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Looking Back – a headmaster remembers

by Neil Jardine

I slapped a boy across the face in my first week as a teacher.

I was taking a PE lesson, a subject for which I was totally unprepared, and, in desperation, introduced a game of rounders. When the ball was hit into long grass, I asked a boy, Huntley Southwood, to fetch it. His reply was, “There are dubbeltjies there. Why don’t you fetch it yourself?’ In my insecurity and anger, I slapped him. (That’s the explanation; no excuse of course).

Having applied for postings to Umtali, Salisbury and Bulawayo, I received a telegram at Rhodes University informing me I had been appointed to the new government high school at Fort Victoria (FVHS) in a small town in the south-east of Southern Rhodesia, then a part of the ill-fated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

That venture, established without much consultation with blacks in the three countries, lasted just ten years. It was designed as an imperial experiment in nonracial government with a benign policy leading eventually to ‘meaningful’ integration of blacks in government.

I had left South Africa because I did not wish to teach history under the Verwoerd regime. (Ironically, Hendrik Verwoerd, born in Holland, remains the most famous, or infamous, – take your pick – alumnus of the Bulawayo high school, Milton, where he had been the top scholar). A few years into my teaching career, I found that the Rhodesian Front party had much the same racial policies as those of the ruling National Party in South Africa: suppression of blacks through a firm denial of the franchise, apart from a minority who qualified through barriers difficult to penetrate.

Approaches to maintaining white power were not very different from the South African policy of apartheid but far more subtle and hypocritical in style and application. Most Africans appeared ‘docile’ and appreciative of a first-class junior school education. State high school education was limited to about 12% of black pupils so many, like Robert Mugabe, attended mission schools. (In 1928 when Mugabe was headboy of one of these, a Catholic school, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Rodwell, and the Prime Minister, Huggins visited the mission school.

When the head-priest asked if a medical clinic could be built nearby as there was only one in an area of four hundred square miles, Rodwell replied, ‘No. There are too many natives in this country already’). Draw your own conclusions.

I reported the incident in which I had slapped Huntley to the headmaster, Mr. Leslie Herbert Crowther Sharp, a Yorkshireman from Leeds who affected an Oxford accent and pronounced words like ‘carry’ ‘cerry’, ‘hurry’ ‘herry’ and so on.

Reason unknown. I was surprised to find the reaction of the head to my act of unprofessional behaviour relatively indifferent and I was not dressed down in any serious manner. I apologised to Huntley and that was that. (He must be in his sixties now). Les Sharp was the founder-headmaster of FVHS after many years teaching geography and coaching rugby at Chaplin School in Gwelo, one of his pupils during the nineteen-thirties being Ian Smith, (later Prime Minister of Rhodesia) who was headboy, captain of rugby, cricket, athletics, tennis, boxing and swimming. He won the Victor Ludorum shield four years in a row. (In a book on Rhodesian High Schools published in 1981, a year into independence and the new Zimbabwe, the chapter on Chaplin School states ‘The school is very proud of Mr. I.D. Smith and his achievements’).

In August 1958, Les Sharp and his wife, Margaret, a classics teacher, arrived in Fort Victoria to prepare for the opening of the coeducational high school in January 1959. In a dry and hot climate it was difficult to prepare any sports facilities for the first term and the first building block was ready just in time.

At Rhodes University, Grahamstown, in 1958 I had achieved what I was told was impossible for anyone with even a scintilla of basic intelligence. I failed the Union Education Department certificate exam, (UED).

There are some feeble reasons but no excuses. I did little or no academic work. In my ‘prac-lesson’ at Graeme College, for which I was totally unprepared, I asked pupils to read the chapter on the Great Trek from a biased and factually incorrect account of South African history, by Fowler and Smit (at school, we called it ‘Fouler than S**t’). I then asked a few contrived and irrelevant questions and the bell rang. As we walked back to the University, the Senior Lecturer in the Education department, Koos Gerber, an elephantine man with a falsetto, said, “ Neil, that is without doubt, the worst ‘prac-lesson’ I have witnessed in my entire career”.

My priorities were in other things. I was courting my wife-to-be, June Dicks, (both of us came from baking families in Grahamstown), was captain of the first teams in rugby, cricket and golf, ‘stooged’ at St. Andrew’s Prep, acted in two plays, Chekov’s ‘On The High Road’ and James Thurber’s ‘The Male Animal’ and composed the musical score for the first original musical play for Rhodes Rag. On occasions I played the piano at dances. I was also a member of the Oppidans’ House Committee.

