Chapter 17: More Stupid Interference!

Meanwhile the new Regional Director of Bantu Education, Transkei (a Mr Van Rooyen, a man several years younger than I was, who had only one degree and who had served in the Orange Free State for only a few years, who had grown up on a farm and could speak siSotho, but was a very active Nationalist and believed completely in the apartheid doctrine) now decided that he must become more acquainted with all the schools and institutions which comprised his domain and came to Blythswood, the biggest and one of the oldest of them all.

He greeted me in Afrikaans and then asked me to show him around. This was a lengthy proceeding for he had to have everything shown and explained to him. Soon he realised what a big place Blythswood was and started to make plans for its future. His first idea was that it should become the first Afrikaans-medium institution in the Transkei. I told him that I was quite capable of making the change but that it would take many7 years to begin teaching in Afrikaans, as we would have to teach all the students as well as all the Black staff members to talk fluent Afrikaans.

When I took him over the farm he became almost lyrical. This was something that he understood! So he stopped and, turning to me, said that we should make Blythswood an agricultural college. I agreed that this was quite possible but that we already had an agricultural college at Flagstaff, that I knew its Principal and that he was finding difficulty in getting students who wanted to specialise in agriculture.

Shortly afterwards he thought of something else: wouldn’t Blythswood be a good place for an institution for the sons of chiefs? Again I agreed that it could be done but again I had to tell him that there was already such a place at Tsolo but that the Principal was finding it so difficult to get enough sons of chiefs that he. Too, was enrolling anyone, even if he were not a chief’s son, to get enough students for his institution.

Fortunately by this time he had almost come to the end of his inspect5ion but, as we walked to his car, he said that possibly the best thing for Blythswood would be to make it a branch of the Fort Hare University College. Here again I had to point out that there was already a branch of Fort Hare in Umtata, and that there would not be room nor personnel for another one in the Transkei.

Each of the old institutions in the Transkei had a committee for choosing applicants who were applying for positions on the staff. These committees used to be comprised of Principals and Vice-Principals of the school or institution, the inspector into whose circuit the school fell, usually one or more ministers of religion and sometimes prominent past students who still lived in the vicinity. This committee always prepared the advertisements to be published in the Bantu Education Gazettes asking for applications for the vacant posts. It seemed to us that the Regional Director did not have enough to do as he so often interfered with the work of the Staff Committees.

Thus when I was at last able to get the sanction of the Bantu Education Department to having a Vice-Principal in each of the two biggest post-primary schools he simply phoned me to say that “Mr X” and “Mr Y” had been appointed to the vacant posts! The first gentleman was an ex-Stellenbosch graduate, a fine Christian and very fond of games and gardening, but with such strange behaviour that the pupils soon called him “Maddie”. The gentleman chosen by the Regional Director for the Training School post was a graduate of the Potchefstroom University whose main work seemed to be his zeal in applying apartheid when he was not in my office quibbling about the salary he was paid. Thus these two people, who should have been my chief supporters in the running of the Institution, were actually a great hindrance. My wife Margery was quite certain the “Mr Y” was a spy sent from the North to spy on me and on my running of the Institution. She was probably right.

Murray McGregor teaching a High School class at Blythswood. About 1950.

Murray McGregor teaching a High School class at Blythswood. About 1950.

Meanwhile the Regional Director was still finding teachers for me. I sent in an advertisement for a lady teacher to do junior English, physical training for the girls, and to take charge of the girls in general while they were in school. A few days later the Regional Director rang me up to say that he had found a wonderful teacher for me, a man with several degrees, etc, etc. He came from Durban in Natal. I reminded the Regional Director that I was looking for a lady to look after the girls in school, but he waved aside my objections because he was so pleased with the person who had applied for the post.

When this person arrived I had a shock: he was a young man who had had a very bad bout of polio a few years before, with the result that he could not lift up his head properly, his voice was nearly gone, and he could not walk nor turn in his walking but just shuffled along slowly and then had to force himself to turn left or right. He was also quite incapable of writing on the blackboard. I was so utterly taken aback when he arrived that I nearly had a fit! I at once got on the phone to the Regional Director in Umtata and told him about the ‘wonderful teacher’ he had found for me and said that it was impossible to use him in any of my schools. At this the Regional Director got very angry, banged his fist on his table and said, “Jy MOET hom gebruik! (You MUST use him!)” Obviously the Regional Director was afraid that if I sent the poor man away after he had been given the post by the Regional Director, he, the Regional Director, might be summoned to court for breach of promise. So all I could do was to hold a quick staff meeting, explain the situation to the other members of the staff and ask them to help this ‘addition’ to the staff in every way they could. They all rose to the occasion very well, helping the poor man to go to whichever class room he had to go, etc.

