Chapter 23: Changes at Buntingville

Meanwhile there had been changes in Buntingville. Mr Place was, at his own request, sent to a charge elsewhere and the Rev James McKernan took his place. He was a Methodist from Northern Ireland who had come to South Africa during the war in charge of a groups of children, some of the many sent out of Britain to escape Hitler’s bombing raids, had returned to Northern Ireland, then decided to enter the ministry and, after some time, taken a charge in South Africa. He and his wife (a South African) were very fine people, and Margery and I got on very well with them. As soon as he had arrived he started to make improvements in the institution.

Our school was a strange one as it did not have a building of its own. We had to use a few rooms in the very fine Girls’ Hostel as class-rooms. So Mr McKernan decided to build a dining room for the boys. As the church had no funds for this he had to plan and carry out the project by himself with his own material. He built walls for these buildings in a very good yet cheap way. There was no wasting time and money on making bricks. He put up two wooden screens, each about 14 ft by 6 ft in size, parallel to each other and about 6 inches apart. Then he had his workmen, using buckets and spades, to mix the materials to make the wall: equal parts of cement, ground dug out of the earth and small stones which could be collected from the playgrounds or the river bank. These three ingredients were mixed with water, so that they formed a sort of paste, and then poured down between the two wooden screens, the ends of which had been closed in by long planks 6 inches wide, and had the paste pounded down until it filled the space between the planks and was suitably hard. It was then left for some weeks if I remember rightly, to get properly dry, and then the planks were removed and the next section of the wall built. In this way a new building could be put up very rapidly and comparatively cheaply. So Jim was able to build first a dining hall for the boys, then a couple of bedrooms for them, and then a three-classroom unit for the school, which really was a great achievement.

When 1963 dawned Margery and I remembered that when Bantu Education had taken over I had opted for resigning at age 55, and so I wrote to Pretoria to tell the authorities there that I was proposing to use that option and would retire as from 31 December 1963. In due course I received the official letter acknowledging receipt of my letter and agreeing to my choice.

Meanwhile I was still the Regional Director’s “Bad Boy”. He had seen how one principal after another had found Blythswood too much for them, which did not improve my standing with him. But I had the last laugh: one of the outside staff of the Regional Director’s office, a man who had visited Buntingville very often and who had become a good friend of mine, came to me one day and took me away from my office into the open so as to make sure that nobody could overhear us. Then he said to me, almost in a whisper,: “I have seen a letter from the Regional Director to HQ in Pretoria, in which he asked that you should be transferred to Botshabela” (A big Black institute in the Transvaal). To his surprise I put back my head and laughed. He looked at me in a puzzled way and said, “Do you really think that is amusing?” When I told him that I had already sent up my resignation he could join in the laughter. I don’t think the Regional Director had any more correspondence with me after that.

When the end of the year came my staff, the Church and the people in Buntingville, Ngqeleni, and some people in Umtata gave us farewells, and then we left Bantu Education for good. As soon as possible were packed up our goods and chattels and placed them in storage, and then went to stay with our very good friends, Queenie and Cherrie, who lived in Green Point, Cape Town.

By the way, Mr Van Rooyen was soon after this transferred to another post, after eight years of not very glorious management of the office of Regional Director of Bantu Education in the Transkei. He left “unwept, unhonoured and unsung”. Our very good friend the manager of the Bungalow Hotel in Butterworth, Harold Taylor, said to us afterwards that when Mr Van Rooyen left his post and his house in Umtata nobody, in the Civil Service or out of it, made any attempt to have a farewell party for him. This being the first time that he had ever known anything like that and he had lived there for about 50 years!

First overseas trip

I should have mentioned that in 1952, after my starting the first branch of the Ship Society in South Africa, Margery and I were able to go to Britain together. It so happened that she and I both had insurance policies that had matured, so that we had enough money for the passages.

We left Cape Town in the MV Durban Castle, an intermediate liner of the Union Castle Line, at the end of June, a very beautiful and comfortable ship, and fortunately there were not too many passengers in the Cabin Class. We had stayed with Queenie and Cherrie until we had to board the ship, as she had lost time when up the coast. When she was due to leave Table Bay Docks Queenie and Cherry brought us and our luggage to the ship. They then went home and, from their stoep, were able to “flash” a parting greeting to us by ujsing a mirror and the sun. We could see the house and the flashing as the ship passed by and responded by waving a towel, as many other passengers were doing. They told us afterwards that they had seen much waving of towels but, of course, did not know which was ours.

I had done many trips between Cape Town and East London while I was on the General Committee of the South African Teachers’ Association, but this was my first one overseas. So I was on deck for an hour or two to watch Table Mountain disappearing from sight.

To Margery the trip was not pleasant. She had had a trip overseas some years before, with her sister one way and her mother the other, and they had travelled First Class. So she was very critical of everything in the ship! However, after a week or so, she had become resigned to the Cabin Class and enjoyed the trip.

We entered into the life of the ship. While Marge every morning duly wrote her estimate of the mileage made by the ship on the previous day, she never won a prize but that did not daunt her. We both played deck quoits with anyone who wanted to, also deck tennis, which is quite strenuous, especially in the tropics!

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