Sunday, June 17, 2007

1970 Apartheid, Dokkies College and Comrades Marathon

1969-1970 Old and New SRCs trying not to look pissed. "What a piece of work is a man!" 1969 SRC president, Arthur Hill below champagne bottle

My second Dokkies year: We got crapulent on champagne at our first SRC meeting. At meetings, mainly Afrikaners debated trivia, like miniskirt length, or "Should studente be allowed to wear college blazers [a privilege] if they bunked assemblies?" Most students didn't wear blazers, due to Durban's humidity. I sat in silent protest next to my SRC wannabe, reminding him that I'd won more SRC votes as a first-year student than he'd got as a second-year student; I taught myself typing, operated the SRC Gestetner printer, and distributed SRC notices; I organized volunteers to street-collect charity money; I roster-read SRC messages at assemblies, while Afrikaners sat docile, and PP, Skelm and other English students fidgeted and mocked. My SRC experience inculcated a dislike for committees, manipulative management and patronizing Afrikaner politics.

I sometimes arrived late at lectures as my moped broke down. I wrote no exams, as we were continuously assessed. Hugh directed Our Town. I played Stage Manager. Later, I played juvenile lead opposite Katie in Gelukkige Dae, adapted from the Happiest Days of Our Life. When cross, Hugh Thompson bashed chairs, throwing them down aisles. Big act: "meneer Olivier! Stop acting like a baboon!" said Hugh Thompson.

"Ah'm notta ba-boon. Ah'm a lecherrerr." Meneer JV Smit broke up the squabble. (Note: Meneer JV Smit & meneer Olivier are composite characters).

Takkie-shod training for Comrades Marathon, I ran 10 milers thrice weekly from home, crossing Umgeni River near Athlone Hotel, re-crossing Umgeni near Blue Lagoon, running along N2 freeway to Virginia Airport, up the hill past Virginia Primary to the water-tower, along the Ridge, down Northway and back home. I ran 14 milers to Natal University and back along Ridge Road, past Burman Bush, over Umgeni, up Northway back home. Cool evenings, early mornings and warm summer rains were best running times. I sometimes ran with Skelm, running from Durban North to Ballito Bay.

Before dawn, I greeted Clover Dairies Zulu milkmen, while they delivered milk bottles with aluminium seals. They wore white uniforms, car tyre sandals, and pushed white hand-carts. Their pierced ear lobes had metal rings or wooden cotton reels attached, causing their lobes to wobble while they ran.

Before Comrades, I soaked my feet in meths, hardening them. I prepared chocolate and sarmie snacks. Carbo-loading hadn't been favoured yet. I enjoyed apple-slices sprinkled with salt, preventing cramps. Runners had various corpse-revivers. Mine was whiskey. Skelm said, "Jislaaik! Run like a kaffir!"

30/05/70. 06:00. 759 runners lined up in the dark at Durban City Hall. Trimborn cock-crowed while we ran off. I was one of 25 novices. We had 11 hours to reach 'Maritzburg, over 80 kays away. Mom drove her Morris, while she and Jood seconded me. I passed Skelm on Fields Hill. Skelm dropped out. After I hit the wall at Inchanga, Jood lost me. Incensed, I bummed oranges till Camperdown...

Jood gave me whiskey on Polly Shorts. I jogged past sweet-thorns into 'Maritzburg, finishing 284th in 9 hours 8 minutes. Hallelujah! Dave Bagshaw won in 5 hours 51 minutes. I won a silver medal. In later years, competitors increased thousand-fold, seconds were abolished and silver medals became harder to win. I hated up-hills, but on down-hills I flew like a fish eagle, singing, "Kaaa! Ka-ka-ka -ka-kaaaa!..." (Morris Alexander, The Comrades Marathon Story, Juta, Cape Town, 1976.)

Unrest: SA had been banned from competing in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. 1970. SA was banned indefinitely from Olympics until SA abandoned apartheid. International cultural, sports and business boycotts were silencing out my whitey generation. (Roger Childs, Divide and Rule, Macmillan, Auckland, 1990.)

1970 Mark Esslemont, first Comrades, near Cato Ridge

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