© DESMOND DESAI, DMD EDU-HOME, 2011
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DESMOND DESAI'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY II
(CONTINUALLY REVISED AND ON-GOING)
“RACISM” or PREJUDICE?
“Could one argue that the fact that Pietie never received
recognition as an educational senior at our high school,
contributed to his premature death?”
“I argued that I could end up with seven distinctions, if I
was allowed to do music as a matric subject as our white counterparts
had the privilege of doing at the local high school.”
“I think that if I had been successful I might have stuck to
my original decision to study medicine at UCT in 1970.”
“Then he made the mistake of announcing in public that a
‘coloured’ student did better that all of his white students
(of whom some become top students in the final
My year in Standard 9 (- in South Africa today we call it ‘Grade 11’ -) was successfully completed with almost 100% in my final Mathematics and Accounting exams, and distinctions in Physical Science and Afrikaans. Biology and English were my weakest subjects, but was probably also the best for the whole class.
Hence my mother was elated, and proven completely wrong: Although I obtained only an average percentage of 70 odd % in my second and ninth school year, my marks improved as I entered higher standards! She erroneously thought that the marks would ‘drop’ proportionally, which I suppose generally happens.
However, when I entered Standard 10 in 1969, which was my final school year, we soon realized that our Accounting teacher, the ‘ruthless’ but respected (and beloved) Mr Pietie Sheldon, was going to leave the school. I suspected that it went about promotion. According to his competitors, Mr Sheldon was ‘under qualified’ to be a senior teacher at a high school. Nonetheless, Pietie then successfully applied for a principal position in Kraaifontein. He had to travel from Malmesbury to his school on a daily basis, but a few years later he suffered a fatal accident. Could one argue that the fact that Pietie never received recognition as an educational senior at our high school, contributed to his premature death?
Anyway, as from June 1969, we were informed by the then principal, Mr Ebrahim (‘Braimpie’) Vesamian that a senior (White) Accounting teaching from Swartland High School – which only white children could attend in accordance with the brutal SA apartheid laws of the time – was going to teach us on certain afternoons, in one of our dilapidated classrooms at our ‘Coloured’ school in West Bank, Malmesbury.
I was completely disgusted with this arrangement, which stemmed from my resentment of the apartheid educational policies and my approach to our principal Vesamian requesting (provocatively) permission to do music as a seventh subject with one of the white music teachers at Swartland High School. I argued that I could end up with seven distinctions, if I was allowed to do music as a matric subject as our white counterparts had the privilege of doing at the local high school.
Vesamian informed me that I could not enroll for music as a seventh subject at Swartland High School. This prompted my futile search in 1969 for a suitable music teacher in Paarl, Parow and Cape Town (Harold Cressy). I think that if I had been successful I might have stuck to my original decision to study medicine at UCT in 1970.
Anyway, I refused to attend the white teacher’s Accounting classes. According to this teacher’s own account, he decided to give the ‘Coloured’ Standard 10’s THE SAME EXAM PAPER he gave to his white matrics. Then he made the mistake of announcing in public that a ‘coloured’ student did better that all of his white students ( of whom some become the top students in the final national examination!). Unfortunately, that student was not there to be congratulated! You see, I wrote the exam, but never attended any classes. I worked on my own. In fact, I completed the entire matric Accounting syllabus on my own, and still managed to come out tops in my class, as well as the white class!
Both the white teacher and our ‘Coloured’ principal were furious with me. Vesamian threatened to expel me, since I was supposed to attend classes like all of the others did! Furthermore, the white teacher felt ‘insulted’ and refused to teach our ‘coloured’ students any further unless I attended classes with the others.
Vesamian pleaded with me, and I agreed to listen to the ‘white’ teacher teaching….. According to Vesamian, the ‘white’ teacher was the reason why I obtained a distinction in Accounting in the final exam, and did not ‘fail’ as many of my classmates did (who attended regularly). Did Vesamian have more inside information about our cruel apartheid educational system of the time?
LIEDEMANN, CUDORE SNELL AND UCT
On Saturday 27 February 2010, while on my way to my building site in Betty's Bay, I stopped over at a quaint little 'Coloured' village called Temperance City (formerly referred to as 'Bredasdorp') just outside Gordon's Bay. I became interested in a number of useful items offered to sale to passing motorists, obviously 'illegally'. A mature (-or 'old', if you think of 60-year old person in that manner -) lady assisted me, and told me to come back later since her son, the seller, was not home at the time.
Liedemann's old house Temperance City
(Photo: 6 March 2010) (Photo: 6 March 2010)
A thought entered my mind about 'Mister' Liedemann, an old school master/principal and close friend of our Malmesbury Desai family who died of in 1983/84 already. When I enquired about him, she instantaneously recalled that Liedemann was their school principal at the time (during the 1950's), and although he was 'extremely strict and a good disciplinarian', an outstanding educator who was undoubtedly widely respected by his learners, staff and the whole community.
