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'Her' kids felt special

By Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya | Sep 11, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

ONE of my earliest memories of Sister Christine Obotseng was when I was in Standard 4 (now Grade 6): I had a boil on my thigh and could not walk properly.

For some reason I had to go to the offices of the St Angela's School, where she was principal and teacher.

I can still see the concern on her face when she asked me what was wrong and then uttered what was the most amazing thing any adult had said to me up to that point of my life: "Do you mind if I look what's wrong or will you feel offended?"

Here was this adult in authority asking this meek 11-year-old if he minded taking off his pants so that she could see his wound.

Had she demanded that I strip I would not have thought twice about it. That was what adults did.

Sr Christine assumed that as a human being I had inherent dignity. My age had nothing to do with anything. And because I was a human being in pain, I deserved compassion.

She was not my teacher then but would be the following year. She only knew me as one of the kids at school.

She had just arrived from St Peter's in Kagiso, where she had a reputation for being political and for liberally administering the cane.

So it made perfect sense to me when she was detained with Sr Bernard Ncube and Nomvula Mokonyane for a range of anti-apartheid activities.

As she had done in my case, she would not look on while people suffered around her.

In Standard 5 (Grade 7) she simplified for me what I would years later learn was the thrust of Liberation Theology. "If you are not used to living and being treated justly on earth, you are going to have problems when you get to heaven because there everybody is equal".

Social justice was therefore a Gospel imperative. To seek justice, peace and dignity on earth was simply a trial run for those who expected to find themselves in heaven.

One day she beat everyone in class except a few because we had decided that 1m x 1m couldn't be 1 square meter. It had to be more.

With the aid of the rod, she taught us an important lesson. Logic has a life of its own and it does not have to sound "nice" to be cogent.

Having learnt that lesson, nothing could be the same again. How could it be?

My most enduring memory of Sr Christine is that of a mother figure who made all "her" children feel special.

Her fellow Companions of St Angela nuns might have lost a sister with her death on Monday, but a generation or two has lost a mother and South Africa a great teacher and gallant freedom fighter.

A requiem mass will be held at the St Angela's Catholic Church tomorrow at 6.30am and the cortege will leave for the Sterkfontein Cemetery at 8am.


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