Monday, August 20, 2007

Apartheid East London, Selborne College HODs and My Sandhurst Road Home, 1989

Mr Gordon's spouse phoned Leah, suggesting Leah resumed pre -primary teaching: a stupid idea, as Jake was an infant needing Leah's attention at home. Mr. Gordon tried registering me and Allam for a biology course at Stellenbosch, another stupid idea, as I'd already registered at UNISA for a BSc, my third degree.

Mr. Gordon was my most vindictive boss, and jabbered about doing things, "without fear or favour." He asked not what my ECA interests were, but listed me boss of chess, debating and house-plays, in addition to my time-consuming cricket and hockey coaching. I ignored chess and debating, so Mr. Gordon never allocated me a teaching lab.

Another protege: Science HOD, Piderit had taught for ten years before achieving his teaching diploma. After a rugby match at Grahamstown, Piderit left a boy at a cafe, then drove his team about 200 kays back to East London, where a parent asked, "Where's my son?" [Piderit is a composite character].

At a science meeting, Piderit ordered me to take boys to a Grahamstown science festival during July holidays. "I've taken boys for years," he said. "It's time someone else did." I declined. Piderit, rugby-coach and cadet-master, (who'd maintained armoured vehicles during his conscription) tried to claim my general-science Gestetner stencils by offering to store them in his lab. I demurred, as I'd walk miles fetching my own stencils. Piderit bawled at me in the staffroom, with staff present, when I queried his inept moderation of my exam papers. In the ten schools where I'd taught, most staff were pleasant, but there were always squealers, egotists and bullies, like Piderit.

Selborne College had one pc, used by gifted boys. Piderit went on a computer course, bought computers, and installed them in a computer lab at the end of a second floor corridor, used by some boys and few staff. As the computer lab was in the wrong place, funds were wasted moving the lab nearer the staffroom.

Selborne had no facsimile machine, and there was insufficient photocopy -stencils for pupil notes, which I stored and used for years. Xhosa Gestetner-operator Ambrose threw away used stencils. A reprography machine was bought, which improved teacher notes and exam papers. Teachers' stationery supply was always impoverished. School funds were spent on new rugby stands, while biology labs and equipment rotted.

Another protege: Biology HOD Midlane, boss of rugby, and staunch cadet master, enjoyed nail-biting, smoking and booze, which oozed from his pores on hot days, disguised by the smell of peppermints. A human skull guarded Midlane's lab. Microscopes were insufficient for pupil numbers. Midlane bought no microscopes during my tenure. Old ones were expensively repaired.

Selborne's moffie brigade had a buddy system whereby proteges mentored new teachers. My appointed buddy, biology teacher with lab, did no mentoring, but soon returned to Cape Town, from whence he came. Some of my buddies proved to be shafters, who marked time at Selborne for decades, too timid to leave their laager and face the real world.

Leah and I bought a three-bedroom house at 5 Sandhurst Road, near Devereux Road shops. Our neighbour Alice was over ninety. Her Xhosa retainer Gerry, fifteen years older than me, kept Alice's garden neat. While Jake and I mowed our kikuyu lawn and hacked overgrown shrubs, Gerry chatted over the fence to Jake: "Molo piccanin. Why you climbing guava tree?... You monkey?... You like guavas, like elephants?... We bleck en' white elephants. Thenk you verra mush."

Gerry's boozer son, living in Mdantsane, had finished school, was concerned about "vii-oo-lence," and asked me to help him "getta jop." I poured him Lion Lagers in our lounge, to Gerry's chagrin, but failed to get him a De Beers job. Post-apartheid, he became a cop.

Grey mouse-birds pecked paw-paws in our garden. Black bats, hanging in loquat trees, crapped on our walls. Hadeda ibises pecked for earthworms on our lawns, then flew away calling, "Haha-ha -ha-haaa..."

I chopped down overgrown loquat trees, which darkened our bedrooms and protected our bibulous Hollander neighbour. I ring -barked myrtles next to Hollander's fence, chopped down other myrtles, and used the wood as solid braai wood. I removed a vine, and put a locked gate in our back wall.

In our backyard, I dug out an overgrown strelitzia, kept mulberry trees, and white, pink camelfoot trees, paw-paw trees and a huge jacaranda. We planted lemon trees and palms. Locked gates separated our front and back yards: our paradise after years of toil. Lucky and Koffie guarded our backyard, and weren't allowed into our front yard, as Xhosa beggars left our front gates open, letting our dogs escape.

Greek Pourollis's double-storey house was at the end of Sandhurst Road, and his chandler truck often roared up to his home. Pourollis's mom sometimes walked up Sandhurst Road, clad in her black dress and doek. Pourollis was Selborne's PTA chairman, and he built Paphos Mall on Devereux Road. His brother owned a Transvaal mine.

Next to Alice lived a Jew in a double-storey house with a Xhosa manservant. Jew was SA's oldest licensed pilot, who flew his plane over the Kei River to puppet Umtata University where he lectured. Alice and Jew quarreled about each others' leaf-litter. IsiXhosa speaking Germans lived in amity across the road from Jew. A Taiwanese family, "honorary whites," lived around the corner, in a double-storey house, with tennis court and pool. They had Madantsane businesses. Other quiet neighbours hadn't spoken to each other for decades.

When I chopped down our front yard Rhodesian flame tree, for security reasons, bibulous Hollander stuck his head out his window yelling, "Whadda fukkaya doin'? I'll report ya ta konshervatin peepil!"

"Looking for a rort?" I asked, wielding my axe. Hollander slipped inside his window. My .22 pistol, dogs and I would defend our border against Xhosa hordes. We installed a metal fence in our backyard, stopping Jake falling into our pool. Koffie bit the white fence-installer on his calf, so I went into Pig Dog, "I'll kill ya bitch!" routine, obviating court action.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Selborne College, East London, SA.

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