“We should not give the Natives any academic education. If we do, who is going to do the manual labour in the community?“
JN le Roux, National Party politician, 1945.
Soon after the Bantu Education Act came into operation we were told that all the Institutions and other schools in the Transkei would be under a new official chief to be known as the Regional Director of Bantu Education, his region being, of course, theTranskei.
Soon after he took over in his big office in Umtata (now Mthatha) he sent out a circular to all the white principals of schools and Institutions in the Transkei, summoning us to attend a special meeting. When he came in he looked around saying, “No Bantu present?” Then he introduced himself and promised to visit our schools and Institutions as soon as possible. Thereafter he gave us a lecture on the new policy that was being put into operation forthwith in the Transkei. This was, naturally, based on “apartheid.”
He began by saying that none of us would in future shake hands with “Bantu”, they had to be kept apart. He said that to make this seem more natural, we should follow his example: when he was to meet “Bantu” he would always see that he had a briefcase in his hand and a hat on his head. Then when he and the “Bantu” met he would take off his hat which meant, of course, that he could not shake hands! He told us this plan always worked and that we should all follow it! We all looked at each other and wondered that a man with such an important position really thought that his plan would fool the Blacks.
He went on then to the “new rules” with regard to written correspondence: it was now completely forbidden to begin by writing “Dear Sir” or even “Dear Mr Nobuza”. We had simply to write at the top left hand corner the word “Greetings”. When the letter was finished it was ordered that it was forbidden to write something like “Yours Faithfully” or “Yours Sincerely”; once again you had to write simply the word “Greetings” – can you imagine it? Did the members of the Nationalist Government really imagine that they could write such rubbish and still think they enjoyed the respect of the Blacks?
We were instructed also that while we had to attend the usual gatherings conducted by chiefs and headmen of tribes we should never simply mix with the other guests but to remain together as a white group “apart”. Even here they showed a sad lack of common sense and experience among the Blacks.
The above instructions soon reached us as printed instructions from the Bantu Education in Pretoria, with instructions that we had to give a copy to every white member of staff, but to keep them from the “Bantu” staff!
This type of behaviour (or misbehaviour as it really was!) was soon made shockingly evident. The biggest section of the Transkei was that occupied by the Pondo (amamPondo) tribe and so, of course, called Pondoland. Its great chief was a wonderful man called Victor Poto. He was one of those men who are natural leaders; whenever he joined a group of people Black, white, or both, as soon as he arrived everyone would, as it were, “come to attention” and stop talking. He had been brought up in the house of a white missionary and so was a fine Christian as well as a wonderfully educated one. He had a wife, a Pondo princess, of course, also a
wonderful person, who was for many decades the President of the Manyano Society in Pondoland, the Church society for women all over. Soon after Bantu Education was proclaimed she died, after years of great service to her people and her church. She would, of course, receive a royal funeral, and all of us Heads of schools or institutions were called on by the Regional Director to attend the funeral. It was a very hot summer day but all of us put on dark suits with dark ties. We were all welcomed by one of the Indunas and shown where to stand to meet the funeral cortege. Suddenly we were joined by the Regional Director, in a thin, light-grey suit and a large-brimmed hat on his head, with brown belts over both his shoulders, carrying his big camera on one side and his light meter on the other.
As the cortege arrived to pass us, with all the Black women in their Manyano uniform of black, white and red, the Regional Director suddenly jumped in front of the procession, waving his hands to stop them. The pall bearers, eight of them, carrying the coffin, the presiding minister and other dignitaries, who must have been badly shocked by such terrible behaviour in such a solemn ceremony, stopped without changing their expressions, while the Regional Director fiddled with his light meter and his camera and then took several photographs, all the time with his hat on his head.
I felt ashamed to be a white man and almost wished that the earth would swallow me up, and even the Rev Mr Place, the minister from the Buntingville Institution and a man who never said a bad word about anybody, said to me, “That was really very uncalled-for!” Which I thought was the understatement of the year.
Things like that, when white officials simply played havoc with the feelings of Black people, were unfortunately very frequent and all added to their discontent.
All this time I was in charge of Blythswood Institution. When in 1956 Bantu Education took over we white teachers were given the choice of staying under the Cape Education Department’s conditions of service or of switching over to those of the new department. Most of my colleagues chose the switch-over as the salaries were slightly higher than those under the Cape. But I noticed that under the new department teachers were to serve until their 60th year, whereas under the Cape one could retire at the age of 55 but might stay until we were 60. This stood me in good stead when the time arrived!