In 1993, my family moved from the former Transkei town of Butterworth to the ”South African” town of East London 130km away. My parents had been educators in the Transkei and when we moved to East London, my father continued writing and lecturing and my mother, after a short teaching stint at a local high school called Kusile in Duncan Village, decided she would start a school of her own.
On a Sunday afternoon in early 1994, we got into the back of the bakkie and my mother drove our family to the site she had selected, a deserted and dilapidated bottle green farm house in the middle of slum called Reeston. One couldn’t even call it a township because around the farmhouse were informal shacks, no running water and electricity. The grass around the farm house was long and there were all sorts of smells that greeted us as we made our way to the windowless building. The following week my mother started a creche and invited two of her friends, who had been mine and my sister’s pre school teachers, to come and teach with her.
They said yes and so in 1994, with only 2 teachers on her staff, she founded Nkangeleko Lower Primary School. In the beginning, there were less than 10 children but the school soon grew in numbers and size. The farm house was renovated and painted with a fresh coat, a gravel road was constructed from the main road to the school, plants were planted and soon, the kids, who all came from Reeston started to wear uniforms. More children came, more teachers were enrolled and soon the farm house became too small. I remember my mother coming home one day a few years later to tell us that she had applied to the Department of Education for a bigger property because now the pupil population had swelled to over five hundred.
By the time I finished high school in 2002, the school had well over 1000 pupils from grade 1 – grade 9 and and my mother had helped establish a high school called Sophathisana and two churches in the same area. Nkangeleko kids were known for their brilliant manners, their sportsmanship and for winning regional choir competitions year after year, even traveling to Joburg and Durban to compete in nationals.
In 2014, after 20 years as the principal of Nkangeleko, my mother retired. Today on 26 March 2015, the people of Reeston, the mothers and fathers of the children who grew up under MaBongs’ leadership are doing a farewell for her at the school. Sadly I can’t be there because I will be home in 2 weeks but my sisters and my other family are there sending me photos of a very emotional farewell. The parents, who are still largely poor, have been collecting R10s here and R50’s there for the last year so that they could have this farewell for my mother. I am so touched. Apparently she is so touched she can’t even speak. I tried to call her but my lilian of a mother is in tears.
Mama, I am so proud of you and everything you do for other people. If I could be half the woman you are, I would have been something.
The image on the cover page is my mom and her sister. My mom is on the right standing next to her sister my aunt, at my aunt’s thanks giving party last year after she became the 3rd black neurologist in South Africa last year. That’s my mom in the video 🙂