The case for Mr Cuba, a class master

2017-09-21 06:01
lower caseLunga Adam

lower caseLunga Adam

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It’s a Saturday morning and I’m in the grip of anxiety as Mr Khaya Cuba, a long-serving educator at Vukani Primary School in Lower Crossroads, lets me in at his Luzuko Park residence.

I think its just so unnatural to address an educator sans the honorific Mr. After all he is a veteran of 22-years in the profession, from being a furniture salesman.

Never in my wildest dreams has it ever occurred to me that one day I’d be the inquisitor who would have Mr Cuba at his mercy.

I remember that his use of the cane knew no bounds and that laggards had no place to hide in his classroom. Such was his modus operandi.

He was also a caring somebody, though, for on many occasions truant learners knew that he’d pull the rug from right under their feet and send a “delegation” to said learner’s parents, reporting on their waywardness.

Before they knew it, learners would tumble bareback on the floor as a result. Figuratively speaking.

Yet, in the same breath, it’s hard to imagine that he actually never even had ambitions of becoming a school teacher. He had always dreamt of becoming a legal eagle, he tells me.

“My father did not have the finances to send me to university,” he explains. “Time went by and I was sitting with this dream, so I decided to open the next door.”

Born in Cala in the Eastern Cape, Mr Cuba attended the Gwada Junior Secondary School, then went to Cala High School, before matriculating at Mditshwa Senior Secondary School in Mthatha. Bereft of funds, he came to Cape Town where he found a job at a furniture shop in Lansdowne Road.

In 1991, he commenced his studies at Good Hope College of Education, studying towards a teacher’s diploma.

Following the completion of his studies at the end of 1993, he discovered that job prospects were as rare as hen’s teeth.

He stuck it out and was eventually employed at Sikelela Imizamo Yethu Primary School- formerly Mkhangeli Primary School in Crossroads in 1995.

He continue there until the idea of a school in Lower Crossroads came about.

Because it had become dangerous for kids from Lower Crossroads to cross Lansdowne Road on their way to school.

“So our principal opened a new school called Mazidlekhaya (now Vukani). At the same time, Phakama High School was opened right next to it. Tuition at both schools initially happened inside prefabricated classrooms .”

As I sit with him, I wonder if he has any regrets.

“It’s very good that it didn’t work out(becoming a lawyer), as I’m very satisfied with where I am. There is so much progress that has come out of me. So many students have gone on to become success stories. Some of them are my friends now. My mantra is: teach a black kid, make that learner happy and enjoy your learning area. What I can tell you is that where I work is where I am known best. Funnily enough, though, few people call me by my surname, as most call me by my clan name of Mqwathi.”

Interestingly, locals pronounce his name in the same way they do for the Caribbean island know for its leader Castro and rolled cigars.

One of his success stories is former learner Bathabile, who, he says, always finds time to visit and express gratitude.

“She calls me Daddy,” he enthuses.

Mr Cuba says what he loves most about his profession, is the company of students inside a classroom, school holidays notwithstanding.

“I’d thought by now Lower Crossroads would be a place, you know, free from gangsterism. Around 1998, there were thugs, thieves, robbers and hijackers here. Lower Crossroads was like Gauteng... a gangster’s paradise. I think too many people came around in recent years and brought with them a plethora of problems.

The new settlement, Marikana, ushered in different people from different spheres of life and they lack mutual understanding of each other.”

Predictably, he feels strongly about the abolishment of corporal punishment.

“Beating a child was okay then, but now it sends you to jail,” he chuckles. “Let me start by saying that we didn’t punish those kids because we hated them.

Men are not arrested for stealing the horses, but the horses should not be stolen.

Our kids are gradually becoming unruly. They bring with them dagga, glue and ganja muffins. Even guns,” he shares.

Does he feel his hands are tied, then?

“Learners have got too many protective laws on their side. Even if you point a finger at a learner, that learner could go and lay charges.

But as teachers, we always tell them when they err on the side of doing good.

A new document is going to be issued by the Department of Education which will intensify the rights of learners, making teachers even more powerless.”

His wife of 15 years, Nolulamo (née Soga), is herself an educator at KwaFaku Primary School in the same.

She can barely contain her emotions as she eavesdrops on the conversation. She is riled up at the slightest mention of learner misbehaviour. Suddenly the whole conversation takes an interesting turn and even Mr Cuba finds his voice.

She shoots: “Where will these kids end up? Are you building the child with all these laws? They backchat a lot.”

To which Mr Cuba responds, “If a learner is disturbing class, you can’t chase him or her out. The learner must remain disruptive throughout.”

Mrs Cuba shares of a recent meeting between teachers and teacher trade union SADTU, where teachers were pleading for mediation in what they feel is the introduction of regulations that is bias in favour of leaners.

“They basically said if a teacher can’t stand being hit by kids in class, then that teacher must resign.

In high schools, learners are hitting teachers! What must I do in that situation? Must I run away from a child? SADTU is adamant they won’t represent any teacher accused of assaulting a learner.

“... But they are deducting levies every month from the same teachers. You cannot even send a learner to detention, for what happens to them afterwards is your responsibility.”

For his part, Mr Cuba reminisces of a recent outing with learners to the Waterfront.

“We were on a cruise and next we know, two 12-year-old boys had run away to steal at a shop there. I had to run around trying to locate those boys. I found them in a Cape Union Mart shop. I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ They said they were there to check out the clothing. I asked if they had any money on them and they said no. They were there to steal.”

Mrs Cuba: Does this not have to do with the social background na? Let’s face it.

Mr Cuba: But if you look at those two boys, they come from well-off families.

Mrs Cuba: It’s not about their families. Our kids tend to copy wrong things out there.

Mr Cuba: You think it’s peer pressure?

Mrs Cuba: Ewe.

Mr Cuba: One of the boys I found at the shop once heard there’d been a shooting incident near where he stays.

When he got there after school, I hear he said to his friends, ‘Ekse majita, niqala njani ukudubula ndingekho?’ This is a 12-year-old, mind you.”

It’s not all doom and gloom. Mr Cuba reserves special praise for two youngsters, Malusi Dantile and Bulelani Ponoyi, his ex-learners who are now his colleagues.

“Having arrived two years ago, they took Vukani from a low percentage in Mathematics to 87%... same with English. Those boys are working hard. They are young, gifted and Black.”

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