Thursday, January 10, 2008

2008. Apartheid Selborne College & Town Hill, 1989-90, Maritzburg Happy Land, Happy Land

1990. Mark Esslemont's Ascot scene, 'My Fair Lady,' Guild Theatre, East London. 'Move yer bloomin' arse!'

I got a teaching job at old Selborne College, East London: a boys' high. We bought a three bedroom house at 5 Sandhurst Road, Selborne. My six years at Selborne College were unhappy teaching years, as I was going deaf, and school management was spiteful, sports mad and structurally violent. School disciplinary policy was inconsistent, as there was no codification of disciplinary procedures. Yet cadet masters and cadets were rife during SA States-of-Terror.

Of all my teaching bosses in Natal, QwaQwa and Cape, headmaster Mr. Gordon was the weakest and gauche. He was the only one of 11 principals I worked with who regularly wore an academic gown to puff up his persona. He encouraged distrust amongst staff: staff snitching on staff; boys snitching on staff; parents snitching on staff; headmaster, VPs and HODs chastising staff in the staffroom before other staff; playing off staff against each other; arse-creeping; bullshitting; belittling; trying to make staff dependent on management; toxic memos; toxic letters in boys' files for all staff to read; dirty, rotten work conditions; hazardous work conditions; minimal and minimized teaching resources; snoopy inspectors. Of all my bosses, Mr. Gordon was the most hubristic and psychopathic: manipulative, deceitful, no conscience, no empathy, no remorse. (N.Latta, "Into the Darklands and Beyond," HarperCollins, Auckland, 2007).

Mr Gordon expected me to teach general-science and biology in classrooms, without a laboratory and safety equipment. He objected to my asking for decent work conditions and improvements in work conditions, and did nothing about it. Over the years, I was allocated three filthy, rotten classrooms, inappropriate and unsafe for general-science / biology teaching and practical lessons, which I taught up to matric.

Other science and biology teachers arrived and departed. Favoured teachers were allocated labs in which to teach, although Mr. Gordon said he bossed "without fear or favour." Money was spent on new rugby stands and other facilities, but little was spent on upgrading biology teaching and learning facilities. After four years Mr. Gordon's marriage dissolved, and he was promoted to Cape Town. His two successors were also structurally violent, regarding inadequate and unsafe general science / biology teaching and learning facilities.

While I taught at Selborne College, apartheid crumbled, and thousands of mostly black South Africans were killed. In 1991, Model C schools allowed blacks, coloureds and Indians to enrol in state white schools like Selborne College for the first time in decades. Despite going deaf, and multiple-choice-guessing what people said, I coached cricket and hockey, directed house plays, and co-directed My Fair Lady musical at Guild Theatre. I also directed Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage and Brandon Thomas's Charlies Aunt at Guild Theatre.

In Cape and Natal schools where I taught, principals were good at scheduling sports practices and matches, and taking credit for sports excellence. Principals were also good at scheduling drama production dates, and taking credit for play excellence. Due to principals' bad drama management, few teachers wanted to produce plays. Principals expected some teachers like me to direct plays, beyond our teaching and sports duties. Principals were indifferent to huge amounts of time, energy and expertise teachers needed for play direction and rehearsals. That indifference resulted in friction amongst teachers, poor staff morale and clashes between drama and sports. In my experience there was no financial reward for producing play excellence and getting the drama job done.

During my nearly 6 years teaching in Durban North, where I was raised, at Virginia PS, Northlands BH, Beachwood BH, I was given more respect and dignity by management, teachers, parents and pupils than I was given during my 6 years at Selborne College. Selborne College management was dissembling. Durban North schools' management was decisive. At Selborne College I was always the outsider, the Durban foreigner.

A Town Hill Hospital male-uniform phoned me saying, "Fraser's absconded!"

"Whaaaat?" I Pig Dogged. I was speaking to a thick Dutchman.

"Fraser lef' Town Hill."

"How can Fraser leave Town Hill? There's nurses, doctors, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists and security staff at Town Hill. Surely someone saw Fraser leave?"

"Ja, well, no! We hadda spords day for patiends an' Fraser fo..., uh vanished."

"You'd better find him. He's certified and under your control. I'm 700 kays away. There's nothing I can do about it is there?"

"Ja, well, no! We mus' condak da family if a patiend absconds." After wandering around Maritzburg, Fraser returned. Over the years, I got many calls from Town Hill madhouse. Fraser always returned.

Town Hill madhouse pressured Fraser into abnormal behaviour, defined by Town Hill, which the rest of humanity considered normal. Going for a walk was normal. Since when was walking "absconding?" Town Hill considered Fraser going for a walk abnormal, unless Town Hill uniforms gave 36 year old Fraser permission. It demeaned Fraser, who was expected to forget and repress his former adult freedom and experience, and behave like a child.

As punishment Fraser was incarcerated in Impala Ward, euphemism for a forensic / prison ward. Impala Ward had narrow windows with thick steel frames. Whenever I visited Fraser in Impala Ward, I pressed an outside door-buzzer. Minutes later a surly, white, male-uniform unlocked the front door, allowing me inside. Impala madhouse keepers never opened doors quickly. I followed him around a bend. Along a corridor, he unlocked a heavy steel clanking door. We entered the office and ward area. Madhouse keepers were as imprisoned as their patients, but patients never had door keys. Town Hill madhouse keepers went home after work.

I thought internees and madhouse keepers would be incinerated if there was a fire.

The first time I visited Fraser in Impala Ward a muscley, white male-uniform indicated a bare room in which he expected me to sit on a bare, wooden chair, waiting for Fraser. Uniform closed the door. I sat on the chair. For ten minutes I examined the bare, white walls, the heavy, steel-framed, narrow window, the one-way mirror-glass window, connecting the room to the office next door. The uniforms were playing power-games, trying to intimidate me.

"Fuck them!" Uniforms didn't tell me it was a seclusion room. I realized that later.

Punishment, seclusion, segregation, exclusion, confinement, detention, toxic drugs, mad apartheid, was how those oafs and their doctor bosses treated fellow humans. And Town Hill was a white madhouse. Black madhouses were worse. The white uniforms' passive-aggression hardened my attitude towards Fraser's "carers."

A uniform marched Fraser in, behind three other internees. Silent. Cowed. Fearful. Fraser didn't recognize me. Fraser had broken Uitkyk Ward rules by "absconding," which resulted in incarceration in Impala Ward. Fraser hadn't told Uitkyk uniforms where he was going before shambling around Maritzburg Happy Land.

Fraser never told me how he escaped to Happy Land, although day and night, continuously, Zulu security men guarded Town Hill perimeter gates.

Permanent Impala Ward male internees were "insane" child-molesters; rapists; drug-addicts; murderers; kleptomaniacs; retards; lunatics; brain-damaged citizens like Fraser, many imprisoned for observations to see if they were sane enough to stand trial for their crimes.

Fraser was locked in Impala Ward whenever his "carers" wanted to punish him.

Weeks or months later Fraser was decarcerated. And that was what apartheid psychiatrist Dr. Luiz in Durban considered "rehabilitation."

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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