We arrived in Haenertsberg in 1979, I went into Grade 6, while Garth was a year ahead of me starting in Grade 7. In 1980 Garth left to attend Grenville High School near Rustenburg, while I became headboy.
My folks were still trying to recover from the financial knock the family had taken, so when I finished junior school in 1981 it was easier for them to send me to join Garth at Grenville, where we would be together in the boarding school. Grenville was the English school in the Rustenburg area, but if we thought there would be less violence among the English-speaking kids, we were wrong. This was high school, prime bully territory. Any battles we had won or status achieved in the years before did not matter. Small fish, big pond. Plenty of sharks.
As a junior, you were bullied and beaten senseless on a weekly basis by the senior kids. They punched you until you cried, or bled, or submitted fully. You were helpless, there was nothing you could do, but take it. The teachers weren’t going to do anything. It was 1981, there were no councillors, no safe spaces, schools back then operated more off the law of the jungle. You literally had to learn to defend yourself. It was as simple as that.
In a bizarre twist of fate, someone who would pop up in my future was one of the biggest bullies of my past, like me, he went into education, studying at Pretoria College of Education, whereas I ended up at Johannesburg College of Education. I was in Grade 8, at Grenville, when he was in Grade 11, so we were three years apart. He was just this relentless bully, terrorising me and other smaller kids.
Our paths crossed again years later when I was still Deputy Head at Crawford Lonehill. I went for a job interview for a Headship of a school in Pretoria. I made it on to the shortlist, with none other than this chap. It was the first time I had seen him in many years and though I recognised him immediately, he did not recognize me. That’s the funny thing about school, on average you always look upwards and remember the older, more senior kids above you, whereas for the most part older kids don’t look down the grades and see you. In the end, he got the job, thank goodness. But that’s not the end of the story. When I left teaching and went into the corporate side of schools as the MD of the Centurus Group, which ADvTECH had just bought, who was the dictator-like Head at one of the schools I was managing? He was! Who got asked to leave? He was!
In part due to this guy and the other bullies at Grenville and in part due to the very nature of being away from our family and having to fend for ourselves, our time away from Johannesburg was an education in itself. Not so much academic, but physical. And even though it was tough being so far away from home, I cannot discount what hardship like that gifts you. In that respect it was the most amazing two years in that it taught us that to be self-sufficient, to dig deep and get through whatever we faced. For me, it definitely instilled an attitude that nobody was in control of my own destiny, but me.