ENCOUNTERS: The licks of the flames touch us all

I suppose it serves me right for heading to the gym on a Sunday afternoon in Constantia — the Southern Suburbs have proved to be rather stuffy in my observation. So there I am, all sweat and skin heading into the Sauna in the ladies room. I was hesitant to enter at first because it looked so full but I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t be sure. I should have trusted my gut.

So anyway, as I walk a Blonde 1 in the corner is saying “Ag and once they’ve started up like this, it can last for weeks.” Blonde 2 adds, “It’s so stupid, they hold everyone back and they’re protesting for like two students who were expelled or something.” Adding to the misinformation, “Ya and I saw that list with what they did. Arson is a crime, they must be punished,” said Blonde 1, taking a momentary pause. I thought this would be the perfect time to interrupt and let them know that it was about 14 students — not two — who had been denied the opportunity to learn for months now because they had interdicts against them and have been suspended/expelled, kicked out of classes and residences. But my thought process was interrupted by a Dreadlocked woman sitting near the coals. “And these people will do anything hey, they burn busses to get their point across. How will we write exams? I’m meant to be graduating this December.” Blonde 1: “Ya this might go on for a while, it’s so annoying. It will probably be like last year when exams kept being postponed.” Another voice near the coals, this one with big, bouncy Curls, “I mean at what point do they just stop this now. I heard someone say they’re also fighting for insourcing or something. We’re in the middle of austerity measures.” “One cleaner told me she gets R7000 now that some are outsourced, how crazy is that?! (Gasping and nodding from the other 3) We shouldn’t be paying people more when we barely have money. Like that’s a full 100% increase.” At this point I had two rebuttals doing a warm up jump on the diving board that is my tongue — Firstly UCT has insourced some of their workers this year, those same workers were just protesting in solidarity with students this week. Secondly no one can adequately feed and clothe 1–4 people, pay rent and utilities and anything else with just R7000, it’s not a living wage which is why workers had demanded R10 500. But again they didn’t come out, instead I endured more.

“I mean I get what they’re fighting for in general and they do have a right to protest but there are better ways,” continued Blonde 2. “Same like protest but do it peacefully you know and don’t get in other people’s way — we just want to study and finish you know. Watch now how bos they’ll go when fees are increased,” bolstered Blonde 1. “It’s just so irritating man. They know fees have to be increased that’s how inflation works and sorry but not everyone can just come and study. I just want to get my BComm come December,” said the Dreadlocked one. She then got up to leave, wishing the others luck and urging them to prepare for exams anyway. The Curly one left with her. I remained in an awkward silence with the Blondes, the heat emanating from the coals mimicking the rising frustration inside myself, wondering if this was the time to hit them with some knowledge. “It’s people like you, that are comfortable with others suffering, intent on keeping the status quo as is that keep us from making things better. How they protest should be the last thing on your mind, how come blatant inequalities don’t annoy and irritate you? What is a better way to protest? Should they say nothing like you?” Like me, I thought. As my mind raced Blonde 1 announced she just “can’t” deal with this heat and they left.

I sat dripping in shame, guilt of where I was and not saying anything. Wrestling with whether teaching was even my job.