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Looking back

| July 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

A headmaster remembers

episode three

By Neil Jardine

In 1963, I registered for the history Honours course at Rhodes University for the following year.

I was due Long Leave and the Ministry of Education gave me another as Study Leave. My professor and tutor was Professor Winifred Maxwell, a brilliant teacher, whom I knew well from my erratic days doing a B.A with history and English as Majors. My return to the world of academe required a marked shift in priorities. The focus now was study. Hobbies and pastimes were relegated to the fringes of activity. I was 27 and married with two small children. The plan was that we would spend our Christmas holidays with June’s parents in Port Alfred and I would travel up to Grahamstown each week to receive one-on-one tutorials with Professor Maxwell so that I would not be too far behind when I arrived for the second term. It was typical of her that she gave her time and expertise without charge. June, Mark and Carolyn would remain in Grahamstown, June as secretary to the English department. Back in Fort Victoria, things did not change in any discernible way but already there were hints from the Rhodesian Front of a move towards independence from Britain. The short-lived experiment of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland had ended. There were recriminations on all sides. Roy Welensky, the Northern Rhodesian premier, was vitriolic in his criticism of the British Government. He saw their inability or desire to ‘stay the course’ as betrayal. Southern Rhodesia reverted to its status as an autonomous country nominally under the Crown, but there already hints from the Rhodesian Front of a move towards total independence from Britain.

Sport and academics

I became a tutor in Tower House, taught, coached, ran the Music Society and established an inter house public speaking competition. Our rugby and cricket teams experienced good results, even against bigger schools. The ethos in the school was healthy and positive and most pupils were a delight to work with. I continued with my own sport. I had played rugby for Rhodesia since 1959. In 1962 we played Arthur Smith’s British Lions and lost 38-9. (In those days, in my experience, there were fairly low key team talks before a match. On the evening before the Lions match , I asked if I could go to the Bulawayo City Hall to see a play, The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams with his son, Brook, and the famous British actress Flora Robson in the lead roles. It was agreed and I went with two of the Lions’ team, Dicky Jeeps of England and Dewi Bebb of Wales. The rest of the Rhodesian team went to the movies to see a ‘Western’. This sort of casual approach could never happen today.) In 1963 we lost to Australia 5-12, a match we should have won; a case of squandered opportunities.(This Australian side went on to draw the test series against the Springboks.)

Apart from the travelling with school teams, I played for the local Victoria Sports Club sides in cricket and rugby and this meant more travelling. Our nearest rugby opponents were 65 miles away in the small farming districts of Gutu and Chatsworth. The rugby team there consisted mainly of young men from the Nel families. The field sloped from touchline to touchline. The veld grass was relatively long. African footpaths scored the field. In a match I recall, one of our lock-forwards celebrated what he thought was a try, only to find he had placed the ball over one of the footpaths five metres short of the tryline. In another game, a duiker ran across the field. Local supporters urged their players on with shouts of ‘Pale toe’ and ‘Lekker kalm vat’. Fun. Our nearest cricket opponents were two to three hours away. If we travelled, for example, to Gatooma on a Sunday in the early morning summer heat, we would routinely stop on the dry river road between Umvuma and Que Que for a cold beer. Time of arrival at home after the match was usually about ten that evening and it was back at school on Monday morning by 0730. On one occasion I overslept and arrived at my classroom to find the headmaster reading ‘The Ancient Mariner’ to the class. He looked up and said drily, ‘Time for you to take over Mr. Jardine.’ He never commented on the matter again. That year in the first term I also played some tennis and won the Victoria Sports Club Tennis Singles Championship. I was busy but missed June and the children.

History, songs, and a return to Fort Victoria

Time flew and at the end of term, I travelled to Durban by car to captain the Rhodesian rugby side against Natal. We were thrashed. Apart from better talent, Natal had a real coach, Izak van Heerden, who was the first effective analyst of the game I had encountered since leaving university. Rhodesia had a series of managers but no full time coach. The day after the match, I travelled across the Transkei on to Grahamstown to settle in with my family and plunge into the Honours course. There were five other students on the course. I was the eldest by five years. Winnie Maxwell was a stimulating tutor and the year was challenging and rewarding. The syllabus was strongly eurocentric: Historiography, Toynbee, The Age of Queen Anne (England), Seventeenth Century England, The Weimar Republic and the Rise of Nazism. A brief look at recently independent African states was pitifully brief. In the examinations we also had to translate short pieces from French history into English. Much of the methodology employed ‘gobbets’, a term I had never come across before. This entailed placing in context and analysis excerpts from contemporary documents. It was a meaningful exercise. Tutorials were enlightening and fun. We met each Monday afternoon at Prof. Maxwell’s house and discussed essays and contingent topics while drinking tea and munching on fruit and sweets. For the first time in my life, I was motivated to do well academically and it paid off. I gained a ‘first’ at the end of the year and won the Muirhead Bursary. (Prof. Maxwell suggested I join her department and embark on an academic career at Rhodes). I decided to stay in high school education. During the year, I played rugby for the Rhodes Ist XV and also for Eastern Province where I played badly and was dropped. That year, Tony Voss won the Rhodes Poetry Prize with a poem called ‘The Ballad of South African Place Names’. I suggested we make it a song and set it to music. The new title was ‘Sixteen Rietfonteins’ and it was recorded later by Des Lindberg. We first sang it to the pupils at St. Andrew’s Prep where I had been at school in the early ‘fifties. At year’s end, we returned to Fort Victoria.

