It is on Saturday that the differences seem to be most stark. Driving to Wits University for a debating tournament, I am greeted by the amaZulu understanding of Saturdays – burial and wedding announcements, imingcwabo nemishado, followed by Maskandi and Gospel on UKhozi FM. Of the four teenagers in the car, only one is anywhere close to speaking enough Zulu to get what’s going on. I teach him on Wednesdays, with three other boys, to make up for their fragmented understanding of the language.
“Don’t let the Gospel music irritate you – it’ll change to Maskandi later, once the weddings and parties start. Do you know any Maskandi?”
They shake their heads in disbelief. It’s too early for teenagers, especially in this drizzle. Our conversation quickly turns to the task they have ahead of them today – to argue whichever side they are given, on whatever topic. I feel them stretching their linguistic patterns in the car, limbering up metaphor and cadence, example and counterpoint.
And as we drive, we tour parts of Yeoville, Hillbrow and Houghton, like a knife cutting through a cake made of classes, spiced with languages and the occasional charismatic church and dusted with colour from hanging laundry and rose bushes.
We walk into a room filled with different voices and uniforms, and the day progresses into long sessions of argument and interesting points, a bit of disappointment and a lot of thinking.
And then we go home and try it again tomorrow. But Sunday’s rhythms are different, and we’ll have to test them then.