Saturday, August 18, 2007

Apartheid East London, Selborne College Comeback, 1989

In 1989, we settled south-east in East London - Worm City, conservative "English" city, where the world's biggest worms squirmed in the white Border region - bordered by puppet Transkei in the north, puppet Ciskei in the south and west, and Indian Ocean in the east. In Worm City, I endured the most hypocritical creeps of my life - "English" locals and expat "English" Rhodies.

Our three-bedroom, rented house at the bottom of Two Rivers Drive was close to rivers and white farmlands. Outcast Xhosa, plodding from town to kraals or shanty-towns, begged at our front door. I reckoned begging Xhosa saw us whites as work-providers, and providers of everything for blacks. At Nahoon River, fish eagles roosted by deep pools, calling, "Kaaa! Ka-ka-ka-ka-kaaaa!..."

My maternal ouma, Rosa Hendrikz, came from Somerset East, where my Dutch ancestors had lived amongst cattle-rustling Xhosa, and endured Victorian Kaffir Wars. At Kleinzee, I'd played hockey with a Hendrikz coloured, and during my Worm City years, I'd meet Hendrikz coloureds, who intrigued me.

Mdantsane, SA's second biggest black city (pop. 400 000) was off N2 freeway on the way to Bisho-King Williams Town. Duncan Village and Buffalo Flats glowered closer to home. Black bush-dwellers scavenged in the main city dump and Nahoon dump, near posh white homes. Whiteys surfed Nahoon Reef where sharks swam. Before I left Koffiefontein Zeppelin had asked, "Why'd ya wanna go to East London? It's fulla Wabenzis." When the black metalworkers' union at Mercedes Benz plant went on strike, Zeppelin had said, "White peripheral businesses will suffer if the plant closes man."

White joggers including Blumrick, my new VP, and cyclists, whose ancestors were Dutch, German and 1820 English settlers, sweated along suburban roads. Fort Glamorgan near Buffalo River mouth in British Kaffraria colony had seen Kaffir Wars and Dutchmen's Great Trek from hated British colonialism. Later, Biko was gaoled in Fort Glamorgan, before being beaten by PE security-cops, then driven to Transvaal to die.

My meanest donkey wagon ride was at dirty Selborne College, which epitomized white racism during apartheid's demise. Over 100 years old, Selborne was English, tribal, conformist. Illiterate black De Beers labourers had better ideas of equality and fairness than some white Selborne teachers. Selborne's management and facilities were inferior to the four Durban high schools I'd taught at. Selborne maintained Victorian traditions, whereby male teachers caned boys, and conscripted teachers ran cadets. Selborne was the most absurd of all my work experiences in four countries.

Grandiose, mean, cynical, principal, Mr. Gordon, five years older than me, allocated me a dirty, second-storey classroom far from labs. For six years, a third of my teaching career, I'd have little job satisfaction at Selborne, due to bad lab allocation, bad school discipline, and my deafness gain. As I had no lab for six years, I did few lab pracs, which resulted in boring, theoretical teaching, the worst way to teach sciences and biology.

Mr. Gordon timetabled 10 half hour class periods per day, and after each class there was mass-hysteria, while insolent white boys wandered shouting from class to class. Whereas Glenwood HS in Durbs, where I'd taught five years before, was orderly and disciplined, Selborne was disorderly and hysterical.

Mr. Gordon was my white, affirmative-action boss for four years, the longest I'd ever have one boss. In his imboya-furnished office, Mr. Gordon had cabinet meetings with his white, affirmative-action sycophants. Mr. Gordon failed to give clear policies regarding staffroom smoking and pupil discipline. Of all my bosses, he exploited my goodwill the most, giving the least.

Mr. Gordon grew up in Kimberley, and trained at an Afrikaner university. He lived in a double-storey school-house near the school -hostel. He squinted behind thick glasses, and dandruff from his grizzled hair spotted his precious academic-gown. Mr. Gordon hid in his cheesy office behind old equipment and old secretaries. Mr. Gordon rarely left his office except to run assemblies, watch sport, chair PTA and staff meetings, and guillotine scrap paper, on which he wrote toxic memos to mistrusted teachers. Once, Mr. Gordon cut his pinkie, but didn't sever it. Mr. Gordon counselled and caned senior boys, maintained cadet, prefect and staff hierarchies, but did no formal teaching. He prattled about: "BTHEE family... Be the betht... Be enthuthiathtic... We're doing thingth right... We've done it thith way for yearth. We'll continue doing it thith way!..."

Lowest on the staff hierarchy were Xhosa staff, including cleaners; gardeners; tractor-drivers; tea-makers; kitchen-hands; messenger -boys; Gestetner operators. Their mess-room was the dirtiest room in the school. A white caretaker supervised black staff. Caretakers didn't last long, and reported to protege Cronje, Afrikaner woodwork HOD, who sacked Xhosa staff.

My fourth teaching comeback was rotten, as Mr. Gordon and his cabinet were verkrampte Engelse. It was my 7th professional job in 6 years, in 5 dorps and cities, in 3 provinces. I taught standards 6 and 7 general-science and standard 8 biology. Given my horrible timetabling and work conditions, if I was a rookie-teacher, I'd've left Selborne. Merit-gobbling teachers offered no help. Our lab assistant had been a white male nurse at Town Hill Hospital: before trekking to Rhodesia, then re-trekking back to SA. He trudged far bringing me science equipment. Expat Rhodie teachers twisted their, "When we lost the Bush War" tensions amongst staff.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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