“We’re in the headlines,” said Dr. Deon Louw, School Principle and NG Church elder, “but for all the wrong reasons.”
It was Monday mid-morning, the second last week of school for the year.
“Luister hier,” and he began to read off a printed sheet stapled at its corner:
“Dust swirls as reed-thin children file into a marquee erected on the sports field of Carnarvon School to attend a community Imbizo—a gathering to discuss the SKA radio telescope that is being built on a remote site 80 km from their town.”
“Waar kry jy dit?” Van der Nest asked of its origins with a scowl.
“One of the parents brought it in—their boy found it on the computer; it says here “b-d-live-its an interweb newspaper—Business Day newspaper, the heading is ‘Carnarvon’s poor place their hopes in the SKA project’.”
“I will tell the children to look out for this sort of thing and report it to me,” Dominee Gert assured.
Deon read on, “…Whether their presence is motivated by genuine curiosity for the project or the prospect of a free meal, is hard to tell.
While the SKA project is intended to provide astronomers with the world’s most powerful radio telescope, not fix a broken town, scientists and engineers responsible for implementing it have also to manage community expectations. It is a delicate task, one they are trying to manage head-on.”
“Wat ‘n klomp twak!” Gert spat out his rebuke against the article; Deon kept reading.
“The telescope will span Africa and Australia, with its core in the remote reaches of South Africa’s Karoo. The world’s most powerful radio telescope will help scientists to answer questions about how the first stars and galaxies formed and probe the nature of dark matter…’ And on and on it goes…” Deon pushed his glasses back up his nose; his glasses always slid down when he was irritable; he read on, “…‘Inside the tent, hopes run high that the telescope will provide an escape from a life of grinding poverty—people complain freely to the gathered dignitaries’...”
The secretary came into the room to clear the teacups.
“Plesier…” she said.
Deon ran his finger down the printout, his lips murmuring, seeking something provocative to recount; “…‘It’s barely noon yet plenty of the locals gathered in the marquee have clearly had more than a few drinks. Many children carry the mark of fetal alcohol syndrome…”
“That’s how these people are… but somehow we are to blame, neh?”
“Ja…” Deon held his finger on the page, keeping the place he’d stopped reading; “…‘Outside the school grounds lies a town with a single general practitioner and a barely functioning hospital that does not even have hot water, never mind a doctor.”
“What? A single practitioner!” Gert frowned, looking deeply offended. “How old is this report?”
“Now… from this weekend,” Deon re-checked the date on it.
“Well… there you are…” he announced with a dismissive wave. “Our new clinic just opened, so what kak are they saying ‘a single general practitioner’.”
“Ja… exactly. Like the rest of it—rubbish… and you know it’s Andre’s boy who put the money up? For the clinic…” Deon asserted.
“Really?” Gert was genuinely surprised.
“He never said anything to me.”
“I’m sure… He’s quite embarrassed by it. Says that if his boy could put this kind of money in, why only do it when the foreigners are here? Why donate it through them? Why did he wait all this time?”
“I agree with him. That boy, Deon… I know it has cut Andre deeply… the disappointment.”
“I feel for him… And Sonja? She’s under their influence too. With that incident I had to remind her of her priorities; I don’t want Andre to find out what she claimed…” the principal harked back to the inquest into Dara’s head injury in the corridor when Sonja had admitted that Neels had sucker punched him; her evidence ignored and her priorities called into question. “You know that we just hired that new science teacher… That Fiske…? Well… here’s what they report; ‘The schools cannot recruit science teachers into such a backwater...’ So you tell me… dishonest with every word they print.”