Ubuntu wheeling through streets of Soweto

A behind-the-scenes blog by the CBC News crew covering the 2010 World Cup

A behind-the-scenes blog by CBC's World Cup news crew

Students from Philip Kushlick School in Soweto prepare for a parade celebrating the World Cup. ((CBC))

Pulang Motalung was going a little crazy. A hundred kids in wheelchairs were lined up next to one of Soweto's busiest streets and there was not a police car in sight. 

"Whenever you do not want to see a traffic copper they pull you over," she said. "And when they are supposed to be here, you cannot find one."

Pulang's a teacher at the Philip Kushlick School for handicapped children in the township of Soweto. She was going a little crazy because her students in wheelchairs were threatening to roll onto the busy street and so she was running around making sure their brakes were set. 

No way was Pulang going to let her pupils end up in harm's way.

To celebrate the World Cup and the upcoming end of term, the teachers from Philip Kushlick School organized a parade through Soweto.

Four hundred students aged five to 26 were asked to dress up in their favourite team colours, and to bring along a noise-making vuvuzela if they could get a hold of one.

And here they were, almost exploding with anticipation to get the show on the road, filling the air with deafening honking noises, waiting for the coppers to show so they could start the parade.

Belonging to the greater whole

Even before one wheel was turned or one step taken, the day was already a huge success. 

Smiles were everywhere. Teachers were dancing, and the school principal was wearing a multi-coloured top hat.

"Since the school closes tomorrow, most of the students won't have a way of celebrating like us as teachers," says Pulang. "We know we will be going to stadiums but most of our disabled learners come from very poor families. Many of them live with their grandmothers and they never get out of their homes. They will not even be able to watch the soccer games because they do not own televisions. They will only get to listen to the games on the radio. That is why we organized this parade."

Ubuntu is a word in the Bantu language. It roughly translates as 'I am what I am because of who we all are.' It is at the heart of much African spirituality.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in his autobiography that "a person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

Ubuntu describes the teachers and many of the students at Philip Kushlick School.

The students hold up letters to spell Bafana, a reference to South Africa's national soccer team. ((CBC))

Pulang pointed to a teenager in a wheelchair.

"Palisa has cerebral palsy. She is an orphan and lives with her grandmother who has no money. It is so sad, she never gets out."

Kovalan is a 14-year-old Grade 7 student. He has his hands on Palisa's wheelchair.

"I am a soccer fan," he says, "Bafana Bafana is my favourite team and I am sure they will score lots of goals and win."

Is he ready to walk the 500 metres pushing his friend's wheelchair?

"Yes," he says, "I am strong."

The police arrive with their red and blue roof lights blinking.

A sheepish-looking officer gets out. He and his colleagues were waiting at the wrong corner. He says they are ready to go.

Kovalan pushes Palisa over the curb and onto the asphalt behind the police car. Traffic stops.

The whole lane is plugged with a yellow sea of soccer mad South Africans, waving flags, blowing into vuvezulas and shouting "Bafana Bafana."

On the sidewalks, vendors selling sweets, roasted meat on sticks and fruit stand at attention.

Taxivans jammed with passengers pull over.

Kovalan is gathering steam, he will have no problem getting Palisa through the next 500 metres. 

Pulang can finally relax. Her contribution to the greater whole is making its way through Soweto for all to admire.

CBC's David Gutnick joins the students from Philip Kushlick School for a parade. ((CBC))