Magazine article New Internationalist

Make Education Your Husband: Without Schooling, a Girl Is Left Stranded in the Home, for Black South Africans This May Mean Being a Servant in the Home of a White Family

Magazine article New Internationalist

Make Education Your Husband: Without Schooling, a Girl Is Left Stranded in the Home, for Black South Africans This May Mean Being a Servant in the Home of a White Family

Article excerpt

MAKE education your husband,' my mother used to say. 'He will never tire of you. If I was growing up during these times of yours, my child, I would not bother getting married. I would just make sure I got an education and then worked for myself.'

Even as a very young child, I was aware of the tremendous importance of education. 'Akaboni' (s/he is blind), say the Xhosa people of one who cannot read. Mama told me repeatedly that I would be insane not to fit myself with the only means of self - support that I could ever hope for -- an education. She believed that just as we teach children to walk, so we should give them at least primary education. Education is a debt that each generation owes the next.

For an African woman of her age and circumstance, Mama was very progressive in her thinking. Even today, as we approach the end of the twentieth century, there are still countries in Africa where women are in such total dependency on their men that they do not have a right to a pension. 'Her husband will look after her,' is the thinking of officialdom, and this is reinforced by law. Despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, the myth persists that for every woman there is a man out there who will always be able and willing to provide for her every need. And so, in places where resources are scarce, it is the girl child who misses out on an education. She is condemned to drop out of school at an early age; to remain 'unsighted' in the modern world.

Thanks to my mother, I was lucky. I did go to school. What is more, I went to secondary school as well as primary, and even to teacher training. By the age of 19, I was 'something', not only in my own eyes but also in the eyes of the community. Such was the lack of educated people that even with qualifications that would seem like ant spittle in other parts of the world, I was held in very high esteem. I was a one - eyed giant in the land of the blind.

When, at the age of 23, I found myself a single parent with three children who depended solely on me for their survival, I saw the tremendous advantage that was mine. Many a woman finding herself in a similar situation would have had no other alternative but to find another man to provide for her.

I chose to remain single. I decided to raise my three children alone until the youngest finished high school. Why? I knew that any man marrying a woman in her early twenties would expect to have children with that woman. But I also knew that children are not cement; they do not glue a man to the woman who is the mother of his children. This is what that brilliant teacher, bitter experience, had taught me by this time.

Would I have been in a position to make those choices had I not had my teacher's certificate, humble as it was? Would I have even been aware that such choices existed, that it was not compulsory to be always attached to a man? I made those choices because I had the means of supporting myself and my children. I knew I would not be confined to menial jobs for the rest of my life. Although I had to work for some time as a domestic labourer, I knew that one day I would go back to teaching. And as soon as I was able to start teaching again, I started studying once more, building on the qualifications that I had. They gave me the ability to dream. And that was crucial. I had a stepping stone to greater things -- a stepping stone that eventually got me over the water to a job in the United States. …

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