Well, that is how my thoughts went back to years ago when I met Liedemann in 1969, during my matric year, and during which I also befriended Cudore Snell, then a Standard 9 learner at Harold Cressy in Cape Town. In fact, it was during that period that my life took a decidedly different turn! Incidentally. I actually knew of Cudore much earlier, but we only became friends upon Liedemann's 'insistence' or 'interference', if you like. Recently (in Dec 2009) I wrote to Cudore who is somewhere in the USA about my new project related to our 'Cape Gypsies', but has sadly not responded....
LOGARITHMS : REAL UNDERSTANDING ?!
“’n Logaritme van ‘n getal tot a sekere grondtal, is die eksponent waartoe the
grondtal verhef moet word ten einde gelyk aan die getal te wees.”
(The logarithm of a number with respect to a certain base, is equal to the
exponent or index to which the base has to be raised in order to be equal to the number.)
The ‘inspected’ rudely responded:
“Nee, jy weet nie waarvan jy praat nie. Meneer, die kinders weet niks nie!”
(No, you do not know what you are talking about. Sir, the children know nothing!”
During my UWC lecturing programme to first years in May 2010, I was reminded of an interesting day 43 years before (in 1967) when I was in standard 8 (Grade 10).
Our fairly experienced mathematics teacher, an extremely capable University of Cape Town B.Sc. graduate in mathematics, was ‘inspected’ by a (white) Afrikaans-speaking senior Education Department official.
On that day, the ‘inspector’ sat at the table in front of our nervous standard 8 mathematics class, while the teacher, an attractive and fair-skinned bachelor, who could have easily passed for ‘white’ ( when or if he preferred!) was expected to teach us logarithms.
The learners co-operated extremely well with this teacher as his lesson progress, and we all thought that the teacher was going to get an excellent ‘report’.
Then the burly ‘inspected’ rudely interrupted my teacher in a loud, gruff voice, and in Afrikaans:
“ Meneer, wag net so ‘n bietjie…. Ek wil jou klas so ‘n bietjie toets!”
(Sir, just hang on a minute. I want to test your class.)
He then asked us:
“Wie van julle kan vir my sê wat ‘n logaritme is.”
(Who of you can tell me what is a logarithm.”
I put up my hand, and ran through the definition, which the teacher taught us extremely well previously:
“’n Logaritme van ‘n getal tot a sekere grondtal, is die eksponent waartoe the grondtal verhef moet word ten einde gelyk aan die getal te wees.”
(The logarithm of a number with respect to a certain base, is equal to the exponent or index to which the base has to be raised in order to be equal to the number.)
The ‘inspector’ rudely responded:
“Nee, jy weet nie waarvan jy praat nie. Meneer, die kinders weet niks nie!”
(No, you do not know what you are talking about. Sir, the children know nothing!”
The ‘inspector’ tried to point out to us that a logarithm is nothing else but an exponent. I started arguing with the ‘inspector’ telling him that I knew that, and that I could work out any problem on logarithms he could give us. He insisted that although I could give the definition, I only repeated it like a parrot. I disagreed with his ridiculous opinion publicly, to the utmost appreciation of all my class mates, and of cause to the delight of my surprised mathematics teacher (or was he disgusted at the situation and/or at both his arrogant learner and ‘inspector’?)
Mrs G, CUDORE and I
' I could always easily create unique tunes that fit phrases or even poems.'
(I am not at all suggesting these were good tunes! I just did it naturally!
- Who cares about rules of harmony and the like?)
"She mentioned that a photograph she still has of Cudore and herself, which hopefully may help us to
make contact with our dear friend in the States.
( I woke up this morning remembering my urgent appeal to Cudure about 10 years ago, regarding my
case of 'constructive dismissal' related to my previous employer, and at a time when Mrs G told me she
last saw Cudore here in South Africa.")
Late last night on 21 October 2010, my wife spoilt a quiet, relaxing evening (- yet again -), by ‘ordering’ me, her beloved husband for more than 35 years, to buy cat litter from the nearby superstore. She just had to wait until past 8 pm, to send me out all alone in the bitter Cape rain and cold!
A little later and co-incidentally (?), I bumped into someone I’ll refer to as Mrs G, and enquired about our mutual friend Cudure Snell’s whereabouts.
I told her about my interest in doing some research on a group of vagrants, and that I had contacted Cudore some time ago already to share some ideas on my project. Cudore, now a respected academic in the USA, had done research on South African street children, and therefore I could certain learn something from him to try make this effort a success. She mentioned that a photograph she still has of Cudore and herself, which hopefully may help us to make contact with our dear friend in the States. ( I woke up this morning remembering my urgent appeal to Cudure about 10 years ago, regarding my case of 'constructive dismissal' related to my previous employer, and at a time when Mrs G told me she last saw Cudore here in South Africa
Mrs G and I spoke about the Snell family who stayed in Wellington, and reminisced about my visit, organized by Cudore in June 1969, to her home in Charleston Hill, Paarl. I remember the occasion well: Cudore and I boarded a bus in Wellington, where I spend the June vacation with him and his family, and traveled the short distance of about 10 km to Paarl. Then, after walking a short distance, Cudore knocked on the door of her home, which was situated in one of the best areas – and it still is, although it then was a ‘Coloured’ segregated residential area under the old SA apartheid government rule!
