Don's Diary

July 7, 1995

FRIDAY. With my colleague Dave Hill give a talk to student teachers, teachers and lecturers at Soweto College of Education on politics and education in Britain. In the ensuing discussion, those students who speak unanimously express the need to overthrow the capitalist economy in South Africa, as a starting point for a new teacher education system.

On the drive back to Johannesburg, witness for the first time the infamous "hostels", used under the apartheid regime to house single migrant workers. More like cattle sheds than hostels. Taken to The Harbour, a horrendous upmarket leisure complex, enjoyed overwhelmingly by whites only.

MONDAY. Drive with Dave through the Orange Free State from Johannesburg to Welkom, famous for its goldmines. As always, the township providing the cheap labour is situated out of town. Asked a local Afrikaaner about the ethnic composition of the area. Told 65 per cent Afrikaans and 35 per cent English. A further inquiry prompts the incredulous response, "we don't count the sub-humans". Meet a black shop steward at a nearby garage, who takes us to the local bar where only black people drink.

TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY. Head for Cape Town via East London. Still in the Free State, stop off for a coffee in a bar in a small town. A man in full paramilitary uniform, spouting eagles and swastikas (apparently a member of the Iron Guard) is sitting relaxed in the bar, chatting in Afrikaans to the owners.

As English socialists, we decide to gulp down our coffees and make a hasty retreat. As we drive off at great speed, we wonder how the young black woman who served the coffee manages to cope with this local nazi.

Stop briefly in Queenstown, which seems to be a pleasant multiracial town, but still with the ubiquitous township located outside. Stop for the night in East London.

THURSDAY. Drive to Cape Town. Witness the obscenity of Crossroads squatter camp from the freeway. Dave and I give a talk at the University of Cape Town on transformative teacher education. As usual, it goes down well with the black people in the audience, but the whites are much more cynical. Told they are suffering from post-apartheid stress!

Stay at the Waterfront area of Cape Town, where I am due to give a paper at a conference. More "multiracial" than Johannesburg but an appalling contrast to Crossroads.

Get talking to a young man from the township of Khayelitsha. Take him for a meal and discuss South Africa's national and township politics and Marxist theory (he has read Das Kapital Volumes one, two and three).

MONDAY. Present a paper with two local scholars on critical transformative primary teacher education for the new South Africa. Arrange to meet a leading South African educationist for a drink in the evening. Just before he arrives, my township friend comes to visit me in my hotel. We all go for a drink together. A stimulating meeting of minds - the ex-Robben Island Marxist academic and the young unemployed Marxist from the township.

TUESDAY. Take a third- class train (automatically given a first-class ticket - presumably because I am white?) to the University of Cape Town to give a talk on equality at PRAESA (Project for Alternative Education in South Africa). Goes down well. My township friend and one of his comrades arrive. Take 18-seater minibus taxi to Khayelitsha, via Crossroads and Langa. Go to a shebeen and buy lots of drinks for the locals. Told by the oldest person there that I am the first white person ever to visit the bar. Stay for several hours, then return to Cape Town with comrades. The trains are full of black workers returning to the townships after 12- or 14-hour shifts in the city.

WEDNESDAY. Fly back to Johannesburg. As arranged, meet a black academic from the University of Wi****ersrand, and learn for the first time the title of the paper I have been asked to present at Wits the following day. Have a few beers and go with him to see Hugh Masakela, live at a local bar. Hugh expresses pleasure that, unlike the rest of the audience, we are moving to the music.

THURSDAY. Wake up worried about presenting an unprepared talk on postmodernism and Marxism. To my relief, I manage to defend my position quite well to a largely hostile audience. My previous experiences in Cape Town and my stimulating discussions with the comrades in the township has given me new strengths.

There is something unusually refreshing about decrying the irrelevance of postmodernism after talking at length to poor blacks. Go to pick up a chapter for the forthcoming book I am co-editing from one of the contributors (an ex-resident of the United Kingdom now working on the upgrading of maths teaching in Soweto). Get driven to the airport. Massive traffic jams and long queues of people, as they head for the homelands.

As I head for home, I wonder what the future holds for this unique society.

Mike Cole Senior lecturer in education, University of Brighton.

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