Sunday, July 8, 2007

1977 Apartheid Durban, Natal Education Department Promotion

1977. Mark Esslemont playing Makeup Artist for Northlands Boys High's 'Breaking Point'. (Johanson)

Staff seated themselves in the hall before assemblies, and before staff-meetings in a lecture-theatre. When Mr. Wilkinson arrived, staff stood. I didn't stand. One morning assembly, before Mr. Wilkinson's entrance, Pompies who'd played Natal rugby, whined, "Yous bladdy useless man. Yous couldn' fighd yourr way oudofa wed paperr bag!" My glare checked Pompies. In contrast, a giant former-Wallaby rugby player on our staff was a gentleman. Recently married, Pompies's tight foreskin had caused infection. Staff sniggered, wondering why he'd never wanked. Surgery loosened the foreskin.

Pompies whined to me, "One of yourr boys scradched my new lab bench!"

Mr. Wilkinson caned the boy, and made him revarnish the bench. "I'm sorry your boy was scratchy," said Mr. Wilkinson.

"I teach in nine labs and classes," I said, "wasting teaching time running around. I'm the only science-biology teacher discriminated against."

"Pompies presented me six lab timetables saying, "Orrganize yourr dimedable so yous cirrculade less man!"

"I'm not paid to change timetables," I told Mr. Wilkinson. "Pompies must make equitable changes."

Pompies game me a timetable, showing I'd teach in four labs and two classrooms. I stayed unpopular with Pompies and science-masters, (some of whom I suspected were gay), who disliked me expecting decent work conditions. I kept caged mice in Pompies's lab. Mice bred, stinking - more than any hydrogen -sulphide gas Pompies produced. My thick classes got above-average results in exams. Pompies found out from a boy, that I'd told my classes what not to learn in their revision notes.

"You've compromised bright classes," grunted Mr. Wilkinson.

"No problem. I'll scale-down my classes' results by 20% to get them into the normal distribution curve." My thick classes still did well. I resolved in future to teach better than spiteful colleagues, with or without labs.

While Mr. Wilkinson signed my classes' exam reports I asked, "Why're so many men teachers leaving Northlands?"

"They're useless teachers."

"They're returning to varsity to read more degrees, like Inspector Mandrill's son."

I told Leah, "I've got the horrors. Don't expect me to apply for white promotion posts, as I'll become like power-mad school management." I then applied for NED promotions. Thirty years later, Pompies became Northlands BH principal.

I had ambivalent feelings for teaching. I encountered many arrogant school despots who like myself had good white schooling and tertiary education. They didn't compete for jobs with outcasts. They were masters over black, school servants and poorly-paid, white teachers. I liked classroom teaching and some ECA, but disliked gatkruiper staff, blackmailing "managers" and creepy inspectors. After five years' teaching in Durban North white schools, I was "promoted" to white Yellowwood Park Primary as senior-assistant teacher, where my donkey wagon ride would be blissfully brief.

Unknown persons painted rude graffiti on Northlands BH walls and on the cricket-pitch. Underrods were hung on a flagpole above PT change-rooms.

On my last day, in the staffroom Mr. Wilkinson shook my hand, and gave me a Parker pen. My goodbye speech: "I'm glad I'm leaving Northlands. Thanks to staff who gave me general-science notes and biology notes, and thanks to secretaries who deciphered my exam-paper graffiti, and typed my papers." (Laughter).

Mr. Wilkinson's teenager son was killed in a Drakensberg fall.

Leah and I got engaged, after Leah completed her Edgewood three years' general-teaching diploma and pre-primary teaching course. Leah's older brother Gee, who owned Idol's Eye jewellry store in Murchies Passage, sold us Leah's engagement ring at cost, and gave us our wedding rings.

In 1978, Leah began teaching at Tomlinson's Pre-primary school, Northdene. I left Chelsea Drive for good, and near Leah's Hillary home, I dossed for a year at Dorianna Lodge, Sarnia Road, in a two-bedroom-flat, where I scraped and polyurethaned old, black -stained oak-furniture.

Fraser still lodged at 22 Chelsea Drive, while working at Broadway Standard Bank. Fraser and Rosie (unknowingly) looked after mom, while she slowly died. Sometimes Fraser boozed, fished, sail-surfed and water-skied with pals.

Yellowwood Park Primary was similar size to Virginia Primary. The white headmaster was non-conscript and smarmy. My senior-assistant post was unavailable, as the science-master had stayed at Yellowwood Park, a ruse to get another man teacher. I led standard four classes, and Yellowwood Park had a fancy English-teaching-system, well behaved white pupils and inconspicuous, Zulu menial staff.

White men teachers took me to a white bar on South Coast Road, where we got pissed. I black-out-drove to Hillary, weaving through rush-hour traffic, up Jacob's Ladder, along Sarnia Road, to the top of Coedmore Quarry, near Leah's home, where I parked... Rain pouring through my Mini's window woke me... I drove away, and crashed into a tree.

At Yellowwood Park, Inspector Mandrill asked: "I say chap, will you lead science at Kokstad High next term? Kokstad was removed from Transkei-Cape Administration, then combined with southern gamadullas NED on Transkei border."

"No thanks," I said. "I'm only trained to teach junior science. I'm getting married in July. I've signed a flat rental-agreement for the whole year."

"I say chap, we need a biology teacher at Hillcrest High, a new co-ed school?"

"I'm biology trained..."

1977. Mark Esslemont's first U15 Rugby Team, Northlands Boys High. (Leeney)


Mark JS Esslemont said...

A fourth-former I'd taught at NBHS in 1977 emailed me from England, where he'd settled, confirming my feelings about NBHS:

"I think 'soulless' really captures the atmosphere at NBHS, but there were a few good ones around... my favourite teacher was...

You mentioned the expansion of the school. I started Std 6 in 1975 with the works in progress. It was the largest intake they'd ever had - over 200 pupils (sustaining a 1000 pupil school). At the time Northlands was the school of choice. Beachwood was to be avoided & struggling. But it was a pivotal moment - NBHS subsequent intake fell year-on-year and when I matriculated, there was only about 60 Std 6 pupils (sustaining a 300 pupil school). Meanwhile Beachwood was in the ascendency, and never looked back.

I'm sure it's just coincidence (but then I believe in flying pigs) at the end of 1974 the HM of Beachwood was promoted HM of Northlands... The moment he landed at NBHS, the school collapsed. The moment he left Beachwood, it took off. The reputation of Northlands was utterly destroyed. Years later a friend of mine was trumpeting how he'd managed to get his son into Beachwood (against zoning) and what a great school it was.

The schools are now merged by the way. Northlands Primary School (on the plateau below NBHS) and Beachwood swapped premises and now the whole complex is known as Northwood."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Follow up email about NBHS:

"Even though the tiny intake of '79 would only sustain a 300-odd school, the NED of course intervened and started playing games with the zoning rules so NBHS wasn't allowed to shrink to that size. But the massive expansion programme (about 50% floorspace, maybe more?) was never fully utilised, the demand of the early '70s vanished. [The HM] left in '84, schools were merged in '89."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

A positive email from a NBHS Old Boy living in Virginia, USA, confirmed my views about principal Mr. Gammon and mean teachers I'd worked with.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Face Book comment from a former NBHS HOD, living in England:

"You taught at NBHS - Biology and General Science - and very good you were! I remember how lucky I thought we were to have got you!"