The sole purpose of my visit was music: Mrs G, a 17/18 year-old matric pupil at Harold Cressy High School in Cape Town, which Cudore was attending as well, but a pupil in a lower grade, took music as one of her matric subjects. It was my wish at the time, to follow music as a seventh subject at my Malmesbury High School, which – as I accounted elsewhere – proved impossible.
Mrs G took us to her piano, and we started discussing the nature of her matric course. She indicated the difficulty she experienced at having to set a poem to music, a compositional technique which she was expected to master. I tried to give her advice, since I could always easily create unique tunes that fit phrases or even poems. (I am not at all suggesting these were good tunes! I just did it naturally! Who cares about rules of harmony and the like?)
I also remember visiting Harold Cressy with Cudore during 1969, during which period I also visited Sister Coleman who taught at St Augustine’s Training School in Parow, near Cape Town.
In 1970 Mrs G followed a music course at the University of Cape Town, and completed her Teachers’ Licentiate in Music at the end of 1972. I again, regrettably and in a way forced which I shall explain somewhere and later, had to follow the B.Sc in Electrical Engineering (Light Current) at the same University in 1970, and inevitably had to join the Eoan group in 1971 in the vain hope of satisfying my musicological desires there. Only in 1972 I started formally studying music theory at the College of Music, where I had to start with Elementary Harmony. Two years ago, in 1970 already, Mrs G followed the more advance Harmony and Counterpoint course, which I could only do in 1973 ( that’s three years later), with Peter Klatzow. Anyway, a small consolation to me is that I was the UCT class medallist for Music 11 and graduated B.Sc in Maths at the University of Cape Town. I cannot remember any other B.Sc. graduate at UCT in 1973; it was only me. Even if there were others, I was the only ‘black’ graduate in mathematics that year. At the same time, at the University of the Western Cape where I now have a small contract job, there were a few ‘Coloured’ B.Sc. mathematics graduates, whom I shall refer to later as well. Mrs G later married someone who also matriculated in 1969 as we both did, and completed his B.Sc. degree in mathematics at the University of the Western Cape in 1972.
The point of the above is : During my matric year in 1969 I decided to seriously pursue my musical interests, a decision which sometimes brought me almost unbearable suffering and deep disappointment. However, I managed to pursue and realise my dreams. Today I am completely satisfied with my fundamental decision in 1969, for myriads of reasons which are to be accounted in the many, many chapters still to follow...
Since about June 1969, when I became acquainted with Cudore though the efforts and encouragement of Mr Liedemann, who started courting my widowed mother, my decisions became increasingly influenced by political considerations. At the same time, Cudore and his musical mother, whom I often accompanied on their old piano, inspired me to pursue a musical career. His gentle and timid mother often sang the love song: "O glo my, al sou hierdie skoonheid van jou" (Believe me, if all those endearing young charms) with great tenderness and sadness, which often brought tears to our eyes!
These events may have contributed to my increased determination to learn more about music theory, which eventually resulted in a decision to follow an ‘unusual’ B.Sc. degree course in mathematics and music at the University of Cape Town. This decision was made after many weeks of studying the different prospectuses from all over the world, which included the world famous universities of Oxford and Harvard.
Unfortunately our apartheid government rejected my application, notwithstanding being accepted by the University of Cape Town for this particular B.Sc. degree. The government officials in Cape Town recommended that I follow the B.Sc. degree at the ‘Coloured’ University of the Western Cape in Bellville, and travel the 25 kilometers distance between this university and the University of Cape Town on a daily basis to follow the different c courses. They did not indicate (or care it seems) which university was going to award the degree, nor did they indicate how this was going to be possible. Clearly, they made everything as difficult as possible for me to follow my dreams! It is curiously interesting that the University of the Western Cape soon afterwards started a small music department with Jan Fredericks as the first lecturer (- I think -) in 1974, when I followed a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in mathematics at this University. At that time Jan, by that time a good friend of mine, followed a Master’s degree programme in Music (Singing) at the University of Cape Town. This music department was abolished years ago, at the time when my former Hewat College colleague Alvin Petersen was its head. This was long before I was appointed in my present contract post in the EMS Faculty at the same university in 2005. (This contract appointment came 30 years after I graduated with an honours degree in mathematics from this university and married my wife, Zalda.)
During my eventful matric year in 1969, I also followed a confirmation programme conducted by the Nederduits-Gereformeerde (NG) Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church). Since I only turn 17 in October that year, I was the last person in my matric class to katkiseer ( - to be confirmed). All the others did so, a least a year earlier, as did my best friend at the time, and later my best man at my wedding, Eben.
Two aspects stand out during my confirmation year : The first was my question to the minister or Dominee (Reverend) Schreve: “As ‘n mens eenkeer gered is (of tot bekering gekom het), en jy verval daarna weer in sonde, bly jy gered, as is jy nou weer verdoem?” (If one becomes converted and thus saved, but thereafter returns one’s to former sinful ways, does one now revert back to being doomed again?). The kind reverend's answer was .... (You guess!)
