THE primary school looks pretty much like another in rural KwaZulu-Natal – a set of mobile classrooms amid the mud houses and kraals dotting the valleys of the mountainous area.
But Nqobani Primary School has something rather special about it. Every grade, from Grade R to Grade 7, has at least one pair of twins. In fact, among the 700 learners there are 21sets of twins. Little wonder the school has been dubbed eMaweleni, or the twin zone. What’s more, principal Nkosinathi Zondi points out, the school also has a set of triplets.
A RARE MOMENT
Staff only realised they were inundated with twins when one of the teachers told a colleague the twins in her class had been misbehaving, Nkosinathi says. “Then another teacher said she was also having a problem with the twins in her class, and then another mentioned she too had twins in her class.
So we counted how many sets we have in the school,” he says. “It took a week to count them all. We were shocked when we realized we have twins in each grade – more than one set in some cases. We were very excited and celebrated them.
“Nkosinathi roped in local businessman Mabaso and held a party they called “celebrate a rare moment” to rejoice in the phenomenon and create awareness about something that once was a Zulu cultural taboo.
“In the olden days one twin would often be killed or sent away,” Nkosinathi says. “It’s our job to celebrate what was once considered taboo to show people it’s no longer a bad thing.”
SHOWERED WITH GIFTS
The event was also to “shine a light on this poverty-stricken community and most importantly on the kids", Mdu reportedly told an online publication. The kids were showered with gifts‚ including toys, food hampers and school bags.
Local businesses also pledged to sponsor food for all the kids at the school, so they can have a good meal before they go home. “We still need more donations,” Nkosinathi says. “But this has generally improved their wellbeing.”
LIFE IS HARD
For the twins’ parents, life is often hard. Most of the moms in Manganga are single parents and unemployed. Nomusa Thabethe (38) is mom to Nokuphila and Philasande (6), who are in Grade 1 and, like most families in the area, survives on social grants.
“Every day is a struggle but I try not to let the children see this poverty. Whatever money I get goes towards their education,” she says.
Her cousin, Jabulisile Mkhize (33), has two sets of twins – each set fathered by a different man. Her eldest, Thabani and Thamsanqa (10), are in grade 4 and her youngest, Nomkhosi and Nomcebo (6), are in Grade R. Having twins “is nice”, Jabulisile says, but raising them isn’t easy.
“I’m raising my four children single-handedly and we all depend on social grants,” she says. “Having twins means you have to buy two of the same thing all the time – and in my case it means buying things in fours.
This includes school uniforms, clothes, even sweets." Everyone at the school is mystified as to why there are so many sets of twins in the classrooms, says Nkosinathi, who's been principal since 2014.
There have often been twins among the learners but never as many as there are now. Then there are the triplets, which is a first for the school. Siblings Sineliswa, Siyamthanda and Simphiwe (8) are in grade 3.
“From the onset I knew there were twins in this school but this wasn’t a big deal,” Nkosinathi says. “Their presence became more significant early this year. It was like we’d just woken up from a dream."
He adds his staff feel blessed by the many twins and the set of triplets in their ranks. “It’s rare to find a school like ours. We believe all our twins are here for a purpose,”
Nkosinathi says. Grade 5 teacher Sbusiso Khwela loves watching the close bonds the twins in his classroom have. “They are inseparable. They eat together at break, they play together – they do everything together and they’re each other’s greatest support.
It’s also interesting to see how their personalities differ – often one is the extrovert and the other more introverted. It’s great having all these twins. It makes us feel special.”