Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1969 Apartheid Durban, Dokkies Rectum and Acting

1969. Mark Esslemont, 5th left, as Barnaby Tucker in 'The Matchmaker'. Hugh Thompson director, seated in front.

Ol' toppie, meneer JV Smit, Afrikaner rector, called, "Rectum" by students, had a glass eye, goatee, Alsation cur, bunch of keys. Ol' ballie, deaf meneer Olivier, lectured us Principles and Organization of Teaching and Afrikaans. Meneer JV Smit's and meneer Olivier's disabilities symbolized white teacher training. "Therre'z many differrin' teachin' methidz az therre'z teachiz," cooed meneer Olivier. "Youz muz become a phyzical-zcience teachirr, az therr'z a zhorrtige in Natal!"

"No thanks," I said. "I choose to be a biology teacher."

Men students weren't attracted to teaching, as pay was poor. Many students had done O stream matric, which left A stream students, like myself, frustrated at the slow pace. Like mom, women teachers were paid less than men. Women teachers were therefore reluctant to do ECA, leaving men stressed with bigger sports commitments.

First-year biology students included Katie, who had brown hair, freckles, falsies, efficiency. Donna had red hair, sexy bod', giggles, low self esteem, as her parents were recently divorced. Her dad had remarried, producing three sons. Broeder Bul, biology lecturer, Broederbonder, tried brainwashing us, "Capitalizdz zay, 'Whad'z mine iz yourrz'. Communizdz zay, 'Whadz yourrz iz mine...'" Biology lecturers and physical science lecturers were sinecurists, as few students read sciences, leaving Verwoerd groaning in his grave. Most lecturers were bilingual, and biology lectures were dual-medium. Afrikaner students tried to improve their English. Some English students, deigning to improve their Afrikaans, were arrogant about English being a world language. I passed Hoer Taalbond Eksamen in my first year.

Mom, half-Afrikaner said, "Afrikaners have a national inferiority complex, as they lost the Boer War. There were many poor-white Afrikaners, white kaffirs, during the 1930s. They lived like kaffirs, competing with kaffirs for jobs..."

Hugh Thompson, my speech tutor, directed The Matchmaker. I played Barnaby Tucker, while Arthur Hill played Cornelius Hackle. Poepol (PP), Skelm (also first-years), Arthur Hill and I arrived poeg-eye at one rehearsal. "Why're you late?" asked Hugh Thompson.

"Onlya cuppla minitsh late," said Arthur Hill.

"That's no excuse. If ya wanna be actors arrive early at rehearsals." As Hello Dolly was running world-wide, based on The Matchmaker, which couldn't run simultaneously with the musical, we ran The Matchmaker free for private audiences. Overseas playwrights refused performances of their works in SA, part of the international cultural boycott. On opening night, the cast found champagne bottles in a backstage hand basin. We quaffed the lot. At interval Hugh Thompson yelled, "Who drank my champagne?" No-one owned up. Years later, when I directed plays I checked whether I could produce a modern play. Usually the play was forbidden, so I produced an older play.

Over the next three decades, I'd be involved with family, friends studies, work and travel. Reading, jogging, silence and switching off would show my detachment.

Note: meneer JV Smit & meneer Olivier are composite characters.

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