The second was my 100% record in the many tests we had to write, which were based on the katkisasie-boekie (confirmation booklet). I remember the dear reverend, whom I really liked, and who I believe was one of the non-racist white Afrikaners I made contact with during the generally horrible apartheid years. A year of so later, I unashamedly went with a group of NGK youth members, to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ at his home, just after 12 midnight! Schreve invited us in. What a good chap! God bless him! But I must confess that I had no choice and probably was under group pressure to go along. Shortly afterwards, the Desai family withdrew our DRC member, to the disgust of Schreve. The same 'man of God' also tried in vain to convince me in 1969 that I should not study at the 'Communist' University of Cape Town! His politically motivated idea that UCT would transform me into a 'little Englishman', he was also not quite right! But more about this later!
Soon, my years at the ‘sinful’ and English medium University of Cape Town took its toll on my faith, and this is where Cudore came in again, in 1974, when we both were staying at Cowley House in District Six, in Cape Town. All I want to account at this stage, is that in the early hours of the morning, at about 4 am or so, my newly married wife Zalda and Cudore, both dressed like school boys, endangered their young lives searching for me in the perilous back streets of District Six when I failed to arrive home, after having dropped off our Volkswagen with its seized engine at workplace of a Muslim mechanic. The same green car, which served as the limousine on our wedding day on 8 February 1975 in George, ‘blew’ its cylinder head! At that stage, my wife and I had no money, no work, and a huge debt of R1350 on this car. We only had each other, a degree between the two of us, our families, and of course, Cudore!
FORTY-TWO (42) years later: 'Silence of the Music': Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, 15 April 2011
"After all, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, after millennia, still cannot agree on the
Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael ‘agreement’ with their common God. But then
again, why should they, unless of course they have a common God!"
"..... the 10 South African rands I happily donated to the Parow busker
on Saturday 16 April 2011, is infinitely times more than what I paid
for the four free tickets I received from my colleague Thaver a few days
"I am reminded of two of my former (Christian) Hewat College of Education colleagues
who both married young Muslim students of ours with the noblest intentions in mind.
Unfortunately, both marriages failed, and both re-married again."
On Friday, 15 April 2011, I went to see the play ‘Silence of the Music’ with my dear wife Zalda and youngest son Dinesh-Desmond. Our tickets were given to us free of charge by my colleague Casey Thaver in the EMS Faculty, University of the Western Cape.
The singing, acting, dancing ranged from ordinary to quite outstanding. Clearly the accomplished performances of the two international artists bolstered the overall performance, as did the individual brilliance of the local Cape Flats actors/singers.
This musical may be described in general as good, not brilliant, or even outstanding, in which the central theme of religious tolerance between Christians and Muslims, and by the belief the recurring them of mutual love for the arts, has regrettably failed. The failure of the musical was mirrored in the main, and presumably previously well-received musical item sung by the mentioned male singer, which failed to draw the ovation and admiration from a multi-cultural audience, which he clearly had prepared and hoped for, judging from his gestures on completion of his undoubtedly well-rehearsed act.
The musical belies what has worked in most marriages between Jews, Muslims and Christians, and at all socio-economic levels, simply because either both partners change to the same religion, or, both turn away from their opposing and seemingly incompatible religions. In other words, the preferred ‘hot or cold’ but not ‘luke-warm’ Christian paradigm. After all, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike, after millennia, still cannot agree on the Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael ‘agreement’ with their common God. But then again, why should they, unless of course they have a common God!
A very pleasant song in the musical refers to the Muslim purdah or colloquially called "doekie" (veil or scarf). At present France has placed a controversial ban on the wearing of a purdah which covers the face completely, except for the eyes. I'll leave this serious matter there for a moment, a watch the press for further development!
I am also reminded of two of my former (Christian) Hewat College of Education colleagues who both married young Muslim students of ours with the noblest intentions in mind. Unfortunately, both marriages failed, and both re-married again.
There is an interesting connection between my own research (Islamic musical) interests, my social life and this musical: According to the official programme notes issued by Baxter Theatre, ‘Silence of the Music’ reflects on South African multicultural life, and reflects in 2030 on a relationship of love between a Christian ( - Catholic seemingly - ) and a Muslim ( - Cape Muslim, presumably). In about 1980, two of my former Hewat College of Education colleagues, GV and PP, each married one of our former Muslim students. Both had great expectations, and particularly in the case of PP, whose illustrious father was borne and bred in District Six, renowned for its religious and cultural tolerance, and who taught for 10 years at the oldest Coloured school in District 6, before taking up his lecting post at Hewat College in 1978, one feels sad that both marriages failed shortly afterwards.
Another unusual connection with the musical occurred the very next day, when I visited the Parow flea market. I listened to the street musician I mentioned somewhere on this website about a year ago, played and sang three Cape gospel ‘koortjies’ or songs of different styles. The second was in a slow ‘blues’ style and I could clearly hear and imagine the connection with the famous Cape Malay Dutch song “Rosa’. His last song had a fast, samba-like rhythm, which I thoroughly enjoyed!
