Tracking for life

5 January 2014

Looking back on this blog (originally maintained on my home server – leftside – a server that sadly died in a hard disk failure years ago) I see I’ve got almost a decade of posts up here. Its sobering looking back on what I wrote about. I’m inspired to post again today because of two things: firstly, since late last year I’ve been feeling increasingly frustrated about my “place in the universe”, about the way my time is spent, going to work, looking after kids, keeping a house together. Secondly, a little thing Rebecca wrote this morning about complicity. As Greg Knill said years ago (when I was still in Earthlife Africa, the second of my many political homes), we live in enemy territory. Beyond that, however, I’m horribly complicity in the system of domination (capitalist, imperalialist, white supremacist, heterosexist patriarchy). I go to work and do my job with little reflection on its utility, meanwhile my kids go to a school (a moderately good formely white school down the road from our house) and come home to be tended by a domestic worker. The “politics” of my life are tracked – some things are relatively easy: career advancementareas¬†, getting the job done. Some things are incredibly hard: living in solidarity with other people around me, helping to build organisations that challenge the system.

The tracking I’m thinking about today is not just that tracking, however, its the tracking that seems to grasp and direct kids from birth in South Africa. In particular, the tracking of kids into different school “streams”. Over at Andries du Toit’s blog you can see a Lorentz curve showing South Africa’s growing inequality. This is reflected everywhere, from salaries to healthcare options to, of course, schooling. In South Africa schools are funded in part by the state, but to a much greater extent by parents’ school fee contributions. So the particular pot of wealth that a school has access to is “ringfenced” to serve that school, and there is a relatively small degree of cross-subsidisation between wealthy and poor in the education sector. The schools are allowed to set their own “catchment area”, and they then do that to target the wealthiest group of parents they can find – so e.g. the school where my kids go defines its area as “St James, Muizenberg, Lakeside and Marina da Gama”, all historically white “Group Areas”. Notably absent from that list is Vrygrond (aka Capricorn), where my domestic worker and a bunch of my friends stay. Over the years I’ve tried to get my friends (and my domestic worker’s) kids into the Muizenberg school, only to be turned down at every turn. Instead, even when school fees can be afforded (each state school gets to set its own fees), the options available to a township kid are schools that have more kids per teacher and fewer facilities than the schools a suburban kid can access.

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