spread across the field in a zigzag. The last player at the zigzag takes a shot at the goals and moves to the start of the line. Everyone has a tough time grasping the concept of this exercise as they make mistakes along the way. Ntsiki is no different.
“WHAT WAS THAT!? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? CAN YOU NOT DO THE EXERCISE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?” coach yells at her.
Her stomach turns and her head buzzes in confusion as to why only her mistakes were called out. Perhaps the coach sees her potential and expects her to constantly get the drills right at first. She is superhuman- she can not make mistakes. The practice concludes with a jog around the field and the players gather around the centre.
“That was a good practice, girls. We do, however, have a long way to go.”
He then proceeds to praise Ntsiki, in particular, for her skills and progresses to comment that she looks like one of the cast members of Marvel’s Black Panther. Ntsiki feels her stomach drop. Why was she constantly singled out? Why her? Was this indeed a compliment or was she missing an unspoken message throughout the entire practice?
The coach singled her out at every practice from then onwards. Ntsiki felt like a failure as her self esteem and confidence slowly deteriorated. This affected her as she no longer played with her usual confidence, but with a self conscious that pre-empted her mistakes and failure.
Why was no one else told that they resembled a cast member of their race? Why were others encouraged and she discouraged?
Ntsiki slowly fell out of love with hockey. Her life. Her oxygen. Her escape, her drug. The one thing that was her more than her. She woke up thinking twice about going to practice as she knew that the micro aggressions awaited her and they tucked her into bed every night. On the outside, everyone saw the Ntsiki that enjoyed playing hockey. If only they knew that her world was collapsing inside her.
Her love was blown out by white winds. And so the informed Ntsiki who understands why things are the way they are could not stand it anymore. The institutionalised form followed by micro aggressions cuts deep. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing as she refused to play a sport in a system that mocks her and laughs in her face. She was left emotionless and numb; she felt nothing about what was once the love of her life. How can a person, an institution take away the love of her life?
1. mntanam- my child
2. sisi- sister