I conclude this little interlude to my life story with the remark that the 10 South African rands I happily donated to the Parow busker on Saturday 16 April 2011, is infinitely times more than what I paid for the four free tickets I received from my colleague Thaver a few days earlier!
TILLY KRONEBERG : FOND MEMORIES
On Sunday morning, 5 June 2011, one day prior to the date on which my late brother Colin (who died in 1979) would have celebrated his 57th birthday, I responded as follows to an e-mail which carried the news of Tilly's death an funeral arrangements the next day in Genadendal:
On Friday morning, 3 June 2011, my wife informed me about Tilly's death.
I remember her for many reasons: In 1977 we started a Hewat 'pool' fund together because many of us were broke! I remember an "official" Hewat part-time staff outing in 1979 or 1980 at which both Tilly and Rive were present. Of course, Parry, Voigt, Pikes, Ferdie, and most of us, were also there!
Then, many years later, I contacted her about a Moravian Church Easter tradition held annually in Genadendal. However, I shall remember Tilly mostly for the link she provided me to Derek Weber, when I conducted my research in 2008 on the Eoan Group!"
DU PLESSIS : RELATED OR NOT?
“If what Madge says is true, then it did not make sense when in December 1981,
shortly before his death, that I suggested to (Dr) I. D. Du Plessis, the respected
Afrikaans poet and leader, and acknowledged expert on ‘Cape Malay’ culture,
that we may be related!”
On a very busy Tuesday afternoon, shortly after my lecture with my QSF 132 first-year UWC students, Madge Du Preez visited me in my office. While her visit was clearly ‘official’, we also discussed her mother who passed away suddenly recently.
At the time when I learnt about the passing away of Madge’s mother, I sent her the following e-mail message:
“I just heard in a meeting from Melvyn that your mother had passed away.
I am so sorry to hear that.
I briefly discussed with Charles moments ago the family connections which we have (if what I have learnt about the Du Plessis's over the years is true!).
I actually intended visiting your late mother, but now its too late!
I'll convey your mother's death to Zalda, when I get home later.
Kind regards, and best wishes!
So Tuesday, 16 August, Madge and I chatted again about her mother, Evelyn (nee Du Plessis). Later I continued my discussion of the Du Plessis’s of George with my wife Zalda. Much later, while marking my 32 QSF 132 Gateway Test scripts which I am sad to say contained ONLY FOUR passes, I thought deeply about our ( that is, the Desai family connections with the Du Plessis).
At the beginnings of my autobiography, I mention that my father, mother, grandmother (Du Preez) were al teachers. The cultural history related to the educational and religious institutions of the “Coloured” people in South Africa, is largely a mistery, but given my own interest in indigenous cultures, I hypothesize that there were many political-cultural divisions, which resulted in various social groupings. This fairly natural situation often becomes more complex when undesirable relations are formed.
My own father-in-law, Vernon Smith, who I mentioned in my autobiography had played in the same band with my father in the 1940’s in George, and who also knew my late mother at the time, had an extra-marital relationship with one of the Du Plessis women during the late 1960’s. This caused a huge split in the George community, which I became intimately part of when I met my wife Zalda in 1974 at UWC, and when I later taught in George in 1975. Zalda’s sister Illona married Andy Meyer in June 1975, shortly after my own marriage to Zalda on 8 February 1975 also in George.
The Du Plessis hail from Diepkloof. That was where Abraham Du Plessis raised his many children, which included my grandmother, and presumably the grandfather of Evelyn nee Du Plessis, and the mothers (or uncles and/or aunts) of two beloved aunt, now also deceased : Sophie Kamfer and Rose Pedro. The later two people I knew for many years, and I recall a fantastic visit with my wife and mother-in-law Rebecca to Karatarra, near Knysna in the late 1970’s.
Unfortunately my cousin Clive Theodore also passed away a few years ago, as did many of the older relatives, who knew the Du Plessis story well. However, an overdue visit to the Oudtshoorn Du Plessis may reveal many a truth about the Du Plessis’s connetions with the Desai’s.
I recall vividly a visit with my late father in 1958/9 at the time of my grandfather Coovergi’s death, to Knysna, Mossel Bay and Diepkloof. I remember the Baardman’s or January’s of Knysna with whom we stayed. Zalda thinks that we stayed on the “Eiland” at the time ( - which became a white residential area later??). While staying over in Diepkloof in 1958/59 I remember Christie and Monty, the two son’s of Uncle Apie, who was Abraham Du Plessis’s son. Christie’s sister, Johanna or ‘Kleinding’ later became romantically linked to Vernon Smith, my father-in-law. I got to know ‘Smallie” or “Kleinding” very well during 1974, right up to her death. We remained good friends, and she related to me many interesting facts about the Van Wyks of Diepkloof. This outstanding teacher and cousin of my late father’s, also ensured that the vandalized tombstone of Coovergi became safely preserved somewhere in Pacaltsdorp. May God bless her soul! Thank you “Smallie” for your kindness!
