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Sipho had a little goat

Musically, I’m illiterate. In my day, learning music at school was like learning a foreign language. There was no point. It’s not like we were going to board a boat and follow other Cape Flats families abroad. And anyway, even at primary school, we knew that they spoke English in Canada. Not that learning a foreign language was an option at school. But then, neither was learning music.

The closest I came to doing music at primary school was to sing Die Stem to mark Van Riebeeck Day or Republic Day. At high school, it was doing massed rally, very serious renditions of that globalised freedom song, We shall overcome. And, some day, we did.

Now there are new struggles. Like trying to get through a grade two music concert. It was during the fifth recorder recital of Mary Had a Little Lamb, that my mind began to wonder.

Why would teachers encourage children to learn a rhyme that celebrates a challenge to school authority? Perhaps it was couched too gently. Perhaps we needed to update the words to something like ”Sipho had a little goat, little goat, little goat. Sipho had a little goat, he fleeced both black and white. He slaughtered it at school one day, school one day, school one day. He slaughtered it at school one day; it was against the rules.”

Little did we know that one-person, one-vote would also spawn musical concerts along the lines of one-child, one-note. I’m not complaining. My kids are learning to read and play music. And they’re learning to speak Xhosa. On two counts, they are already more literate than I am. I envy them that.

If there’s one thing that irritates me about our current educational mantra, it’s that our economy needs maths and science. It always conjures up images of a factory churning out grey suits with glasses, unable to relate to other people and with no joie de vivre. As if the economy is the primary god to which everything else must now be sacrificed.

I’m happy that my kids are learning maths and science. But I’m more delighted that they’re doing music, that they’re learning about other cultures, that they’re been taught to communicate in other languages.

If I have any ambitions for them, then it is that they develop as holistic human beings, able to think, to feel, to play and to do, to be able to relate to all people irrespective of colour or class, to be democrats, and not simply become upper-floor cogs in some faceless economic machine that supposedly will benefit all, but that in reality, serves those who are already at the top.

I’m happy for my kids to be learning to read. Now I can teach them to learn to read labels. They already know how to read Billabong, Bad Boy and Quicksilver. Now it’s about learning to read the labels on the inside, the ones that wink at you, ”Howzit, [I’m from] China”.

Having being alerted to the difficulties of local fashion designers to break into local retail outlets, and to the challenges faced by the local clothing industry, I recently wandered through a shopping mall and its various clothing stores. It was quite depressing. Finding a label on a piece of clothing that said ”Made in South Africa” was like having a ”Eureka!” moment. Buying such a garment was a small step for my wardrobe, but one large step for the local clothing and fashion industry.

Look, I know it’s a bourgeois option. One has to have money to be able to make that choice. And I’m aware of the irony that many working families, the unemployed, even those who have lost their jobs because of cheap imports, probably buy their clothes at stores selling these imports. When you have little or no money, labels don’t matter; price tags do. But those of us who can, need to do something, to start somewhere. Today, it’s the clothing and fashion industry. Tomorrow, it’s the printing industry. Already, local publishers are printing their wares in China. And then, what next?

With the packages being paid to local government officials, perhaps we can import cheaper politicians from China?

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