Sunday, June 24, 2007

1972-73 Apartheid Durban, Natal University Drama

I shared cricket with Mr. Young, who taught me leadership by example. Smarmy Ranter gave up national soccer refereeing to teach woodwork, and boss Zulu "boys" preparing sports-fields, by supervising grass-cutting, pitch-preparation, liming white lines. Ranter taught me soccer coaching, calling kids, "Meat Heads" and "Lame Brains." Coaching boys' sport bored me, as my Saturdays were stolen, watching schoolboy soccer, and umpiring schoolboy cricket. Besides directing drama skits, I coached swimming, and was swimming and athletics house-master, organizing training, heats, and events allocation. After four Virginia years, I was tired of school sports. Mr Young allowed me and friends to play Sunday tennis on Virginia's new courts.

"Ngena! Hlala panzi!" said umnumzaan Mzolo, my varsity Zulu lecturer, when I knocked on his door. Mzolo lectured in English, explaining intricacies of inflected Zulu grammar and vocabulary. Most students knew amabele meant corn, but no student knew its other meaning. Mzolo grabbed his tits, saying, "Amabele." Outcast Zulus were few at Natal University. Their inferior bush-varsity was in KwaZulu.

Puppet Universities: Verwoerd had legalized racially separated universities. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela, A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997). Fort Hare University in Eastern Cape stayed a restless, black university. Tambo, Mandela, Hani were alumni. Other non-white, puppet universities were: Zululand (Zulus), which I passed en route to game reserves; Durban-Westville (Indians), where I watched some shows; Transkei (Xhosa), which I often passed in later years; Western Cape (coloureds) - a graduate would later teach my youngest son music; North (northern and southern Sotho). During my varsity years, later ANC luminaries Chikane and Ramaphosa studied at Turfloop, University of the North. Later, I'd have dealings with the QwaQwa southern branch. Vista University had black correspondence students.

Non-whites were allowed enrollment at white universities, only if courses, like English Speech and Drama, were unavailable at their separate universities. White universities were: Orange Free State (OFS); Rand Afrikaans; Pochefstroom; Witwatersrand (Wits); Natal; Rhodes; Port Elizabeth (PE); Stellenbosch; Cape Town. UNISA was a correspondence university open to all races. Later I'd work with white, black and coloured graduates from white and non-white universities.

At Natal University, Gillian Hurst taught us Martha Graham movement and Laban movement-notation. Prof. Scholtz, play director, eventually married Gillian. Mom's friend, drama-doyenne, Prof. Sneddon, lectured Shakespeare and Greek classics, emphasizing immutable laws: "Civilization's based on trust. Isn't it?...." Ol' ballie Joan Little called everyone, "Dear..." and drilled linguistics. She battled her new-fangled overhead projector, sometimes projecting transparencies onto the ceiling.

I acted in plays with prof. Scholtz, Pommie and Herrington. Pommie, my age, taught us Theatre Arts, and toured Central and South America for drama ideas, like Aztec, Inca, Maya civilizations. Herrington's video-studio videoed our magazine-programmes and plays. I saw a performance of Herrington's Ulster of the Southern Cross. Students got white, affirmative-action TV jobs after Herrington's video-production courses. When state-controlled SATV began at Auckland Park in 1976, TV was censored. Media contraventions got one gaoled, banned, banished, deported, silenced out. Years later the SATV Baas got an irate phone-call from Groot krokodil, President Botha.

At ol' toppie, Prof. Sneddon's Durban Theatre Workshop Company, Aliwal Street, I professionally played servant Klaas in Kom Ons Trek Tou, Scholtz's Boer War adaptation of Arms And The Man. I liked Shaw's soldier carrying chocolates instead of ammo. I excelled at playing Fools, and enjoyed comedy roles. I played dual-roles Militia Man and Lager Jew in The Representative, punching a fellow actor (one of my tutors Ian Steadman, playing a Jewish role opposite Dorothy Gould). Each performance, I seated a German Officer (Pommie) on a chair, and shaved him using a cut-throat razor. One champagne -pissed performance, I applied my razor to Pommie's throat. Eyes popping, Pommie leapt from the chair, spluttering shaving-cream, and wiping his face with a towel.

