As a young white teacher  of English, Elizabeth de Villiers entered the gates of the high school in Soweto where she was to teach for two years with some trepidation. A black colleague picked up her apprehension as she arrived in the staffroom. Welcome to the circus, he greeted her laconically. Are you a tightrope walker or are you a clown?

Walking the Tightrope is a shocking and eye opening book, with elements both of tragedy and farce. Presenting the bald facts of education for blacks in South Africa, the pages give forth the odour of corruption and despair. The daily frustrations of teaching are compounded by often disinterested or lazy colleagues, inefficiency and a system of departmental red tape guaranteed to block the most enthusiastic teacher. Faced with the non-existence of a school timetable, a hopelessly outdated curriculum, overcrowded classrooms and minimal textbooks for the first six weeks of term, the teachers while away the hours chatting in the sunshine or drinking tea in the staffroom while the school’s 1 000 pupils wait patiently to be taught.

While conditions were at times horrifying, from the daily sjambokking of children for minor infringements to blatant cheating at sports meetings, there were also many moments of pleasure and joy with the pupils under de Villiers’ care, such as winning the English Festival competition and Peter Mokwena’s 15th birthday party. The stark reminders of township life, of violence and threat hovered constantly on the periphery during the first year and were thrust brutally to the fore during the second under apartheid’s state of emergency. Towards the end of 1985 the presence of the SADF disrupted school attendance and a general feeling of hostility and unease pervaded the school buildings.

It is an unusual and compelling book and Elizabeth de Villiers emerges a a writer of perception and compassion.

Born and educated in the Cape, she taught at a variety of schools, ranging from a platteland high school to a new one situated in the slums of the Cape flats, before settling in Johannesburg. She is married and has a son.

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Authored by Elizabeth de Villiers and published by Jonathan Ball of Parklands in 1990. Soft cover bound this First Edition copy is in Very Good condition with an illustrated dust jacket. The size of the book is 199x131x19mm. ISBN 9789780674647.

263 pp. Pages yellowing. Well bound, no inscriptions, annotations or markings.