Tuesday, July 31, 2007

1984 Apartheid Durban, SAP Dawn Raids and More Teaching Hassles

1984. Mark Esslemont in an Injasuti stream, Drakensberg.

I went on SAP night-patrols with Al. There was no skop, skiet en donner, just hours of boredom. Al detained a drugged coloured man, too dangerous to jail with other prisoners, but locked in the back of a police van, until he dropped from his drug high. He swore at cops when they checked on him. Once, Al found a grotesque rubber-mask, donned it, and wandered about the precinct, roaring at cops and prisoners. Zulus swore at him when he skulked from cell to cell.

Once, we went to Chatsworth to chivvy a malingering Indian cop, who got a dawn door-knock. Bobbejaan crept to the back of the house, stopping escape. The front door opened, and the Indian rubbed his eyes.

"Be at your next rostered shift!" said Al.

A car with black robbers was chased by a SAP squad-car from central Durban, along N3 western freeway, while robbers thew stolen goods from car windows. Police HQ radioed Pinetown cops to assist, when robbers escaped along dirt roads. At dawn, Al, Bobbejaan and I raided a Claremont house to arrest the car-owner. The pondok was like thousands of other concrete-block township houses, with few rooms and bare essentials. Bleary-eyed Umfazi opened her front door saying, "Sanibona."

"Sawubona," said Bobbejaan. "Where's Skebenge?"

"Haaikona! Skebenge not heah seh." Umfazi showed us a bedroom, where Heavenly People raised sleepy heads. No Skebenge.

"Who's in this room?" asked Bobbejaan, twisting a locked door handle.

"Nobody seh. Ees Skebenge's storeroom. Nobody."

"Open it!"

"Haaikona! Skebenge has key."

"Don't 'Haaikona' me! Open, or I'll kick the door down..." Nobody.

Al drove to Claremont cop-shop, manned by Zulu cops, and progress-reported. Returning to Pinetown, Al stopped a car, filled with bulge-eyed black men, staring at us, cowed and servile. Al let them go - night-shift workers.

One night, Al chased a car, sending it towards Inanda hills. The Zulu driver reverse-rammed Al's van. Al arrested the Zulu man, a wanted murderer. Al, with handgun, black, plastic truncheon and handcuffs had immense power: wisely used. Al knew intuitively when someone lied to him. Al never shot or killed anyone during his SAP years, including National States-of- Emergencies. Child abusers angered him most.

Al emigrated to USA, married a Latino, producing three kids. He worked as an organist in churches; then in USA airports, managing scores of staff. He ended up at Buffalo: New York State. Al made final decisions like: detaining asylum-seekers after they'd destroyed their documents on the plane; processing prince Andrew smoothly through customs; helping former president De Klerk escort his partner through customs, after her visa had expired; swiftly grounding planes on 11 September 2001. Al could get cheap flights, so his mom visited him on champagne and first class flights.

One sultry night, I sat on a molehill in Fraser's garden, watching flying-ants crawling from holes in red earth, then flying in arpeggios, circling street lamps. Bats attacked - diving and clicking, catching ants. Wing confetti shimmied down...

Mr. Maher discussed my classes' exam marks in his office. He correlated marks with previous terms' marks, and adjusted marks according to his arbitrary standards. Boys' marks had to be spread in normal distribution curves. I wondered whether it was better to ignore exams altogether, estimating marks for each boy. If exam -papers were properly moderated, mark adjustments would've been unnecessary. "Why'm I not teaching matric this year?" I asked.

Mr. Maher flushed, and fiddled with NED papers, searching for my matric marks saying, "You belittle boys."

"You cane boys. Why'd you abuse the intercom?"

"Whaaat? I don't recall that."


"GET OUT!" he shrieked, pointing to his door, stooping over me.

"You recall your intercom message: 'Mr. Esslemont, your class waits for you?' That's intercom abuse. I was standing next to you in the science storeroom, at your request, when teachers viewed old science chemicals."

"I didn't know you were there." We continued discussing correlations. Like Mr. Wilkinson at Northlands BH, and other white affirmative -action bosses I'd meet, Mr. Maher blackmailed disliked staff by depriving them of teaching labs, or equipment, or text books, or promotions, or deserved merit-increments. The blackmail just hardened me.

Mr. Maher fraternized in a secretary's office while I filed my class's year-end cumulative-record cards. "You should leave Glenwood..." hissed Mr. Maher. I went. It was pointless continuing working for a white, affirmative-action bully. In his favour, Mr. Maher led an orderly and disciplined school. And he had provided an old lab for me to teach biology and general-science for 6 terms.

Unrest: Esplanade car-bomb killed an Indian. It was time to leave Durban.

March 1984. At Nkomati, PM Botha signed an accord with Mozambique's Marxist president Machel, promising not to subsidize destabilizing Renamo in Mozambique, if Machel promised not to subsidize ANC terrorists in Mozambique. (Alan Cowell, Killing the Wizards, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992). Nkomati Accords were nonsense, as SADF and Renamo continued warring in Mozambique against Machel's Frelimo throughout the 1980s.

I joined Durban Men's Choir, but my singing soon became tuneless. Leah taught at white Woodlands Pre-Primary, her fifth school in two years. We resigned, giving one term's notice, as Leah and I had both outgrown NED. Our Natal days were over.

London friend Kleintjie emigrated from Zimbabwe to Durban North, and visited us, extolling his USA Greyhound bus-trek. We braaied at Stainbanks Reserve, then boozed at Father's Moustache. When I shouted, "Nastrovya!" throwing empty glasses over my shoulder, a bouncer growled, but forbore ejecting me as Kleintjie was bigger than him. Later, we sat on a hotel verandah boozing Lion Lagers. Kleintjie reminisced about the Bush war: "I shot a zot," he said. "Just a kid. I waited till he got close. Mush head-shot: cartwheeling away - tickie-tickie-tickie-tickie-tickie."

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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