Global Correspondent Report Jeff Spahr-Summers




Global Lay-Correspondent Report on South Africa


Culture Shock

While my sisters were swiftly enrolled in Catholic convent schools, gratefully, I was allowed to go to a public school, Capital Park Primary School. South African society in 1971 (in accordance with the apartheid government) was brutally segregated along racial, as well as, nationalistic lines. By law, South Africa was a bilingual country, requiring that both English and Afrikaans were official languages. Afrikaans (derived mainly from Dutch) school curriculums were taught entirely in Afrikaans, with one required English class. English schools were taught entirely in English, with one required Afrikaans class. Being the youngest in my family and due to recent foreign student government legislation, I was required to learn Afrikaans; however, my sisters were not. I was fluent in Afrikaans by the time we returned to the United States six years later. In comparison, the Bantu Education Act of the 1950’s was designed to stifle Black education, specifically to provide Blacks with sufficient education which would not allow “a future without back-breaking labour.” Today, South Africa is a multilingual country with a progressive constitution that guarantees equal status to eleven officially recognized languages; Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. English, however, remains the language of business, politics and the media.

While my mother spoke with the librarian on my first day of school, I stood before the collective gaze of my new classmates. English speaking South African public schools were very much influenced by the British school system. Standard uniforms for my age group in winter were shorts, knee socks, white long sleeve shirts, a tie and a blazer, all of which were riddled with the school colors. On the other hand, in the summer, we wore classic safari suits with knee socks. I did not have my school uniform yet, so my mother dressed me as best she could to match the other children. I wore slacks, a white shirt, some odd tie and a cheesy gold blazer with a crest on the pocket. I stood out like “some new American kid” (I was told later by a classmate), which I suppose was inevitable.

Since we lived in the sticks, past the end of any school or city bus lines, I was driven to the bus stop every morning. Here is where I learned to play marbles in the dirt, and we took it very seriously indeed, very competitive. I soon carried my own bag of choice marbles and “goonies” (ball bearings) hard won from others while we waited for our ride. My school bus picked up students from two schools, an English school and an Afrikaans school. Because we were the last pick up, the bus was mostly already full. Once inside, I would squirm my way past the Afrikaans kids to where my English speaking school mates sat. The bus was divided down the middle, on each side were two long bench seats, front to back, facing each other. It was intended for the Afrikaans students to sit on one side and the English students on the other, but we always ended up crushed into the back of the bus, and there was only one way to get there … run the gauntlet! I was immediately picked out as a foreigner by the Afrikaans who held sway on the bus, and they would harass me relentlessly, stand in my way, and yell at me. I instinctively stood my ground and just plowed through them without hesitation. I couldn’t understand their words yet, but I certainly understood the sentiment (I didn’t like them much either), and that was that.

Jeff Spahr-Summers


1: On the Move—December 2007

2: Rain—January 2008

3: Culture Shock—February 2008 (This Page)





Read Additional Writing by Jeff Spahr-Summers

Free Verse—February 2008 (This issue)

Free Verse—January 2008

Free Verse—December 2007







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