So there it was; a question of priorities. I still wonder whether I got it wrong. In any case the very British-orientated education ministry of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland had scant regard for a South African professional qualification. Apart from an appreciation of some South African universities and the beaches of the Natal South Coast, attitudes to South Africa verged on condescension. The matter of the UED was never referred to. I passed it eventually and received a small increase in salary. Later I obtained a B.Ed through UNISA.

Mr. Sharp informed me on my arrival that I would be in charge of rugby and cricket and teach History, English, PE (acting as HOD in each subject), some Afrikaans and carpentry! We began with a teaching staff of seven. There were no syllabuses as the school only had junior pupils for the most part. A few seniors did something based in the UK called COP ( College of Preceptors). Teachers were expected to structure their own syllabuses and get on with it. I floundered. One example of my inability to plan and teach properly was an attempt, as a general background, to teach Forms 1a and 1b the whole of world history in the first term. I was not successful. Today, when I run into pupils from that era, they still tease me. ( I think we got as far as the Ancient Greeks in a very superficial manner). But I did manage to write a one-act play in the first term, a Rattigan-influenced piece called ‘Even The Darkest Cloud’, acted on a bare stage and with sheets as curtains . (I don’t think I’ll trouble any publishers with it).

June and I married in Grahamstown in August of that year, returned to Southern Rhodesia and settled into a minute flat. We became involved in the highly active Fort Victoria Drama Circle and I played rugby, cricket and tennis at the Victoria Sports Club.

I was surprised at how ‘British’ Southern Rhodesia was. The Union Jack was flown everywhere and on Speech Days and other special occasions, ‘God Save The Queen’ was sung with gusto. Attempts at non-racialism during the Federal days were sincere but ineffective in the long run. I recall taking pupils to a Catholic mission school for blacks, Goromonzi, to see an outdoor production of ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. Afterwards, pupils from both schools mixed happily over tea. But when the Rhodesian Front won the election in 1962, things changed dramatically.

One Rhodesian Front election poster had shown four pairs of legs in gym skirts, three white and one black, with words to the effect ‘This is what you can expect if you don’t vote RF’.

After 1965 and the unilateral declaration of independence, separation of the races came into force big-time. Education and politics? There’s a thin line between indoctrination and education. But at the school I gained invaluable experience I could not have found at more established institutions. Les Sharp was a nice man to work for and I was very happy with my new and considerable challenges.

Category: spring 2017

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Comments (35)

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  1. eddie edmonds says:

    greetings o learned one, it would be interesting to communicate with you after years from Cowling house.For a tale, for a tale for a tale to tell….the love giving tree ???????????

  2. mike canter says:

    mr jardine – forever urging us to thirst for knowledge in imitation of the insatiable black scholars….

    eddie edmonds – a generally cheerful guy whose prefect career was rather short-lived…!

  3. Frank and Derry Hill says:

    Blast from the past. Fantastic article which brought back happy memories. Great to know that all is well with you Neil. We now live on Vancouver Island, Canada. Frank and Derry Hill.

  4. Good day Mr. Jardine.

    I am trying to find your son. He taught at Queens College about 1990. Could you please tell me where he is.

    Thank you.


  5. Freeman Kembo says:

    Mr Jardine,
    Your wife was my form teacher at Highfield secondary school in 1972 and 1973. I would wish to be connected with her again to update her on the progress I have made.

  6. HLENGIWE says:

    about SOLT OR SAAO

  7. Kevin Sheehan says:


    I was a pupil at Churchill High School from ’66 to ’70 & I had 2 younger brothers, David (1 year behind me) & Gary (4 years behind).
    Drop me a line & I’ll update you on my 42+ years since we last met plus news of my brothers & some of my classmates that you haven’t met at Churchill reunions

  8. Ashley Silva says:


    I’m watching England play France and mentioned to my wife how you used the French rugby play of a drop kick in front of the posts after winning a scrum.

    Now that’s going back.


    Ashley Silva.

  9. John Du Bois says:

    Neil Jardine a man who I respected and liked and only after leaving Churchill did I realise how much added value I had gained through his leadership. When I saw him for the first time in 2011 since leaving Churchill in 1971 he looked at me took less than 10 seconds and said you are Du Bois John Du Bois. Unbelievable memory although my visits to his office might have helped him:-) If only the educators of today were half of what he is a absolute hero to his students I recall when he scored the try under the posts after being recalled to the Rhodesian rugby side. A wonderful great man, thank YOU.