I also remember a visit with my late father to a Du Plessis relative in Mossel Bay in 1958/9. I recall a large house, with a garden that ended on the beach front. Zalda tells me that the area was later declared ‘white’. I have no idea what had happened to those relatives.
During 1974, when I came to UWC for my B.Sc.(Hons) in Maths – which I shall fully report on when I retire from UWC one day – I remember some first year female students from Mossel Bay and George. Zalda, my wife, was in her second year, and told me about our family connections. However, these connections were denied for many years.
Why? I think there was a split in the large Du Plessis family.
Or is what Madge Du Preez mentioned true: “Nie alle Du Plessis is familie nie. Onthou, daar is twee Evelyn Du Plessis’s” (Not all the Du Plessis are family. Remember, there are two Evelyn Du Plessis’s)
If what Madge says is true, then it did not make sense when in December 1981, shortly before his death, that I suggested to (Dr) I. D. Du Plessis, the respected Afrikaans poet and leader, and acknowledge expert on ‘Cape Malay’ culture, that we may be related!
7 – 9 OCTOBER 2011: A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER: PETER PARRY : PIKES! WHERE ART THOU?
PETER PARRY “How does one restore the dignity of a hobo/homeless person?”(8 Oct, 2011)
DOC M: “Do not buckle or give up. Be proud of who you are. Continue the struggle: Fight back!” (9 Oct 2011)
This memorable weekend kicked off with a pleasant, relaxing Friday evening with my wife Zalda at Jade Court, Tyger Valley, where I enjoyed my favourite supper: Prawn Curry and Thai Sauce, ‘with two portions of steamed rice’!
The next morning Zalda and I left home early, as she was to attend the funeral in Lansdowne of the late husband of one of her colleagues, Mary-Ann Wilson. I dropped her off at the Baptist Church in Blomvlei Road, and instinctively decided to drive down Lansdowne Road, Claremont, where I intended to spend a lovely time browsing though the many second hand shops which I remember are to be found in this interesting part of our Southern Suburbs. On my way, I remembered my search for my former colleague and friend Peter Parry, who I was informed, was ‘roaming’ the streets in that area!
Presently I occupy a lectureship at the University of the Western Cape. For many years now, I felt uncomfortable about the fact that someone like Peter Parry, who served with me as mathematics lecturer at Hewat College for almost two decades, could not be employed here to help our students in the most basic of mathematics – school mathematics!
I decided to hunt for Peter. I parked my car near a few groups of vagrants / homeless people, opposite a club/inn, not knowing that Peter was sleeping on a bench inside, barely ten metres from where I parked the car!
I employed all my research and people’s skills, spoke to one lady briefly, upon which a fairly young chap indicated that he knew Peter well. He told me that Peter often visited the area, and frequently spoke to them. He also knew that Peter was a teacher, and possessed a special background and qualities.
After some discussion, the two of us walked towards the home ( in Kenwyn) where Peter was supposed to stay. I boldly knocked on the door of a house which clearly was rented out, and in a state of disrepair. A lady occupant of the house told me that Peter had left them a week before. With the help of my informant, I then went to a second hand shop in Lansdowne Road, from where we were sent back to my starting point, and the inn opposite my parking spot.
DESMOND DESAI (Left) and PETER PARRY : 8 OCTOBER 2011
I was accompanied into a fairly crowded pub, which seemed quite busy at that time, which was about 09h30 the morning. Inside, I found Peter on a couch; a small, old man, who was peacefully asleep. Although I hardly recognized him, I touched him, and said : ‘”Peter!”. He replied immediately: “I am Peter”. I then said: “Peter Parry”, to which he responded : “Yes!”. I then immediately told him that I was Desmond Desai, and that I came personally to offer him accommodation, and a job opportunity at UWC with me. I told him immediately that we owe it to the memory of his father, Walter Parry, and to our students, who seem to find the most basic mathematics almost impossibly difficult.
Peter was one of the first UWC graduates in the 1960’s, and completed his studies in mathematics and physics together with others like Jan Persens, who like me, matriculated from Schoonspruit High School in Malmesbury, and who later became a lecturer at UWC. After graduating from UWC, Peter taught for ten years at the oldest high school founded in 1912 for ‘non-Whites’ : Trafalgar High, in District Six. As from 1979 Peter became my colleague at Hewat College where we worked together in the mathematics department until the closure of Hewat in 1996. Peter served as the head of the maths department for many years. In 1980 he assisted me when I purchased my first house in Glenhaven, Bellville. He was present, and probably confused, when I negotiated the difficult deal with the seller Fritz using Friedlander Attorneys, Cape Town.
Then, in 1997, when I could not continue with my job as mathematics lecturer at Cape Town College any longer, I handed over my job to Peter, and remember seeing a fine, enthusiastic man, still very fit, briskly walking away from my car, with the few notes I gave him.
Peter also supported me at my conciliation meetings when I unsuccessfully attempted to obtain an exit or severance package from the Western Cape Education Department. This is a long and sag saga, which I will recount fully once I have the opportunity!