Mom retired early, after another nervous break-down. In Addington, she had ovarian cysts removed. I suspected melleril tablets, which mom's psychiatrist had prescribed for years, had caused mom's fatness. She'd thrown away her useless corsets and step-ins. Whenever mom had sat down, cyst weight had splayed her thighs. After the operation, I phoned the surgeon, asking for a prognosis. "Grave," he said. "She's got cancer. I excised most of her liver. She's got six months to a year to live." Fraser and I didn't tell mom, as we believed cancer knowledge would kill her. We knew radiation burning and chemotherapy poisoning were inadequate. Mom went into remission.

Privately, I played Ezeekial Cheever in The Crucible, directed by Hugh at Edgewood. I played a chorus-line part for Westville Theatre Club's Guys and Dolls. I shagged a woman in The Reeve's Tale for Q Players at Greyville Race Course, near Rosie's May Street slum.

My script intermittently changed in my fantasy life and my real life. I played Lancelot Gobbo opposite Pommie's Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, while Prof. Scholtz played Shylock. Lancelot's words, "'Conscience,' say I 'you counsel well.' 'Fiend,' say I 'you counsel well,...'" summarized apartheid's moral dilemma we faced. Wearing a Fool's wicker-hat with a wiggly ping-pong ball on top, I stole the show, as white, teenager groupies enjoyed my acting. Pommie was peeved when I, "a student," took curtain-calls with him and Ian Steadman, my age. Ian became a Wits lecturer.

Pommie helped us part-timers, by telling us what not to learn for Theatre Arts exams. Pommie (never conscripted) sent his Natal wife to USA to have their baby, then re-emigrated, after benefitting from apartheid, becoming a USA drama professor.

Most part-timers were busy teachers, attending evening lectures. Some outcasts attended part-time varsity with me. Mrs. Africa and Nick, an Indian schools' inspector, read drama with me. Nick also read English, French and Zulu with me. We called each other "umnumzaan" - gentleman. I seconded Nick when he ran his first Comrades. Nick emigrated to NZ, but returned. Post-apartheid, Nick was carjack-murdered in Durban.

Pompies, whitey student, taught at Jewish Carmel College (which closed past-apartheid for want of pupils). One night, a white lady student invited Pompies and me to her Berea home for tea. She tearfully told us her husband was screwing an Indian employee. Skande! Her husband breached the Immorality Act, making criminals of her whitey husband and Indian lover. Pompies and I silenced out, as she was setting us up as accomplices to her shame.

Pompies played squash and the piano, and his Light My Fire mobile-disco played the latest hits. Before exams, we revised together at his Yarningdale flat. After studies, we pub-crawled Marine Parade. After graduating, Pompies read his teacher's diploma at London University, then led drama, science and sports at Northlands BH.

As a young teacher earning an m-plus-3 salary (matric plus 3 years' training), dating girls was expensive. I had little money to impress non-Dutch-going girls. During early teaching years, I dated girls whom I met at schools, church, varsity, and through friends and family. No-one lasted, as we had little in common, and I was busy with varsity and teaching. Some of us part-time varsity students socialized at restaurants, movies, discos, balls, pubs, parties and theatre shows. I admired NAPAC's production of As You Like It, especially Jaque's "seven ages" speech. I knew I'd played many parts, and in future I'd play more unknown parts.

After engineering in Umlazi for years, and lecturing in Rhodesia, Donna's dad emigrated to England with his new family, eventually settling in Canada. Donna married her fundamentalist engineer at a teetotal wedding. There, I drank Coke and Fanta. When I quaffed Mountain Dew and Hubbly Bubbly I was maudlin.

Note: Mr Young is a composite character.

See Virginia Preparatory (Primary) School.

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