Outcast mobs terrorized during 1993. Tension ruled my East London job. Rounded killing statistics didn't show mayhem of burned bodies; mutilated corpses; destroyed families; frightened, crying children; blood-lusting, stone-throwing, iron-hacking mobs.
A former Rhodie teacher told me he'd soldiered in army intelligence during the 70s Bush War: "When massacres happened and too many white Rhodies were killed by terrs," he said, "we never told media the total number killed. We dripped small bloody numbers to stop panic amongst Rhodies." He taught with me for a year, hopped onto a catamaran with a poofter, sailed into the Indian Ocean and vanished.
The air was charged with spooks. Our dogs felt our tensions, and barked nightly, sniffing death-winds, hearing more than us. If signs were believed, blacks killed blacks, and some whites camouflaged as blacks killed blacks. I thought Mandela's public dissembling about a Third Force stupid. During States-of-Terror, Natal faction fights - tribal vendettas were politicized with ANC-Inkatha labels, or with ANC / state / media jargon for mass murder: "Black-on-Black; Third Force; Rolling Mass Action by ANC / UDF strugglers; Hit Squads; CCB:" euphemisms for mass killing, Stalin-Mao style. ANC cadres and APLA terrorists had trained well in exile. And state killers killed.
Corrupt Mr. Gordon had purged his corrupted proteges before leaving Selborne College, as white teachers during the last gasp of apartheid, had scrambled for their last affirmative-action promotions. Despite Cronje cutting off some of his fingers using an electric saw, Mr Gordon had promoted Cronje to Port Rex High. He'd promoted Allam to Hudson Park High, and had promoted Major Bossie to PE Technikon. Piderit was also promoted to Port Rex High, and later became headmaster. He was replaced by a teacher who'd taken a redundancy package from Hudson Park High, who later became principal of SACS in Cape Town. Thousands of white teachers, generals and other apartheid whiteys were scrambling for state laxatives, or white, affirmative-action promotions, like Mr. Gordon, Blumrick, Norman and Bands, as post-apartheid black bosses were too ghastly to contemplate.
While I taught biology during a six months power-vacuum at Selborne, Blumrick had an identity-crisis as acting-principal. Norman became cadet VP. His son Nunu excelled in Selborne exams, but failed external exams, as Norman had misappropriated other teachers' exam papers from the school safe for Nunu. Before he'd left, corrupt Mr. Gordon corrupted more affirmative-action proteges, by saying at a staff meeting, "Create your own HOD jobth." The PTA then paid three HOD proteges: Bible studies for a maths lady (gender-correct belatedly); Public Relations for Malherbe; Sports Administrator for a Rhodie.
I complained to the Cape Education Department about Mr. Gordon's inaccurate and defamatory letters, which he'd filed in pupils' files for any staff to read. Mr Gordon posted me an insulting foolscap note, refusing to apologise, and justifying his behaviour as his, "principal's obligation." I thanked Mr. Gordon for his apologia, and left it at that. Thereafter someone removed the defamatory letters from boys' files.
When we backspoored to Durban in the pre-election 90s, friends told us Zulu servants declined to go home after work. They stayed with their baases and medems, to escape black-on-black slaughter in KwaZulu-Natal, while outcasts were ambushed, kraals were torched, and refugees roamed Natal, escaping to Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
Snap our Xhosa maid worked for us once a week. Her husband was murdered in Mdantsane by tsotsis. Our back-neighbour, who had razor-wire on her boundary wall, had a Xhosa maid living in her khaya, whose husband was also killed by tsotsis. Political killings? Criminal killings? Definitions were meaningless when both maids had orphans to support. We paid Snap what we could, and she got free food, most of which she took home for her piccanins. After work, Snap sat on our back stoep, twirling her black turban, and smoking her long wooden pipe, blowing smoke-rings at our dogs.
Neighbours Alice and Hollander employed Xhosa maids and male Xhosa gardeners like Gerry, who lived in khayas and visited families in townships during weekends - if safe. Xhosa servants were happily employed, fed and housed for years. With the population explosion and minimal servant work, unemployment was the alternative. Meagre old-age pension was the only state-welfare benefit.
At Devereux Road mall, I sometimes heard yellow cop helicopters thudding above. Yellow SAP Casspirs often parked in the car-park, while security-men patrolled for car thieves. When we entered shops, security-people searched us, poking their wands into our bags. In banks, we put money in a counter-tray between customers and teller. Thick bullet-proof glass separated customers and tellers. All cops carried firearms and many security-men were armed. When Xhosa mobs toyi-toyied down Oxford Street we avoided the CBD. Xhosa beggars and street-kids stopped us in car-parks. We became indifferent when confronted by indigence. One day a tsotsi followed me from Vincent library into the car-park, where I swung round shouting, "Fuck off!"
Coda: Ten years later Allam emigrated to England and became a British citizen.
After leaving Selborne College, Malherbe taught at Durban High School and Graeme College, Grahamstown, then became deputy head at Reddam House, Cape Town. In 2010 he was appointed headmaster of Penryn Preparatory School in the lowveld near Nelspruit.
Note: Norman is a composite character.
Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.