Theatre and ambition

The inaugural national Play-of-the Year competition was launched in1965. (While at Rhodes the previous year, I had been at a dinner party with the renowned South African playwright Athol Fugard.) Back at Fort Victoria, I wrote a play Colour The Rabbits Blue, which won the first prize in a competition. It was produced in Malawi, Northern and Southern Rhodesia. There was much publicity because I was also captain of the Rhodesian rugby team, which went on to enjoy an unbeaten season; successful against Argentina, Western Province and a draw with Far North in the Transvaal. The productions of my play were good but the play itself was deeply derivative and inappropriately set in Rhodesia when I had written it against the background of apartheid South Africa. June and I continued to be active in the theatre and she gave a wonderful performance as the wife in the classic Japanese play, Rashomon. I directed and acted in an American comedy, Send Me No Flowers and won the Supporting Actor award in the National Festival for my role as a ‘funeral-plot salesman’. At the High School, a colleague, Bob (later ‘Rod’) Hudson directed many first-class productions, the most memorable being Julius Caesar (in which Bobby Heaney, later to pursue a successful career in television and the stage in Johannesburg, played a tumbler in the Forum). Christopher Weare, son of Tony, played Cassius and later became Professor of Drama at the University of Cape Town. (Many will remember Rod Hudson as an actor in one of the first comedy shows on South African television, Nicky Nacky Noo with Hal Orlandini). I directed a T.S. Eliot play, Sweeney Agonistes for the Midlands Schools festival in Gwelo and we won Best Production. In contrast, my teaching was not going well. Results were patchy and I was restless. Ambition raised its head. I began thinking of promotion.

The local communist

In 1965 during the first term, I was teaching a syllabus which included the Irish campaign for ‘home rule’ from Britain. In a lesson, a girl asked whether this was similar to the government’s drive towards independence, unilateral or otherwise. I replied that it was and when asked whether I thought it a ‘good idea’, replied in the negative but suggested pupils discuss the issue with their parents, families and their local priest. A few days later, I was called by the headmaster who told me the Provincial Commissioner had been to see him to say there had been complaints from parents that I was ‘teaching politics in the classroom’ and I was warned of serious consequences if there were further complaints. Things had changed. I kept my head down. (I recalled that in 1962 when I was a member of Round Table, chairing a committee to build a school for the blind outside of town, one of our guest speakers had been Josiah Gondo, an MP in Edgar Whitehead’s United Rhodesia Party. Over a drink, he said to me: ‘I can’t understand why I, as a black Rhodesian, am considered good enough to represent a constituency in Parliament and yet am forbidden to sleep over at the hotel in Enkeldoorn’. Embarrassed, I agreed the situation was in conflict with any concept of civil rights.) In the Victoria Sports Club, where my political views were well known, some referred to me as ‘the local communist’. I was not greatly amused. I was hardly a genuine ‘liberal’.

More sport and more theatre

There were some fine sportsmen I had the privilege to coach: John Traicos, an offspinner who later played for South Africa against Australia, Peter Stewart, who, in his first year at Rhodes, played for South African Universities at cricket and baseball; a rare achievement. Two boys, Mickey Tomlins and Basil Clark, represented the country’s team at Craven Week, the schools’ interprovincial rugby tournament in South Africa. On occasions, we travelled to see theatrical productions in Bulawayo and Salisbury, five hours each way in the old Bristol omnibus. Once, we saw a performance of Macbeth at Northlea School in Bulawayo, where Bruce Millar, well-known to South African audiences as an actor, played the lead, In Salisbury, at the Reps Theatre, we attended a brilliant production of Hamlet’. Unfortunately, the actor playing Hamlet, Paul Tingay, infamous for his messing about and ‘corpsing’ during shows, chose to experiment with his own words for some of the speeches. In the famous scene where Hamlet describes clouds, Tingay interposed the names of African animals. I was furious. We had travelled all that way to watch a self-indulgent example of professional irresponsibility. What made it worse was that the audience, largely composed of school pupils, knew the text better than any adults. I reported the matter to Adrian Stanley, the resident director, who ‘went ballistic’ but I doubt it made much impression on the actor.

The winds of change

On November 11 October, independence was declared unilaterally after negotiations with the British government had failed to reach agreement. At issue was the matter of majority rule. The British government’s stance was NIBMAR: No Independence Before Majority Rule. The Rhodesian Front government chose to go its own way with a policy of slow African political advancement in order to retain minority white power for as long as possible. With the ‘wind of change’ sweeping down Africa, this was an increasingly unlikely dream. The Declaration of Independence relied heavily on the American model, but when asked why he had not included the phrase ‘all men are created equal’, Jack Howman, the cabinet minister responsible, replied it was excluded ‘because I don’t believe that all men are created equal’. Ian Smith, Prime Minister of the new state, Rhodesia, said later that the new dispensation would ‘last a thousand years’. The majority of voters, nearly all white, gave their enthusiastic support to the new ‘nation’ and the Rhodesian Front won every seat in parliamentary elections over the next fourteen years. Out of a population of about five million, the entire electorate numbered little more than a hundred thousand. Though some argued that racist policies were applied sensitively, discrimination against black citizens continued. It took only a year after ‘independence’ for the first incidents to start in what would become a Rhodesian civil war or the Second Chimurenga (named by black Rhodesians after the first war against white settlers in the last decade of the nineteenth century).

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