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The way we lived. 39. (Part 2) My time at a Revolutionary High School – Livingstone 1960-1964.

Updated: May 30, 2023


Part 2: 1961 and 1962 – “quiet years” heading toward my Junior Certificate.


Before their imprisonment, these two were the giants of the liberation
movements in the 1950s and early 1960s. Robert Sobukwe, with his dompas before the 1960 anti-pass campaign, and Nelson Mandela shortly before his treason trial. For many years, these incredible intellects wasted their lives chopping limestone rocks into small stones in a quarry on Robben Island. Notable events in 1961 – my year in Standard 7 (form 9). February 1961 Decimalisation of coinage introduced. As per the ditty of the time, “Decimal Dan, the rands and cents man, gives a cent for a penny wherever he can.” May 1961 Republic of South Africa established. RSA quits Commonwealth. Many people banned; others flee into exile, including Oliver Tambo who then leads the ANC. June 1961 Military wings established – ANC’s MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe) and PAC’s POQO. December 1961 Nobel peace prize awarded to Albert Luthuli, ANC leader. After decades of passive resistance, Nelson Mandela announces a sabotage programme against government buildings. Notable events in 1962 – my year in Standard 8 (form 10). September to November 1962, PAC’s POQO activities increase in Paarl near Cape Town with 23 sabotage events reported. (There were probably more.) November 1962 Mandela sentenced to five years in prison for inciting unrest and travelling abroad without a passport. Nicknamed the Black Pimpernel while underground, he visited many African states to seek support for MK’s future campaigns.

This class photograph is of the 1961 Standard 7 class with Mr Ascher, our German teacher from Germany. I’m in the middle of the back row. Most of us were in our grey shorts, de rigueur of the day.Despite the slowly burning, countrywide turmoil in 1961 and 1962, life went on at schools with a lull after Sharpeville and beforef the mid-1970s and Soweto revolts. I used to cycle about three kilometres to school from Dale Street, mainly along Lansdowne Road – now renamed after Imam Haron, killed during his security police detention in September 1969. I did well academically but not as the school’s age group sprinter and jumper at the inter-school competitions. Soccer was my first love, and I was a barefoot defender who could kick the ball 50 metres. I was also a fearless tackler. It irritated me no end that the LHS field was not big enough for a decent soccer or rugby field compared with the Whites-only Lansdowne High School close to where I lived. Through that school’s diamond mesh wire fence, one saw their rugby posts and hockey fields with plenty of room to spare. Many of our teachers planted the seeds for future revolt at senior schools, so it was no surprise when the State banned three of our senior teachers under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1961. I was at school on the day the police called to hand the banishment orders to our best teachers in their classrooms – RO Dudley, Victor Wessels, and Alie Fataar all had to be silenced and could not attend gatherings of more than two people, including school staff meetings. I suspect the infamous Spyker van Wyk was there – others may be able to confirm this for me. According to the TRC findings, Warrant Officer JP ‘Spyker’ van Wyk was the person most consistently associated with torture in the Western Cape over three decades. My Dad continued teaching English to the senior classes at LHS. Naturally, our family was in the dark about his political work, though we knew he was still active. I suspect the same was true for all three of them, but no doubt others can shed light on that aspect for us.

Alie’s clandestine work continued when he broke away from the NEUM to become one of the founder-members of the more radical APDUSA (African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa). Despite his banning, he organised a beach conference at Kommetjie in Cape Town. The photo of those attending included Jane Gool, Leo Sihlali and Isaac Bangani Tabata in front. Alie Fataar is at the back, second from the right. Unlike my Dad, a few others had just finished their banning orders. Many, including Alie, would go into exile over the next few years.

‘Duds,’ RO Dudley, was an outstanding science and maths teacher – I still regard him as the best of the lot with a wry sense of humour. One day I collected the new books from him at the start of a new school year. In the little store room, he pointed at the books and said with a soft laugh, “So much rubbish will soon fill these empty books.” Like most LHS staff members, Duds was an active member and a driving force of the Unity Movement (former Non-European UM and later New UM). Like many of his colleagues, he maintained his opposition to apartheid to the end. An avid non-racialist, Dudley coined the term “Colouredians” to ridicule South African classifications. He and my Dad reconciled a few years after the exiled Alie returned to RSA in 1990.

Our Afrikaans teacher, Victor Wessels’ lessons mainly were about politics. Vicky, our class teacher in standards 7 & 8, taught us politics in English despite being our Afrikaans teacher. Using Die Lewende Taal, we mostly did well in Afrikaans, though I struggled with what I regarded as the oppressor’s hated language. Little did I know then how it started off life as the language of the oppressed – later usurped by the Afrikaners as their chosen suiwer taal (pure language), not the bastardised Dutch which evolved with the slaves, indigenes, indentured workers, and other languages from around the world. Yes, modern-day Afrikaaps has continued the evolution of Cape town’s lingua franca, its own fanagalo (the language of the northern miners with a Zulu base). Because of his politics, Vicky had to teach in Upington in a thin green strip along the Orange River in the heart of the Kalahari desert. Despite his isolation, I’m sure his teaching style did not change as the State soon placed Vicky under house arrest to restrict his activities further.

Standard 8 was the year when most of the boys changed from wearing shorts to long pants. The mufti day photo may have been the last day at school in 1962. Our class teacher, Mr Wessels, is centre back with me as the next tall head to his right. Far left is Mr Ascher.I do not have a photo of the first class party I ever attended after the picture above, but I do remember many hours practising the Twist to Chubby Checker’s songs on SABC’s EMI hits most days at 5 pm. The Junior Certificate was issued to us on completion of the year. Several students left to work without going on to do their Senior Certificates. The JC allowed them to undertake college training as teachers, nurses, and apprentices in various trades. Having an SC with an exemption allowed students to enter a small handful of Whites-only universities with a special government permit. With my JC in hand, ahead of me awaited my most enjoyable and challenging LHS days – some of them would turn my life upside down. I will relate these soon, so watch this space. (I have posted a slightly similar version of my blog at Facebook’s Livingstone High School Alumni Association.)

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