Comments on Chapter 21: some chronological issues

12 08 2008

Some of the chronology in this chapter is a bit mixed up. I did go to school in Bloemfontein because of my asthma but that was in 1959 already, when I was in Standard 9 (Grade 11). So when my father was demoted so summarily I was already at school in Bloemfontein.

The routine was that I went to school by train at the beginning of each term. I caught the train in Queenstown. It usually left around five in the afternoon and arrived in Bloemfontein in the early hours of the following morning.

This was a journey which I usually enjoyed very much as my mother would give me a packet of ‘goodies’ to take with me and also dinner and breakfast meal tickets and a bedding ticket so I was pretty independent and felt quite ‘grown up’ about it all.

I left Blythswood in January 1960 fully expecting to return there at the Easter break, only to get the news toward the end of that term that my parents would be moving to Buntingville, a place I had not until then heard of. I found it all rather unsettling, to say the least and I got on the train in Bloemfontein at the end of term feeling rather insecure. After all, Blythswood had been my home for all of my conscious life really. And now I was not to see it again, certainly not to live there.

The train journey back to Queenstown was pretty much the reverse of the trip up to Bloemfontein – the train left in the late afternoon and got to Queenstown in the early morning. This time though the journey had a bit of an edge to it which I had not before experienced.

This time, instead of my parents collecting me from Queenstown I was to catch the “railway bus” to Mthatha (Umtata). I had often seen these great big reddish busses but never before that I can recall had I actually been a passenger on one. And certainly I had never before had to organize myself onto such a bus on my own.

The trip was something of an experience for me as the bus typically drove through the deep rural areas and passengers got on and off with all manner of gear – chickens, bicycles, huge trunks.

Then we came to a part where it was raining pretty hard and eventually got to a bridge that was submerged and so the bus just had to wait for the waters to subside, which took a few hours. I had my not very good camera with me and took several photos of all of this.

The bus waiting for the water to subside

The bus waiting for the water to subside

My arrival in Mthatha was much later than expected and I finally got to our new home exhausted and strange. I can’t remember too much of the arrival, except that I know I felt very strange after the experience of the bus journey and then getting to an unknown place.

At the end of 1960 I wrote Matric but did not do as well as might have been hoped – I guess the disruption of my previously very settled life had something to do with that. I know that my parents were struggling with their new circumstances as well as the political tensions that were roiling around that part of the then Transkei at the time, which my father doesn’t mention.

In June of that year about 30 people had been shot and killed at Nqusa’s Hill in Pondoland. These men had been attending a peaceful, though technically illegal meeting on the hill, a meeting that had been going on for some time. According to eyewitnesses the hill top had been incessantly “buzzed” by aeroplanes which had prevented the attendees from hearing the speakers. Then a helicopter had landed sten-gun carrying policemen who were reinforced by other police who had arrived in trucks.

The eyewitnesses told reporters that the attendees had put up their hands and shouted “We are not fighting”, but the police had opened fire and not stopped until there was no-one left standing to shoot at.

This shooting became known as the Pondoland Massacre but little was known about it outside of Pondoland as the government had drawn a curtain of silence around the area. However, my parents, being sensitive people, knew what was going on and it disturbed them greatly. Of course these events also affected the students at the school.

The Sharpeville shootings had also occurred that year, in March. So the whole country was in a state of high tension and the Government had declared a “State of emergency” which amounted to martial law. The Transkei was especially tense and whites were becoming panicky. A clandestine organisation known as Poqo was said to be spreading violence against whites and because of the Government’s clamp-down on reporting, rumours flew around at a great rate.

"Jock" Joubert

"Jock" Joubert

The net result of all this for me was that I was enrolled the next year at Umtata High School to re-write my Matric. This was a new experience for me as Umtata High was a co-ed school. In my class was a fellow-student called Roy Joubert with whom I became very firm friends. He was more commonly known as “Jock” and we did a great deal together. It was as a result of our friendship that our respective parents also became firm friends.

It turned out that the Jouberts had also known my aunt Mary, my father’s younger sister, who was married to the former head of St John’s College in Umtata, John Smithen, who had subsequently moved to be the head of Tiger Kloof High School near Vryburg in the then Northern Cape.

So this was 1961, another year of great changes. The year of the referendum of which my father writes in the next chapter of his memoirs, the year of “Decimal Dan, your Rands Cents man” – the decimalisation of South Africa’s currency – the year of South Africa becoming a republic and its departure from the Commonwealth.

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