Peter remembered on Saturday, 8 October 2011, how police arrested him in front of his class, and his brother who was his pupil, in 1972, and locked him up. Peter told me how he formed a political organization. I clearly remember how Peter, together with other colleagues: Cyril Julie, and others, formed AMESA, a maths teachers’ body, which grew from strength to strength, and which is widely recognized today.
We spoke about his marriage to Suraya Behardien who hails from one of the oldest and most respected families in District Six, and his daughter Bronwyn. We exchanged viewpoints why marriages between Cape Muslims and Christians sometimes fail. I told him about the time I ‘lost my mind’ during 1997-1999, when Parry spend six months in Wales, and how my interest in tone deafness made it possible for me to return to my former self. I told him about my interest in Jewish music, which was awoken by Charles Melzer, a colleague of mine at UWC, and how my envisaged paper on Qur'anic recitals and the Jewish trope was dismissed by my musicological ‘friends’ at Stellenbosch.
Most importantly, though, we agreed that his father Walter should have a more prominent place in the District Six Museum, and the history of South Africa, which should inspire our youth and others.
Walter Parry’s Welsh father married a Khoi lady at the turn of the 20th century. Peter recalled a dignified grandmother who commanded respect from her family, friends and those with whom she made contact. Walter, her son, was educated at Trafalgar High School, went off to study maths and physics at the University of Cape Town. In 1931, he earned his master’s degree with distinction, and was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. This award was withdrawn, when the authorities discovered that the 21-year old Walter was not White, and clearly Khoi-looking!
Walter taught for two years at Trafalgar High School, then took up an appointment in Genadendal (Emil Weder), and thereafter settled in Port Elizabeth. Peter was born there. The family then moved to Stellenbosch. Walter, became disillusioned and depressed, and died at a relatively young age. As a result of his untimely death, Peter was forced to look after his mother and family while still a student!
Peter’s mother was the daughter of Heneke, one of the first principals of Trafalgar High. Peter turned down my offer, when I revisited him later the same day, by quoting his mother: “If you cannot do something well, do not do it at all!” I agree with his mother; yet I am convinced that Peter still has a lot to offer my UWC students and our South African society, perhaps more than what I can!
Well, on the same day, the Welsh team beat the Irish on the World Cup quarter finals in New Zealand. Peter seemed overjoyed at their victory, and told me how the Welsh people cherish their language, and heritage, and that one would find an organ in every Welsh pubs!
We spoke about our former colleagues: Scott and Roelf who both passed away, and were very, very close to Peter. He felt sad that he could not attend Roelf’s funeral. We both have fond memories of Pikes Smith, and would like to know: WHERE ART THOU? Peter told me that he would like to see him again!
On Sunday, 9 October, my son Dinesh completed the Cape Town half-marathon, which my wife and I proudly witnessed. While Dinesh was running his heart out, I met up with an ex-Rhodesian who could answer Peter’s question: “How does one restore the dignity of a hobo/homeless person?” Doc M, a person with an impeccable background and a fully qualified, but jobless doctor, who blames Mugabe for taking their land, and the killing of his beloved wife, was clear in his answer; “Do not buckle or give up. Be proud of who you are. Continue the struggle : Fight back!”
DOC M (LEFT) and DESMOND DESAI; SUNDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2011
DECEMBER 1969: SIX ORANGES AND A MARATHON WALK TO PORTERVILLE
“I sank into a deep state of depression. I felt that it was unfair to be
punished in this way: I would miss a rare opportunity in my life, my
brother’s swollen eye will surely heal in a few days, and “Stenie” would get
away without paying me “for work done”!”
During my matric year , I was asked by my favourite Afrikaans teacher, Mr S (or ‘Stenie’, as he was affectionately called by his primary school teacher wife whom he married at a rather late stage of their life) to assist in administrative and other duties. Mrs ‘Stenie’ had an exceptional singing voice, and it could be that my organ playing and membership of the Dutch Reformed Church choir that assisted me in becoming ‘close’ to Mr “Stenie”.
Mr “Stenie” promised me a trip with them to Upington during December 1969 as ‘payment’ for work done! I was elated! This would my first time to Upington, and many places along the way, and a rare opportunity to get way from home, and to meet new (girl-) friends! After all, I was seventeen already, and ready to ‘conquer to world”!
During the 1969 December vacation, my eldest brother returned from Oudsthoorn where he completed his final year towards a teachers’ certificate. For some forgotten reason, we had a fight, just days before we were supposed to leave for Upington.
During our argument, my brother broke my beautiful brass-coloured tie-pin which was moulded in the shape of a saxophone. I was infuriated so intensely, that I hit him on his eye, which caused his eye to swell up extremely badly!
Consequently my mother ‘punished’ me by canceling my trip to Upington. She personally phoned “Stenie” and explained the situation to him. I am sure that “Stenie” was glad to be off the hook. I sank into a deep state of depression. I felt that it was unfair to be punished in this way: I would miss a rare opportunity in my life, my brother’s swollen eye will surely heal in a few days, and “Stenie” would get away without paying me “for work done”!
