Wednesday, June 20, 2007

1971 Apartheid Durban, Natal University Versus Dokkies

1971. Mark Esslemont playing Charlies Aunt in 'Charlies Aunt'. Male leads, Walter Perfect left & Kevin Burge right

Back in Durban Charlie, who'd begun BCom at Natal University, had stolen Ursula. I silenced them out for a year.

I registered at Natal University, for whites, to read my part-time BA. I'd ride the varsity donkey wagon for six years. Dokkies and varsity were infested with BOSS spies: English and Afrikaner students paid by security -police to betray classmates. I was careful what I said to suspect informers. For years, whenever I used our home phone, I heard, "Click-click-click..." and eavesdropped conversations. Who'd tapped our phone?

Those were days of house-arrest, detention without trial, passport confiscation, deporting, banning, banishment for those agin' the government. Once, I saw Ursula's sister pumping Black-Power salutes, singing, "We Shall Overcome..." at a Gardiner Street Cenotaph demonstration. "What idiots!" I thought. Their photos would've been snapped by security-police. After the protest, white students all went home.

I was busy with Dokkies and varsity studies, and teaching extra-maths lessons, paying mom back my travel loan. I remember posters on varsity notice boards: "Vote Charles Nupen for SRC President." Nupen later became a labour mediator. His political-science lecturer was Richard Turner, who was banned for years. Later in 1978, my marriage year, Turner was shot dead in his Durban Bellair home. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Vols. 2 & 3 Macmillan, London, 1999).

Other posters: "NUSAS - Emergency Student Body Meeting;" "Vote SASO." Dokkies never had emergency student body meetings. Biko, reading medicine at Umbilo medical faculty, formed the SA Student Organization. Biko's black exclusiveness sounded similar to Afrikaner nationalism. I wondered what Biko's Africanists offered SA? Later in 1977, Biko was arrested near Grahamstown, beaten by security -police, transported naked in a police-van from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria, where Biko died. Biko was buried at black Bisho, near white King Williams Town. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela, A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997).

Over the years, I majored in English and Speech and Drama, easy varsity majors improving my teacher's wage. In 1970, Prof. Sneddon and Prof. Scholtz of the varsity drama department had helped Msomi produce his black Umabatha - Macbeth, which was performed in London, and world toured. In May 1994, Msomi managed President Mandela's inauguration at Pretoria Union Buildings. Sneddon and Scholtz weren't the only whiteys using Zulus in plays. In 1960, post Sharpeville massacre, Alan Paton had used Zulus in his Mkhumbane musical in Durban City Hall. (Alan Paton, Journey Continued, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, 1988.)

Varsity student called Dokkies, "The Funny Farm." Hugh Thompson, promoted to head of Edgewood's drama department, directed Charlies Aunt at Dokkies, "where the nuts come from." I played Lord Fancourt Babberley.

For two years, I'd listened to Donna's boyfriend woes, and endured her jabbering about religion, academics and menstruation. Sometimes at Dokkies, Donna asked me to check the back of her dress for blood-spots. When we studied "Reproduction," the Afrikaner lady lecturer asked me for a sperm sample. I refused, while Donna and Katie giggled. The next day, we didn't ask where the lecturer's sample came from.

Donna's dad, WW2 veteran, had threatened to castrate Donna's boyfriend, so Donna and I dated, mainly because I drove mom's new, brown Mini, and Donna was tired of bussing. Three years older than me, Donna and I studied erotica in Broeder Bul's lab, Burman Bush, Mitchell Park, other places. We lumbered at The Graduate movie, starring Hoffman. Donna's parents encouraged my good influence on Donna, as Donna had repeated first-year. We had candle-lit meals at their Morningside home, served by Gladys their Zulu maid.

< 1971. Mark Esslemont in Valmai Esslemont's brown Mini, 22 Chelsea Drive, Durban North.

One afternoon, Gladys and another maid fought in the street, ripping off clothes and wigs, scratching faces, then Gladys sat on her rival's belly, keening and thumping her head on the road. I separated them, ordering Gladys into my car. Gladys adjusted her clothes, while her rival scuttled off. A white man, who'd watched the fight, strolled over saying, "Servants must sit at the back!" I glared at the moron, and drove Gladys home.

For a zoology bone-project, Donna and I killed two rabbits, by forcing them into buckets with chloroform inside, then sitting on the bucket -lids, until the squealing, bouncing rabbits expired. We dissected the rabbits, boiled the bones, chemically bleached the bones, then mounted the bones on wood as a skeleton-model. After I began teaching, my Zulu and Indian lab assistants killed rabbits, frogs, mice and rats for dissections.

Donna was depressed by her parents' divorce. She played the piano, soothing her nerves. Our romance didn't last, as Donna dated a Christian fundamentalist, engineering student (Natal's Bishop Colenso had refuted fundamentalism in the 1860s). Donna then tried persuading me that Darwin's evolution theory was wrong.

Dokkies cherries wore mini-skirts, and Skelm followed cherries upstairs, while a Zulu cleaner wanked in a broom cupboard below. I dated Katie, who'd dumped her Engelse-Dutchman boyfriend, my SRC rival. Katie flicked her brown hair over her shoulder, her mini-skirted legs more alluring than English lectures. After dates, late at night, Katie's ma glared at me, in her nightgown, while Katie and I chatted over coffee in her lounge. On her 21st birthday, Katie's pa presented Katie her funeral insurance policy. Katie did a fourth year's study at Nokkies, then married Nokkies SRC president.

Our Dokkies English head was an alcoholic, his daughter, fellow student, was anorexic. A Pom, an Irishman and a South African dying of cancer, were English staff, whose English literature was ineffective against Afrikaner domination. Hugh Thompson, directing English and Afrikaner students in English and Afrikaans plays, was most tolerant. I watched an Afrikaans choral-verse rehearsal, done by the Afrikaans department, where studente ranted about Boer War konsentrasie kampe. The Boer War had ended 70 years before, but Afrikaners never forgave Brits for destroying their women and children in camps. Afrikaner students were brainwashed by Afrikaner lecturers with historical grievances, soiling Afrikaner-English student relations, and brainwashing new Afrikaner teachers to indoctrinate the next Afrikaner generation against Engelse.

Late one night, when I arrived home, lights blazed, while white cops left. Deaf mom sat on her sofa. A Zulu thief had smashed the glass of our front door, sneaked through our home, striking matches and putting on my clothes. He stole my only suit and Bata Toughees. Mom was woken by the kaffir, illuminated by a match at her bedside. "MARK! FRASER!" yelled mom. Kaffir fled. Mom burglar-guarded the door, and replaced our hedge with a concrete wall, making our bungalow a Boer War blockhouse. Mom bought a .22 Astra automatic pistol, which she kept by her bedside for the rest of her life.

See Steve Biko.

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