I am not frightened of the prospect of a Jacob Zuma presidency. Well, I wasn’t. But something he said this week speaks to the frightened child in me. The child who was the biggest truant in the history of Sea Point High. And Zuma has lost my potential vote.

Let me explain it this way. Three years ago I met a man, roughly my own age, and as we got to know each other, details of our murky mutual backgrounds surfaced. It transpired that we were at the same school in the early 70s, and even in the same class. We could both name almost everybody else in the class, except each other.

We worked out that this was probably because when he was there, I wasn’t, and when I was there, he wasn’t and … so on. If you’re following this. Because I was the biggest truant in the school, and he the second biggest.

Oddly, we had become instant friends on meeting three years ago, without knowing any of this. We were both still mavericks, if very different from one another. Politically, we couldn’t be further apart. He finds my free-thinking lefty attitudes ridiculous. I find his unabashed right-wing beliefs unfathomable. But in friendship and in bar-room fun, we can look past these things. Friendship is funny that way.

And this is important: I do not choose my friends by their belief systems. Yes, most of my friends are quite like me in attitudes to many things, but now and then I have made a friend who has been diametrically opposed to some of the things I hold dear. Such things are not grounds for divorce.

Take Drin, for instance. He has much more in common with the friend described above. He tells dreadfully racist jokes; says things about “the blacks” that make me see red. And I tell him so, and we have had many, many heated words over the years. But he is a good friend and I stand by him. See him at the bedside of a dying man in a hospice, being the last human being to hold that hand, and you’re seeing the true heart of the man.

But both Drin and my erstwhile school friend think I am mad for leaving the door open to the possibility of Zuma being a decent political leader. And, well, I have to give up on Zuma right now, after he told a meeting in Bloemfontein this week that “we must declare that it is a crime for a child not to be at school … people must not say this is abuse of children, because by doing this we would be creating the future of the country”.

What, must we stamp out the possibility of creating mavericks? Sure, we want most kids to stay at school for most of the time to grow up to be model citizens but … well, let’s just say it … do we really want them to look and dress and behave and talk just like every other kid who graduated from every school in the country? Do we not want to create some individuals as well?

Of course I do not mean to hold myself up as an example of how things should be. That way madness would lie. I know and accept more than anyone that we need proper grown-ups in charge of things. But for God’s sake, there is room for us mavericks too (and we’re not talking John McCain here), and here and there in even the most orchestrated system there will be some of us who tilt at windmills. And one of the few ways in which a kid, an adolescent, can tilt at a windmill is to give two metaphorical fingers to the system by bunking school. In my case, quite a lot.

I should explain. In 1970, I did not go to school on the first day of the first term in January. They caught up with me in August. That was just the start.

I shall not incriminate myself further, lest Zuma has me arrested and locked up for past transgressions.

So, Terror, what’s your policy on truancy?


Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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