  10. Mark Johnson, MD says:

    Still benefiting decades later from Mr Jardine teaching us how to write tightly, succinctly, cogently

  11. Rory Gilmore says:

    Great to find this article, and great to hear that you are still putting pen to paper. Hats off to you Sir… one of the best influences I ever had at school, from History to Music – a magic ability to impart knowledge and enthusiasm. (Churchill 1971 & 1972 – wish I’d been there longer).

  12. Christine Coleman Hydes says:

    Amazing to come across this article, to have my memory jogged and to recall history lessons so vividly after all of these years. An incredible influence on my life and lessons on life (during history) have been passed on to my four sons who in turn are passing on to their children.
    FVHS 1959-1963

  13. Valentine Mogg says:

    A true renaissance man. Beside teaching history at FVHS he he played rugby for Rhodesia, wrote a play (“Paint the Rabbits Blue”) which won the national playwrights competition and gave evidence to the Commission set up to investigate what form the new Constitution of the country was to take. He recounted, in class, the fact that he had given given evidence which encouraged me, as a 15 year old pupil, to get the White Paper on the proposals and led to a lifelong interst in politics. Which goes to show what a far reaching and lasting influence good, well rounded, teachers have on their pupils.

  14. Valentine Mogg says:

    A true renaissance man. Beside teaching history at FVHS he he played rugby for Rhodesia, wrote a play (“Paint the Rabbits Blue”) which won the national playwrights competition and gave evidence to the Commission set up to investigate what form the new Constitution of the country was to take. He recounted, in class, the fact that he had given given evidence which encouraged me, as a 15 year old pupil, to get the White Paper on the proposals and led to a lifelong interst in politics. Which goes to show what a far reaching and lasting influence good, well rounded, teachers have on their pupils.

  15. Michael Mostert says:

    Mr Jardine was my History teacher at Fort Victoria High School 47 years ago, but for the memories I have it seems like just last week.

  16. Hayden Whisken says:

    I was at Churchill for my A’s, 68 and 69, when someone wrote on the study room board, “Do we kneel to pray or pray to Neil.”

  17. Susan England says:

    Hi Neil
    Just found this article – lovely to read about some of your career before my time at Marlborough High. Your influence on me as a member of your teaching team was profound – your forward thinking and your ‘bravery’ to introduce radical educational ideas were an inspiration to me as a young teacher and I envied your incredibly positive interaction with all your pupils. Since returning to the UK and settling in Edinburgh I have never ceased to challenge the norm if it meant standing up for positive change, equality and fairness. I am now well into retirement but living a somewhat unconventional life – and loving it! It would be great to hear from you.

  18. Chris Corbett now Anderson says:

    Don’t know how I stumbled upon this article .. but so glad I did as it brought back such wonderful memories of working with you in the fledgling Marlborough High School and its ‘balanced day’! You inspired and encouraged teaching staff and pupils alike with your incredible verve and thirst to always ‘do your best’ at whatever it is you are good at! We are all winners for having known and worked with you … I will always remember producing, ‘Oliver’ the first staff/student musical performed at Marlborough High, what fun we all had…Susan England was our Make Up artist and each night she would transform our handsome Rory Kilalea into an aged, ugly Fagan!! Keep on keeping on xx

  19. Bill Woodman says:

    Hello Neil
    I’d like to correspond with you about sports policy in Rhodesian schools during the UDI era. I am researching for a book on that period.
    Best regards

  20. Colin johnson says:

    Yes I remember Neil Jardine teaching me at FVHS 53 years ago. One of the few teachers I do rememberI. I was very good at art and still trying to remember my art teacher around that time? I believe Neil also taught drama and I participated in one of his plays as a 15 yr old. I now live in New Zealand.

  21. Rosalyn Fricke (Miles) says:

    I was at FVHS after you left, but you remained a hero. Please tell me what ever happened to Mr Sharp FVHS made high schooldays ones to look back on fondly

  22. Gerald Smith says:

    Neil Jardine has an incredible ability to recall names and faces. He issued a challenge to the pupils that he would learn every students name in the next month. He proved to be right.
    John du Bois’ earlier comment perfectly explains the huge respect we all have for him.
    Ged Smith 1968-1971

  23. Ben sciarcon says:

    Was in Fort vic when you coached and you made play your position and wing.Of course i got great scores in history!It has been 56 years but still remember you fondly

  24. Ben sciarcon says:

    Mr Jardine forgot to thank you for teaching me the art of drop kicking.

