Friday, June 22, 2007

1972 Apartheid Durban, Virginia Primary School Teacher

1972. Mark Esslemont's first standard 4 class, Durban North. (Mumby) "Mark you!" >

White Virginia Primary would be my hottest donkey wagon ride. Virginia had 7 class levels - class one to standard five (year 7): 21 classes, about 30 pupils per class. Annual enrollment: about 630 pupils. I began white teaching with white staff, who'd begun careers before apartheid, like mom. Ol' toppie headmaster, Mr. Young had been a businessman before resuming teaching. His black leather shoes had a military shine. He'd fought in Italy during WW2. He raised Southern Cross funds for Boys on the Border. Virginia overlooked N2 freeway, Virginia Airport, Indian Ocean, a bushy valley on the south border. White suburbs sprawled northwards to sugarcane fields.

Mr. Young led Virginia with wisdom, unashamed to weep at an assembly when announcing a wall had fallen on children at a nearby school, after heavy rains, killing them. He kept golden pheasants, and renovated his upper Durban North home. Mr. Young was executive president of Natal Teachers Society, and negotiated better wages for white teachers. Mr Young helped buy NTS Florida Road HQ, and re-varnished Victorian banisters there. He got a bank overdraft, built a school pool, tennis courts and prefabs, which accommodated growing enrollment. NED bureaucrats complained, as they disliked Mr. Young's financial acumen.

"Go buy science equipment!" said Mr. Young. At Protea Holdings and Baird and Tatlock, I bought equipment and chemicals to last for years. In my hot science prefab, my standard four (year 6) pupils were "problem pupils" experienced teachers had rejected.

Ranter, woodwork-master, ranted to me: "Two boys failed, who shouldn't've failed!"

Bumtiddy, their former teacher, slack, menopausal male, who chanted, "Bum-tiddy-bum-tiddy-bum-bum-bum..." to himself in the corridors, had failed the boys, who'd languished most of the previous year outside Bumtiddy's class. Ranter wanted me to battle Mr. Young to pass the boys belatedly. I let it pass, and Mr. Young early-retired Bumtiddy.

A girl was raped by her father, smelt of urine, and disturbed other girls. Another girl's father was jailed for embezzlement. A one-armed boy dolphined in the school pool during PT, and played one armed cricket.

Another boy was hairier than me. A girl's nanny had saved her during the Congo Simba Rebellion in Stanleyville, by hiding her in a barrel, then ghosting her away. I had a termagant Jewess, and the rest were slow learners with fidgety, defiant behaviours. I hadn't heard of ADHD, or ODD, or Specific Learning Disabilities, the labels weren't used yet, but ADHD pupils. ODD pupils and bozos jolled in my class. A freckle-faced boy sometimes flailed his arms, saying, "Thir I need a pith!"

When my class failed exams Mr. Young complained, so I dropped my high-school-trained expectations, passing every pupil at year's end. As no teacher wanted my class the next year, I taught the same pupils - a Danish educational idea. I grew with my pupils. All passed standard 5, prepared for high school. Parents appreciated my efforts with gifts.

After three years' biology teacher training, my salary was about 200 Rand net per month. Men weren't attracted to teaching. I paid monthly pension contributions, which NED would repay with low interest, should I resign. I paid into the Public Servants Medical Aid Association scheme, which didn't benefit me, as I never took sick-leave during my ten NED teaching years. I didn't get a housing subsidy. Most of my salary went to mom for lodging. The rest went on travel, car maintenance, varsity expenses. I took paid study-leave for varsity exams. Durban white schools were similar in physical and academic standards to first-world schools I later saw during my overseas treks.

Non-white teaching perks were less than white teaching perks. Non-white schools had overcrowded classes. Before apartheid, some blacks were well educated in mission-schools, which degraded during apartheid, due to poor state funding. Mandela and Tambo were mission-school generation. Thereafter, Verwoerd's Bantu Education splintered blacks into degraded education, qualifying them for menial jobs. Deja vu: During WW2, Nazi Himmler had wanted defeated Poles to have degraded labourer education. (Laurence Rees, Auschwitz, A New History, BBC Books, Britain, 1999). Black pupils started school older than white kids. Black Bantustan boys often did herd-boy duties, as cattle-wealth was used as lobola to buy wives. Mandela had herded cattle at Qunu, before starting mission-school. In the 70s, some black pupils were 20 years old, or older. When I began teaching, some blacks my age, or older, were finishing inferior studies in black high schools.

Affirmative-action white principals were paid according to qualifications, experience, school size. Principal's pensions were calculated according to pupil roll during the last years of a principal's tenure. Most white principals and teachers retired aged 65. If sick, they were boarded earlier. In NED white schools, teaching and secretarial staff were white, but Zulu male staff, living in a school khaya, were employed as cleaners, gardeners, groundsmen, Gestetner operators, messenger "boys." Mr. Young sacked two Zulus caught buggering in a school kitchen by a school secretary. Apartheid zeitgeist forced migrant-labour, black men, lucky to be employed in white areas, to exist in small khayas, or overcrowded hostels. Their outcast families were forced to exist on the "farm," in degraded, overcrowded homelands.

Fraser (18) was in Northlands matric. We trained for Comrades Marathon by running 10-milers thrice weekly, and doing longer weekend runs. Dad had left his stamp on Fraser and me: assertive young men, softened by the women in our lives. At Durban City Hall, 1180 runners began Comrades Marathon. Mom drove her Mini along the course, carrying refreshments, while Charlie seconded. Fraser and I ran until we hit Inchanga wall, then walked every hill thereafter. I developed egg-sized blisters, and wouldn't've finished, if I didn't have a pair of old takkies in mom's Mini. I hobbled up Polly Shorts. Fraser ran ahead: placed 673rd in 10 hours 6 minutes. My place: 722nd in 10 hours 13 minutes. Mike Orton had won in 5 hours 48 minutes. (Morris Alexander, The Comrades Marathon Story, Juta, Cape Town, 1976.)

1 comment:

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Several past VPS pupils contacted me on Face Book during 2010-2011. Dialogue with one past pupil, referring to the prefab where I did my first 2 years' teaching:

Past Pupil: Drove past Virginia Primary the other day for the first time in years. That original prefab hot box is STILL there on the field where it all started for Mr Esslemont... Sir! Hahaha.

Mark: Amazing the prefab's still there, brand new in 1972, started off as a science lab. Still remember the heat and sending kids out with magnifying glasses onto the field to escape the hot box...