Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Apartheid East London, "My Fair Lady," Township Wars, Model C Schools, 1990

1990 Guild Theatre, East London. Half of Mark Esslemont's 'My Fair Lady' Cast. Prof. Higgins: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" (Pollock)

I co-directed My Fair Lady with Malherbe. We had a lady choreographer and a lady music director. We squabbled while apartheid collapsed. Malherbe and I limited the cast to 100 players from Selborne College and nearby Clarendon High School for Girls. Mr. Gordon stirred behind the scenes, when Malherbe objected to the choreographer and music director wanting cast changes. Mr. Gordon allowed the choreographer to steal into the staffroom and berate Malherbe before staff. Mr. Gordon then called a meeting saying, "The choreographer had a nervouth breakdown." A Rhodie choreographer was chosen.

It was impossible to teach well and direct plays simultaneously, as pupil actors were amateur, needing me to block moves and play every part with heart and soul before pupils flew. I neglected classroom teaching while directing, as directing was my priority.

Malherbe delegated mothers and staff to do costumes and sets, then avoided rehearsals by coaching water-polo. The music director complained to Mr. Gordon, as mothers were struggling to costume the cast. Mr. Gordon chastised Malherbe, whom I carried by supervising his props team. Malherbe returned to rehearsals, and built a chandelier for the ballroom scene.

Mr. Gordon listed reluctant staff to assist. Accounting HOD, Forword made snide remarks about me. Bands his teacher-counsellor pal tittered at Forword's jokes. During the 70s, Forword had patrolled Mozambique during the Rhodesian Bush War. Forword and Bands didn't do play duties, claiming sports' duties. Mr. Gordon pressurized, by expecting me to teach biology and general-science, coach cricket, and direct. My Fair Lady ran well for two weeks at Guild Theatre, and while Eliza Doolittle sang, "Lots of chocolates for me to eat..." Xhosa street-kids starved. While Eliza sang, "I could have danced all night..." tsotsis danced blood-and-bone songs. It was the last musical and singing I heard.

Unrest: March. Namibia Independence. SWAPO's Nujoma became president. (Brian Frost, Struggling to Forgive, HarperCollins, London, 1998).

'Maritzburg massacres: Vulindlela and Edendale valleys: 230 Zulus killed in Inkatha-ANC fighting. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Abacus, Little, Brown & Co., London, 1996).

Sebokeng: 12 ANC blacks killed by cops. (Ibid Mandela).

The State-of-Terror was lifted.

July. Government said that the Civil Cooperation Bureau would be abolished.

July. Inkatha became a Zulu political party in KwaZulu-Natal. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela, A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997).

Despite misgivings, I again coordinated house-plays, and asked Forword, Bands and other sporting staff to help me, as they expected me to do all the work with scores of bumptious boys in brief rehearsal time. No one helped. At a staff meeting I said, "It's pointless continuing house-plays." Forword indignantly blinked and Bands tittered. As it was impossible teaching general-science and biology without a lab, I dropped general-science and taught standards 6-9 biology and (yawn) standard six history.

Unrest, 1987-1990 Natal ANC-Inkatha fighting: 3000 Zulus killed. (Ibid Meredith).

Sebokeng, another massacre: ANC-Inkatha hostel fighting - 36 killed. Transvaal townships: 800 blacks killed in Tokoza, Katlehong, Soweto... (Ibid Meredith).

New teachers arrived. A Christian bigot was allocated a science lab. After two years he left to lecture at puppet Zululand University, where he'd lectured during his conscription. Mr. Gordon synchronized Selborne / Clarendon timetables, enabling boys and girls to saunter from school to school, attending combined maths and language classes. Forword complained: "Pupils waste time walking between schools." Combined classes stopped.

Mr. Gordon flew to Eton for a job interview, didn't get the Eton job, but thereafter prattled, "Eton head mathter thayth..." Mr. Gordon suggested I direct Conduct Unbecoming. I declined, as soldiers played pig-sticking games, stabbing women's bums. I suspected Mr Gordon was trying to use me to mock women.

Mr. Gordon suggested I direct Cats, or The Mouse Trap. "The Mouse Trap's running in London West End," I said. "I doubt we'll get permission. What about Charlies Aunt, or The Matchmaker?" Mr. Gordon declined.

Unrest, Tokoza: Inkatha-ANC hostel fighting. 65 killed. (Fred Bridgeland, Katiza's Journey, Beneath the Surface of South Africa's Shame, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1997).

December. Tambo, ANC president, returned after 35 years exile. (Ibid Bridgeland).

In 1991, Model C schools began, and Selborne became a Model C school. As Verwoerd's Bantu Education was breaching, non-white pupils (including coloureds, Indians, blacks) were allowed into white state schools. Mr. Gordon had prepared staff saying, "If thtaff dithagree, you're welcome to leave. I won't hold it againtht you..." Three Afrikaners left. Most non-white pupils settled in well. Selborne's approximately 700 roll didn't increase, as Mr. Gordon adjusted roll numbers. White boys comprised 75% of the roll and non-whites the rest - mostly Xhosa.

Non-native English speakers struggled academically, and due to bad Bantu Education some Xhosa had to catch up. A dof Xhosa boy (returned USA exile) hit a wheel-chaired white boy in my class. The Xhosa bully left Selborne. A dof coloured boy (returned USA exile) moaned about low standards and discipline, comparing Selborne with Yank schools he'd attended. He left. A Ghanaian boy I taught, whose father taught at a private white school, stayed. I wondered what attraction apartheid SA had instead of progressively black-governed Ghana? "Model THEE'TH a non-iththue," said Mr. Gordon. Model C was significant, because for the first time in apartheid SA, state white schools enrolled non-whites.

Note: Forword is a composite character.

Coda: Aug 2013. Headmaster Neil Malherbe was sacked from Penryn Preparatory in the Lowveld for being in possession of child pornography. Investigation by Canadian Project Spade & Interpol.
Nov 2016. Neil Malherbe was convicted for possession of child pornography.

Content & Pic Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Former principal found guilty of child pornography (Lowvelder).

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