  25. manenji mhiribidi says:

    Very informative to me as an Old Victorian ,how can share it onto Old Victorians page??

  26. Dudley Fortune says:

    I wonder if you remember me Mr Jardine – I was known as Dudley Lewis – came from Triangle- attended at the same time as Huntly, Janny Meyer, Tykie Trikos , Brian Streek , Andries Roodt , Jackie Olivier , Oxo Grant etc. I remember the night Kennedy was asasinated! Ma Scotts English classes and talks with you on the Winds of Change ! Great memories!

  27. Mart Botha - Head Boy 1979. says:

    Long after Mr Jardine had left FVHS, his influence and reputation still lingered on in the classrooms and out on the sports fields of the school. For me it was particularly the ‘hallowed ground’ that was the Jardine Field that held the most value. I was fortunate to represent the school’s first cricket and rugby teams for 3 years, the last as captain of both, so forgive me if I thought of myself as one who had ‘squatter rights’ on Jardines Field. Who could, in these days of ill-discipline and disestablishmentarianism so prevalent amongst many youth, believe that a circle of whitewashed stone markers could successfully mark off a ‘no-go unless invited’ area such as the Jardine Field.
    We who came after the fact, also salute you Sir, you are certainly an FVHS Legend.

  28. Walter Stevens says:

    Hello Mr Jardine, I’ve never met you, but I think you new my parents (Cynthia and David Stevens). They taught at a number of schools in Rhodesia, but primarily Milton and Evelyn (Cynthia, English and Latin) and Hamilton (David, Maths). They mentioned you quite a few times, so your name is familiar to my like others such as Pluke and Silcock. Its funny what kids remember!
    My father passed away a couple of years ago, and my mother has recently to moved to the UK.

  29. Ben sciarcon says:

    Was Mr Stevens a math teacher at FORT VIC HIGH?

  30. Gavin Blamire says:

    Mr Jardine, I was in Spencer House at Churchill. You were both Deputy Head and House Master. It seems like yesterday that you had us all up very early every morning to run down to the school pool for a wake up dip. Your recall of our names is fantastic. I tested you on it one day outside The Natal Witness when you were Rector of Michael House. I lost you won.

  31. Owen Shaw says:

    I was privileged to have attended FVHS from 1967 – 1972. Neil Jardine was transferred shortly after my spindly legs arrived in Ft Vic. Neil Jardine was a legend and a hero for us schoolboys. And so were most of the staff at this efficiently run and friendly school. Credit to great teachers like Niel Jardine; Mitch Stirling; Bill Pingstone; Mrs Scott; Stroppie Heyns; Mr Crozier; Mr Grant McKenzie; Miss Davidge-Pitts; Jimmy Millar; Mr Bancroft….just to name a few. These devoted educators set a platform which has ensured the success of the vast majority of thos of us who attended.

  32. Walter Stevens says:

    He was, Ben, for a short period (he was a bit of a rolling stone). I was actually born in Fort Vic. I don’t know what he was like as a teacher because he only ever told us the odd joke about something one of the pupils said or did!

  33. Billy Ramsay says:

    Hi Neil
    Don’t know if you remember me, I was a pupil at Marlborough High the first two years before we returned to Dundee.
    Amazing article, great read. Hope this finds you healthy and well.
    Remember everybody planting the grass for the school playing fields?

  34. Errol Wood says:

    Neil played in our dance band in Ft Victoria for a while, the ” Nite Owls ” He also taught my late wife at FVHS she always remembered him teaching history,
    and he wrote a song for history, “Julius Ceasar was a crazy cool cat” the band played for one of his plays “The Love giving tree” a great guy.
    Hi Neil remember you well I was the drummer Errol Wood.

  35. Megan Timothy says:

    Dear Mr. Jardine,

    While researching the Internet for my new book I came across your “Looking Back” piece and realy enjoied it.

    Hope you don’t mind, I have a Mr. Jardine chapter in my new book. I was one of your first student at FVHS. Thank you for inspiering me to fly and raise hell alongthe way! Best, MT

    PS Hope you can read this, I can’t find the spell chech on this thing???

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