Wednesday, May 30, 2007

1950s - early 1960s Apartheid Durban, Trekking and Sickness

< 1956. Mark Esslemont, class 1, Durban North Primary.

Mom, using her teacher's rail concession, took Fraser and me on steam-train holidays. "If anyone asks," said mom, "You're ten years old darlings. Life is full of unknown parts, until you meet them, and learn them and know them." As South African Railway tickets were free for a white teacher's child ten years old or younger, Fraser and I stayed ten years old for some holidays. At Durban station we watched white porters and white tappiologists. The aroma of good coffee still reminds me of SAR saloons, and railway crap reminds me of SAR flush toilets... We stuck our heads out of sash-windows, and our faces and hands blackened with soot... We threw pennies to piccanins begging in the veld... From Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, we didn't visit the Congo, as natives killed Belgians there. At Victoria Falls baboons were bigger than Fraser and me. At Zimbabwe Ruins, Southern Rhodesia, we screamed like fish eagles: "Kaaa! Ka-ka-ka-ka-kaaaa!..."

Mom and Rosie dragged us up. Rosie: "Maram! Cheeky rogues playing fools, trowing broeks under da beds! Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaaai!"

Mom: "Put your pants in the wash-basket now!"

After school each day, mom drove Rosie to her Indian bus-rank in the Durban North slum, a "black spot" north of the Umgeni River - river of sweet-thorns. Mom then drove to the Blue Lagoon, on Umgeni River estuary, where Indian waiters brought mom tea, while Fraser and I fished. Fraser liked boatie "Captain Silver," who took Fraser on speed-boat rides on Blue Lagoon, and motorized Swan rides up the river. I found white balloons amongst Blue Lagoon rocks. One day, while mom drove me home, I blew up a balloon. Mad mom yelled, "Jesus Christ!" She chucked the balloon out her Morris window. At home, mom made me gargle Dettol. "Never do that again!" I couldn't understand her fuss about blowing up balloons.

Durban North Primary's motto, "Work Hard, Keep Faith, Think Deep," was on a badge above the school door, shaded by palm trees. Boys wore khaki safari suits and sandals in summer, and navy-blue blazer, cap, shorts, white shirts and black shoes in winter. Girls wore navy-blue blazers, corn-flower blue dresses, baggy cornflower-blue underrods and white Panama hats all year round. Fraser battled. I drifted. We learnt reading, writing, arithmetic, stealing: for love and attention. We plundered school cupboards, mom's purse and Broadway shops for sweets and lucky-packets.

Mom didn't talk politics much, but said, "Apartheid is all around you darlings. Read about unrest in Natal Mercury, like cops shooting kaffirs at Sharpeville." Our school closed early that day, and ol' toppies fetched their children early. When SA became a Republic, every white school child received a plastic South African flag and medal.

Francis, mom's ol' flame, courted mom. He toadied Fraser and me, but we shot him dead with our cap-guns. Mom whispered, "Francis's brain softened all those years farming with Melmoth munts." Year's later, Hubie another ol' flame stored his belongings in our khaya.

Fraser and I grew boils. I got Perthes hip disease. My right hip socket crumbled, and I lay tractioned for months in Addington Hospital. I stumped out of hospital on calipers, which I endured for a year. For another year, I wore a shoulder-sling with a loop below my bum, through which I placed my right ankle. I slogged around on crutches, and kids borrowed my crutches during school breaks. Having seen suffering in hospital, and enduring mom's anxiety for the rest of her life, I disliked petty complainers.

I heard hadeda ibises calling, "Haha-ha-ha-haaa..." when they flew to and from their roosts. Sometimes, they stood on our roof, crapping white on tiles. Hadedas pecked for prey on our lawn, and nerve-deafening mom said, "Hadedas are damned noisy like you darlings!"

Content & Pics Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.


For Durban North Primary, see Chelsea Preparatory School.

< 1957 Stellawood Cemetery, Durban. Esslemont Brothers, Maternal Gran & Grandpa Cosnetts' grave.

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