Wednesday, July 4, 2007

1976 Apartheid, Grahamstown Drama and Natal Varsity Roundup

1976. Mark Esslemont playing Watchman in 'Much Ado About Nothing', Grahamstown Shakesperean Festival.

We performed prof. Scholtz's Victorian style, whites-only Much Ado About Nothing in the varsity Open-Air Theatre and 'Maritzburg's whites-only Churchill Theatre. Going steady, Leah and I drove through puppet Transkei to Grahamstown, as Scholtz donkey-wagonned the show to the first whites-only Drama Festival, in the 1820 Settler Memorial, on Gunfire Hill. Most of the white-student cast flew to Grahamstown, while Natal University Zulu-backstage-staff trucked the revolving-set through puppet Transkei, the "independence" of which wasn't recognized by the rest of the world. (Jon Murry, et al, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, 1997.)

I did backstage work, and played a drunk Watchman opposite Variola's Dogberry: our London Bobby truncheons dangling between our mealie-cruncher-booted legs. Dogberry's words, "Take care that your bills be not stolen..." got white-audience guffaws, while townships burned and blacks died.

Due to an oil crisis, petrol restrictions and speed limits were enforced. While returning to Durbs through Transkei, I drove through a speed-trap, and was fined R300, which cleaned out most of my bursary money. Puppet Matanzima, Mandela's nephew, was Transkei's Chief Minister. Many of Transkei's puppet-government ministers hadn't even matriculated. Transkeian outcasts lost their SA citizenship.

KwaZulu elected Chief Minister Buthelezi stopped KwaZulu becoming "independent," as five million Zulus didn't want to lose SA citizenship. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997.) Non-puppet Buthelezi had been a Youth League member, and hadn't fled into exile.

I got a three month call-up for South West Africa border. Had I gone, I would've failed Honours. As the UN had revoked SA's mandate over SWA in 1966 (Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History, Atlantic Books, London, 2005), and as I had no desire to fight Cubans and Soviets in Angola, nor be Pretoria's and Washington's cannon-fodder, I asked prof. Scholtz to write a call-up-deferment-letter for me, which he did. It was the closest I came to "...ons sal sterwe, ons vir jou Suid Africa..." (National Anthem). And easier than being gaoled for avoiding call-ups. (Jane Goodwin, Cry Amandla, Holmes & Meier, London, 1984.)

Unrest: August, Mozambique, Nyadzonya terrorist camp: Rhodesian soldiers killed blacks. (Ian Smith, The Great Betrayal, Blake, London, 1997.)

I gave speech tutorials to undergrads and graduate-teacher students. I wasn't much older than the latter: arrogant, whitey know-alls. Most bunked my last tutorials. Variola directed The Maids video, the rest of us acting or technically assisting. After completing Honours degrees, Variola and white girls easily got state-controlled, white affirmative-action SATV jobs, as there was no black competition. Later Variola became SABC's Commissioning Editor of Drama. I deigned auditioning for SATV, which began in Auckland Park. (Roger Childs, Divide and Rule, Macmillan, Auckland, 1990.) I prompted a mediocre Honours girl through her SATV audition, and she got a SATV job. One girl joined Jo'burg's Children's theatre. Another worked at Durban Aquarium, training performing dolphins. Before reading Honours I'd heard, "No one fails Honours." A dancer failed: boyfriend hassles. She later danced at Paris Lido.

Hugh again offered me a drama lecturer post, which I rejected. Although I enjoyed dramatic language, I'd outgrown repetitive stage-acting, which had generated funds for organizations. My play directing would generate funds for white schools.

I'd found Movement the least inspiring of my Drama courses, which included Theatre Arts, Dramatic Literature, Speech and Acting. Movement comprised 25% of Drama "lectures," and I was compelled to do Movement for four years. One year was enough for me to know I'd never be a dancer, nor like ballet, musicals or dance-dramas. Singing would've been useful for me, but Performance Music wasn't offered in Drama courses, as there would've been howls of protest from the Music department.

After six varsity years, I'd found scholarly texts flatulent. I'd learnt critical-analysis, but not how to write. Separated from the ten major tribal groups in SA, after years of reading Eurocentric literature, I'd read little Afrocentric literature. Of all my English lecturers, Bobby Mills impressed me the most. He tutored me for two years, and went out of his way to help us part-timers, doing extra reading and tutorials for us.

NED posted me as a biology / general-science teacher to my old school Northlands BH. RC had retired, so I visited ol' toppie Mr. Wilkinson, madumbi-faced principal of 1000 white boys, 50 white staff and an impi of Zulu menials. Non-conscript Mr. Wilkinson said, "Hello. Where's your tie? It's unprofessional that you wear a black-leather coat. We're a trad' school you know. Take your hands off my desk!"

"I have four years teaching experience," I said, "And seven years tertiary education, which most people take eleven years to complete. I did it in eight years..." Mr. Wilkinson was the first arrogant, mean boss I resisted. He was threatened by my sciences and humanities education. He linked drama with disco-jollers, gays and language teachers. I'd receive an m-plus-six salary: matric-plus-6 years tertiary education. Although I'd seven years tertiary education, I'd need a Phd for an m-plus-7 salary.

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