My post became very much more difficult as, whenever the poor man had been in a classroom for ten minutes or so the girls would all be crying and the boys all laughing. Fortunately it was only three weeks before the end of term. As it would have been disastrous to have had the poor polio victim back on our staff I phoned a friend of mine in Durban who had previously been an inspector in the Transkei and told him of my difficulty with the poor lad. I said that I was sure that he would try to come back to us by train. So it was arranged that my friend would stop him from coming, would tell him that his salary would soon be sent to him, and tell him also that I again urged him to get a post as a librarian, he having had also a librarianship certificate. This my Durban friend agreed to do. Later he phoned to say that there had been no difficulty, the young man had accepted the position without objecting. I sent him a good cheque for his three weeks. Later I had a letter saying he was working in a library.

Whenever we had a staffing difficulty such as this my wife Margery used to do good work as a stop-gap!

Now I must explain the financial side of the institution. When we were a part of the Church of Scotland’s mission in South Africa all the income and expenditure was done by the mission, which was controlled, with other Scots missionary institutions in the country, by a Presbyterian Mission Board.

Now the situation was different: the school fees were controlled by the Bantu Education Department and in every institution the Principal had to see that fees for each student were paid within three weeks of the beginning of term. Most of the money paid was paid into the Bantu Education Department’s treasury, but a small part of it was taken by the institution and put into the ‘School Fund’. This was operated by us in the institutions for expenses in connection with sport of all sorts, including the equipment for each of the different games as well as the upkeep of the fields and courts. Under the old regime our students were taken to and from other institutions such as Clarkebury, Shawbury, All Saints, etc by the institution’s ‘bakkie’, but now the use of the Government Garage’s trucks for such purposes was prohibited. Thus if our students were to be enabled to go to other institutions we hade to find some other source of money to hire the transport. I called a staff meeting to discuss the situation and we agreed on a very simple way of getting the money: every term our students had to buy text books of various kinds as also exercise books, pens and pencils and ink and other stationery. For the primary school the Department provided most of the text books free of charge, but for the secondary schools the parents of the scholars had to pay for the books. Fortunately one of the owners of a bookshop in Umtata was a great friend of mine and I used to order all our books from him (which made me very unpopular with the Department as they wished all of us to support Die Nasionale Pers!). This was always a bulk order and so he gave the school a good discount for the order. Thus we could sell the books to our students for less than they would have to pay if they bought them from any other bookshop. In our meeting the staff had agreed that we could supply the books at a lower price, but that it would be just a few pence, later cents, above this lower price. In that way the school made a very small profit on the sale of the books, while the students still got the books more cheaply than they would elsewhere. Money thus collected for the school we put into a special “Blythswood Account” at the bank, which after a term of two gave us enough money to pay for the transport of our students who went to play games elsewhere, or for taking them on special trips of any sort. As this account was purely a “Blythswood” one we did not have to get permission from the Regional Director or any other official of Bantu Education.

Chris McGregor at about this time

Chris McGregor at about this time

Sometime later we were told by the Regional Director’s office that he had made arrangements for the supply of pianos to any institution in the Transkei at very cheap rates, and all principals were told to go to a certain shop in East London where these pianos were on sale. Just at that time my son Christopher was with us. He was a wonderful musician and knew much about pianos. He was interested in this deal but, when he tested several of the pianos that were in the ‘deal’ with the shop he told me that they were not worth the money. So I asked him to look around for a good piano, which he did. When I spoke to the manager of the other shop about buying one of his pianos, chosen by Christopher, he offered me discount because it was for a school, also further discount because I could pay cash for it, and also offered to deliver it to Blythswood in the Transkei. Sometime later the Regional Director phoned me to ask why I had not yet bought ‘my’ piano from the shop with which he had made the ‘bargain’ and, when I told him that I had already bought a superior piano more cheaply in another shop, he was very angry with me. There was, of course, nothing he could do about it, as I don’t believe his ‘deal’ with the music shop would have been very popular at HQ in Pretoria!

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