Mr Tait's South Africa visit February half term 2020
Mr Tait’s visit to Cathcart, South Africa.
During February half term 2020, Mr Tait went to work in a small town, called Cathcart, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The project was linked to geography work that year 4 were learning about; examining human and physical geography, inequality and justice. Through the British Council, he children were engaged in ‘connecting classrooms’- understanding how their lives were similar and different to that of children elsewhere in the world. The children were shocked and surprised at the historical background of South Africa and the way in which some children of their own age live.
Departing from Birmingham, travelling overnight via Paris, I landed in Johannesburg; a vast and sprawling city which was founded on mining for gold. It is famous for many things; Soweto (South Western Township, Kaiser Chiefs stadium (one of the largest stadiums in the world, where he world cup final was held), home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, home of the largest man made forest in the world (for the gold mines- one of which is over 4km underground). The bus system was interesting. Mini-buses travel around and the drivers have various hand signs for their destination, not signs. people wait on the corner of the street and 'match' the sign for their destination- lots of horn beeping!!
I did not let the grass grow under my feet and visited Nelson Mandela Square (where I was surprised to see armed security), went on a bus tour and visited Soweto. I was amazed within Soweto the vast difference in living standards in the one area. It also hit home the levels of inequality that existed and still exist. In addition, it was marvellous to see the ingenuity and creativity that shone through; making things out of nothing, upcycling, and repairing things that most would normally discard. After, I visited the Apartheid museum which portrayed a very graphic picture of what life was like and the unfair nature of society in South Africa at that time.
This visit was followed by a visit to Pretoria, a suburb of Johannesburg, but a city in its own right to watch South Africa v England in the final 20-20 match and tour game. I managed to get a ticket on the gate from a local gentleman, Marcel, who was very friendly and hospitable and had a great seat on the grass banking. I was lucky enough to see Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan warming up and watch the South African batsmen in the nets. A local tradition is to have barbecues in the ground- the smell was marvellous and the atmosphere, exciting.
Thankfully, after a super performance, England won a great game and secured the competitive series 1-2. Unfortunately, I dropped a catch from a ball hit for 6 off Adil Rashid- embarrassing. My friend back in England saw it and I have not heard the last of it, I am sure. I have been told that the clip is somewhere on you tube, although I have not looked...(maybe).
The following morning was a very early start for a flight to East London, on the South Coast, where I was to pick up a car and drive north, inland. When I arrived, it was raining; I had taken the weather with me. The drive through the city was very different to Johannesburg, an industrial port that had township areas surrounding it and what appeared to be an old Victorian/ colonial style heart. After the city, it opened up into vast areas of farm and open land as far as the eye could see and then on, toward Cathcart.
When I arrived, the location of the school was trick to find, despite the fact that the town was very small. There were no signs and some of the roads were just tracks or interspersed with large pot-holes. Eventually, after driving through and around the town, getting looks from the local residents, I found the school. It was an unusual feeling to be the ‘odd one out’, a white skinned person in amongst everyone else, who was black (how black South Africans refer to themselves) I was able to reflect how other people may have felt in the reverse situation.
The welcome I received was overwhelming. The school had a group of majorettes and they paraded down the track to welcome me to the school. For a school and an area that had so little, the welcome was priceless.
I met the pupils who all either stared at me, wanted a ‘selfie’ or heir photo taken (and then to look at it) or to hold or shake my hand. Possibly because they do not see that many white people? I was taken aback by the differing approaches to work, through equipment and basic facilities but throughout all of this, the children were: happy positive, friendly and welcoming with a real sense of community and belonging. There was a sense of responsibility given to the older children and a sense of ownership and respect for their elders. Were there disagreements-yes, but I did not witness any discipline issues between pupils or toward staff, they were delightful. The role of the pupil and interaction between staff and pupils were different to the UK. Staff were brought tea at break time, lunch from the kitchen at lunch and at the end of the day, they swept and cleaned the classroom as well as being on gate duty at the main gate.
As with the predominant gender of staffing in primary schools in the UK, Cathcart primary had a female bias with only 2 male staff- a newly qualified teacher- Mr Putamaney and the headteacher- Mt Nuntsu. All of the staff were very positive and friendly and discipline in the class was not an issue, despite one of the classes being 56 children to one teacher and no support. The class sizes varied, depending on the year group and he birth rate locally- the children in the school ranged from 5-12years. One of the other schools that I visited had one class of 78 children.
I couldn't get them all in the picture
Throughout the week I taught, worked alongside and helped sort and organise an ICT room which also doubled as a store room and secure room as it was the only one that could be secured at night. It was a mammoth task and took a considerable time, along with my ‘working party’ to complete. Even through there was some improvement on the wiring and infrastructure required at the end of the week, the room was usable to connect the children to the wider world. I spoke with a group of children about Worcester and, using the ipad and google earth, we were able to examine how our environments differed; the pupils, and the staff, were fascinated. In addition to this I showed he children the video questions that we created back at school and they prepared answers for year 4 to listen to. The children that were interviewed were pleased to do so and, as English was their second language (isiXhosa or isiZulu being their first), they did brilliantly and received well back in class on my return.
Lunchtime was interesting and the children were all fed from meals that were made in a transport container. All of the cooking equipment and food was kept in the secure (computer) room, to stop it from being stolen. All of the children ate, using their hands, under the shade of the local trees. Very little was left and any food that was left was quickly enjoyed by the local goat or dog.
I worked with Mr Putamaney for some part of the week with a class that would have been the equivalent of year 2; they were emergent in English and were a class of 50 children. To get to their tables, as it was so tightly packed, they had to, at times, climb over each other to get in and out. There was no electricity, the windows were broken and it leaked. The teacher worked valiantly and between us, developed a story in a Talk 4 Write style about a monkey who climbed a tree- the monkey was called Max. It was great to challenge myself to engage as many children with a story, which was basically in a foreign language, paring it back to the basics of phonics before developing it on. We also worked together to develop their maths skills- starting with collecting ‘counters’ from the school field. It was great to count and share bananas together later in the week- truly rewarding. It was exhausting and my hat goes off to him for trying to stimulate and engage on a daily basis.
As the week went on, the daily 100 mile return journey began to take its toll. Leaving the B+B at 6.45am to get to school for 7.45 and then taking in so much information and absorbing all the experiences were exhausting. I very much enjoyed the visits with Mr Nuntsu to the Wagon Wheel pie shop, where they sold fresh made pies and sold local produce but it was heart-breaking to see over 10 people seated on the side of the road in the town all day selling carrier bags of Prickly pears for what amounted to £1 a bag. The poverty in some areas was stark. Mr Nuntsu took me on a trip round the local area and showed me an area which represented ‘ the poorest of the poor’ and this brought home to me how fortunate we all are and wat we take for granted on a daily basis.
At the end of the week, the children and staff came to school in a variety of outfits: uniforms, casual and traditional-the sea of colour was a sight to behold. What struck me the most was the uninhibited nature of how the children conducted themselves. They sang, danced, performed and generally enjoyed themselves in a manner that I have witnessed on rare occasions. The pride that they had as individuals of their culture, heritage and being was something to really admire and a memory that will last with me forever. Their gratitude for my help was surprising as I felt that it was the very least I could do
Returning back to East London, Johannesburg, Paris and then the UK, I had the time to reflect on what an amazing opportunity I had been presented with and we look forward to welcoming Mr Nuntsu to St George’s soon and working together with Cathcart to develop the opportunities of the children at the school and in the community.