Andile’s long walk to Grade R

2012-01-12 00:00

IN the rural area of Khokhwane in Elands­kop, five-year-old Andile Bhengu lies asleep in his bed, perhaps drifting into dreams about his first day of school at Sombongangani Primary School.

At 6.40 am Andile’s mother Nomusa wakes him from his slumber to get him ready for Grade R, the biggest step in his life. “Wake up, boy, it is time for school and we have to get you ready,” says Nomusa as she affectionately scoops the sleepy boy into her arms. It takes a few minutes for Andile’s mind to register that this is the first day of his academic life and he excitedly takes off his pyjamas to head for the bath tub.

“You are going to school today because you are a big boy, aren’t you?” says Nomusa while lathering soap on Andile, who only responds with a big smile. A couple of minutes later Andile pops out of the bedroom dressed in his navy and blue uniform ready for breakfast. His sister Mpilo (12) who goes to Langsyde High School, and his cousin Olwethu Bhengu (6), who also goes to Sombongangani Primary School, now acknowledge him as one of them and advise Andile on what to expect at school.

“If someone teases you or bullies you, you must come and tell me and I will sort them out for you because you are my brother and I will protect you,” says little Olwethu with a brave face.

Now it is time for Andile’s breakfast and he is throwing a fit because the milk for his cornflakes is cold, but for Nompilo who has seen three of Andile’s siblings through their first day of school, the tantrum does little to ruin her good mood.

“Andile has been begging me for years to go to school and wear a uniform like the other kids. Every day for the past week he has been looking at his uniform and asks me when he will get to wear it.

“Today I finally get to tell him that he can and that fills my heart with so much joy. He is my youngest child and I am really happy that I get to be here when he prepares for this special day,” she said.

The proud mother of four children — Siboniso (21), Sinegugu (19), Mpilo(12) and Andile (5) — admits that it is not easy raising four children on the money she gets as a traditional healer and her husband Ndabezinhle’s policeman’s salary, but maintains that they do alright.

“I love my family and I would not trade them for anything, that is why providing for them is not so hard, I just do the best that I can,” she adds.

However, the breakfast tantrum is the first of many, as Andile is not happy about the polony sandwich his mother packed for his lunch and R5 spending money has to be part of the deal.

It is 7.30 am now and time to walk the four kilometres to Andile’s school. The long walk is a family affair, with Sinegugu and her friends Thabile and Thobile Zuma joining.

Thabile and Thobile are the orphaned twins (19) who were featured in The Witness last week after they achieved nine As for matric between them. A group of Durban-based doctors has since pledged to help them with their university fees, as they live with their brother who runs a tavern and supports them on his income.

Sinegugu cannot believe her little brother is starting school while she will be starting her first year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“This is a good year for our family, I am going to be studying Social Science and my brother is starting school.

“He looks so cute and I hope he makes great friends like I did. It seems like yesterday when I met Thabile and Thobile in grade two. Now we are going to the same university and we are close as ever,” said Sinegugu.

It is 8.45 am now and Andile squeezes his mother’s hand tightly as they push past scores of primary school pupils to get to Andile’s classroom.

As Nomusa waves goodbye tears well up in Andile’s eyes as he realises that his mother is not staying with him.

However, the tears are hurriedly wiped away when Andile sees his friends from Fezokuhle pre-primary school, which is opposite Sombongangani Primary School.

It is now 1.45 pm, and Nomusa is on her way to pick up Andile.

To make the first day even more special, Andile’s great grandmother Catherine Nkiyi (100) waits at home to hear about his first day.

The elderly woman points at her great grandson’s picture with a shaky hand and proudly speaks about how she is overjoyed to be alive to see this day.

“When you are old like me you wonder why God is still keeping you on this horrible earth and it is days like this that you find out that purpose. I have lived to my granddaughter’s last child going to school and nothing can compare to what I am feeling right now. I am really blessed and hope that the Lord keeps me alive for even more years so that I can see Andile finish tertiary and start his first job,” said Nkiyi. As she speaks, she carefully removes a much-folded R10 note from her bosom to give to her grandson.

At the school gates, Andile comes out in tears, his school uniform dusty and dirty. “The boys at school ripped my backpack!, my new pack mom!, and they even broke its zip! It was new and they broke it!” wails Andile between sobs.

Nomusa soothes him and say she will buy him a new backpack. Reassured, he happily shows everyone a picture of himself which he drew at school.

“We were singing, learning how to pray, count and a poem called Myself. It was fun. I cannot wait to go back,” says Andile before rushing off to change out of his uniform and play ball outside.

Looking fondly at her son, Nomusa hopes that he will do well throughout his school life and live out his dreams.

“I cannot wait to see how his life turns out, but I know that he will achieve great things and pass his matric with flying colours,” she said.

The previous MEC for Education, Ina Cronjé, placed much emphasis on Grade R schooling as the foundation phase for education, and as far back as 2005, a policy imperative was that by 2010, all Grade one learners would have received Grade R education first.

A sleepy Andile Bhengu (5) gets woken by his mother Nomusa on his first day at Sombongangani Primary School in Elandskop.

Andile about to have a bath while Olwethu Bhengu (cousin, front left) and Mpilo Bhengu (sister, back left) look on.

Andile gets soaped up for his first day in ‘big school’ by his mother Nomusa.

Andile is kitted out in his new school uniform that has LOTS of room for his fast growing young body.

A quick breakfast.

Andile watches his mother pack his lunch. He  is not happy about the polony sandwich.

Andile sets off on the four-kilometre walk to school with his mother Nomusa. Following behind are (from left) Thabile Zuma, Sinegugu Bhengu (Andile’s sister) and Thobile Zuma.

Andile arrives at his first day at Sombongangani Primary School.

In class with his new teachers and classmates.

School is out: Mom waits for Andile, who tearfully shows her how his new backpack was ripped by boys at school.

Andile shows his mom Nomusa and uncle Chris Nzangwa his first assignment.

Now for playtime after school.

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