At about 11 pm, hours before my cancelled trip to Upington, I told my mother that I was going to walk to Porterville, a town 60 miles from Malmesbury, where we stayed. I hoped in vain that my mother would ‘give in’ and let me go to Upington on hearing of my envisaged walk to Porterville. She did not! Instead she gave me six oranges to serve as nourishment.
The next morning, at 3 am, I left our home, without a hat, wearing a pair of old and oversized, uncomfortable leather shoes. By 6 am, I was already close to Riebeeck West. Later, at 10 am, my friend Eben came around to look for me, but I had left long before already! Not even Eben, my best friend, knew about my trip. Eben immediately set off following ‘in my footsteps”, and got as far as the Riebeeck mountains. Luckily he turned back, because he knew I was too far ahead already, and that he would not make it to Porterville. What a good friend he was ( - he later, in 1975, became the best man at me wedding!).
I accidentally sat on my glasses later that day, and had to do the whole trip with poor vision, the sun beating upon my face and body, no water and six oranges! By 7 pm, I had still a few miles to go, but reached my destination just before dark, and close to 9 pm.
I remember that I just fell over the kitchen door of the Liebenbergs in Porterville, so utterly exhausted was I. Confidently though, I asked a surprised Mrs Liebenberg of about 60 years of age then, whether I could sleep there. I still remember her first words: “Desmond, is dit jy? Maar jy het darem swart geraak! (Desmond is that you? My, have you become black!)
That evening I had to play cards ( - klawerjas) and dominoes. They even tried to test my IQ! I went to bed close to midnight. I had just completed a exhausting trip of 18 hours, and had to play cards and keep people entertained until 12! I was klaar ( finished, exhausted)!
The next morning I my body ached and both my feet were badly blistered (mainly because of oversize shoes), swollen and very,very sore. I felt invigorated though, and paid an early morning visit to a close matric friend of mine, called ‘Pauly’. He and his kind parents offered me comfortable accommodation and food. I accepted, and gladly left the friendly and kind Liebenberg to stay with my friend rather. That Sunday evening, I was asked to play the organ in the local Dutch Reformed Church. I remember how the priest told the congregation that I was the son of the person who had built the pulpit a little more than ten years before – They still remembered my late father, and his work in the community. I was proud and humbled that evening by this lovely Porterville community.
My return journey was in stark contrast to my almost 18-hour and 100 km walk from Malmesbury to Porterville. My friend Pauly’s father was a hawker, who had to travel on a weekly basis to the Paarl market to purchase fresh vegetables and fruit. I accepted their offer to be dropped off at the intersection of the road to Malmesbury and Paarl, less then half of the distance I had covered a few days before. Furthermore, Pauly gave me more than enough fresh apples and oranges ‘for the road’.
I effectively ‘sprinted’ the walk to Malmesbury in a few hours, maybe four, and triumphantly entered the town: mentally and physically rejuvenated.
Eben, my mother – everyone – were elated to see me back, and happy! Gone and forgotten was Upington. This was the case, untill to a few days ago, when I decided to write the story above. Do I regret it? Well, I know that I spent an few unforgettable days in Porterville towards the end of 1969, which made me feel proud of my father : I suppose, the whole episode was meant to happen, and am remain satisfied that I did not ‘loose’ my mind ( - as my mother was beginning to think when I sadly sat on the stoep, hoping that she would change her mind - ) but change the situation around by doing something few could and have done! I certainly, would never have done this without the ‘trigger’, although barely two years later, Eben and I cycled 60 miles from Malmesbury to Langebaan and back, a feat which was copied my many of our friends afterwards!
Today, 14 October 2011, and more than 40 years later, I still have not been to Upington, or any of the many places I would have seen en-route in 1969 already, when I was still very young! Yet I believe that I achieved more by walking alone to Porterville in 1969, which ranks as one of my most outstanding accomplishments to date! And knows what may have happened in Upington in 1969, had I gone there…If I do understand the reasons for my mother’s decision at the time, I might have become a father prematurely, and well before I was 21! I am told that life was, and still is, ‘good’ out there!
BELVIDERE and GEORGE
My wife Zada and I visited the historical church at Belvidere on 3 July 2012 in order to deposit the ashes of my dear mother-in-law Rebecca Smith (nee Fredericks) there. My wife's mother, Rebecca was born and baptized in this church, as was her father, Andrew Michael Fredericks, who was reared by the Duthies. The founder of the church was Reverend Duthie.
We also visited George and to our horror discovered that the large 50 rood (or about 5 hectare) prime property my grandfather Coovergi Haribhai Desai bought in 1916, had been completely demolished, and that modern business buildings, including shops and garages, had been erected on this valuable site which is situated in the heart of George's business centre. Coovergi had a chain of three shops in George, Mossel Bay and Knysna. He also had several properties in Blanco, which he let, but which were demolished during the early days of apartheid rule. His residential house, as well as his shops have all been demolished. Fortunately "Sam se brug" (Sam's bridge, a bridge nearby which was named after him) still remains.
LEFT: Coovergi's grave in neglected Rosemore, George, 1982. My son Nirdev, is pictured with me.
LEFT: Coovergi's original house which he bought in 1916, Montagu Street, George, 1981.