Say again, now what is Afrikaans, I have never heard of it? Quite simply it is a form of bastardised Dutch spoken by a cross section of people living in South Africa. Believe it or not the first white settlers who made it here were of Dutch extraction and slowly ever so slowly, the original Dutch was changed and included some indigenous words as time evolved. This eventually became officially known as Afrikaans. Which is about where I come in. Of course I’m not Afrikaans, I’m ‘English’, coughs in la di da voice, with a bit of Irish thrown in. Blesses himself quickly. I wasn’t even reared in South Africa but I came from their neighbouring country up North known as Rhodesia and now as Zimbabwe and in those far oft times the relationship was good and friendly. Which brings us back to square one, which is Afrikaans.
Now here I am at senior school as a young boy. The dreaded Plumtree School situated in semi-desert like conditions on the
Southern border of Rhodesia, one mile away from Botswana. Now, it is my ‘considered‘ opinion, that any lad who chose this as his preferred senior school, was not quite right in the head. Which of course also applied to the masters. Correct me if I’m wrong at the end of this short epistle? Needless to say it was a very hard place, but, believe it or not, we had fun. So, here I was as a new boy and I was writing or learning, amongst other subjects, Latin, English, French and Afrikaans. Even at such a young age, it was obvious I was designed for the Arts. Sadly, I could never draw, not even a decent stick man so I missed out on the ‘arty farty’, lifestyle, oh, lo alas.
My first Afrikaans teacher went by the name of Viljoen, and a more Afrikaans name one couldn’t imagine. Needless to say he had the most frightfully, frightful, English upper class accent. There you have it but his stay was short lived and my next Afrikaans teacher was non other but the feared Varney Van Vuuren, shudders. Which is about where this story finally begins.
Afrikaans, my dear friends, is a very guttural language and it is extremely difficult for me to put across how it sounds to Westernised people. You see, basically your ‘a’ is a soft ‘a’ whereas ours is a hard ‘a’. So let us just begin with the alphabet slowly. I’ll print the letter and then try and show what it sounds like in Afrikaans.
A = Aaaaah.
B = Beeea.
C = Ceeea.
D = Deeea.
E = Eeea.
F = Feeea.
G = Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Do you get it now?
So for some strange reason my Afrikaans teacher took a shine to me. Perchance my sparkling turquoise eyes? And my initials were K.P., so to him I was always known as, “aaaaah Karr Peeea, you little white rat, is it or whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat”, which is how he ended every sentence. What a gas hey? Now we had another lad in our class called Ian Armstrong. Varney Van Vuuren always referred to and called him, “aaaaaaaah Legweak”, and Ian hated this. So here we have all this fine humour and I can go deeper, is it or whaaaaaaaaaaaaat.
The next thing to understand is, that in those days every master was allowed to beat any boy in the school, for whatever reason. How cruel? Now Varney was an acknowledged master of this, his forte being bacon slices. This wasn’t fine rashers of bacon, no Sir, noSireeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. In those days we had a 12 inch ruler with a bit of steel or something on one side. Ah, Karr Peeea, you little white rat is it or whaaaaaaaaaat, what is the Afrikaans word for ‘erroneous’, and when I had no idea or got it wrong he would call up ‘Legweak’ for a couple of bacon slices for getting the word wrong. This consisted of the lad bending over his desk whilst Varney gave him two cuts with aforesaid ruler. The secret was in not getting a fat edge so to speak and he was the champion of champions at this. In a nutshell, two bacon slices from our dear old Afrikaans teacher was worse than six strokes from any other master in the school with an official cane. Sadly, he became tired of this so whittled himself a fine old stick which he used instead. Then one morning he couldn’t find his stick as some boy had stolen it. Horror of horrors. So he quickly made himself another stick. There were eight periods or classes in any given school morning. So in Varney’s first Afrikaans class he asked who had stolen his stick and was met with dead silence. So he beat every boy in that class six cuts for stealing his stick. By the time the third class came in this was all around the school. WHO STOLE VARNEY’S STICK?
Now we were the fourth class up and knew it was one of our lads who had stolen the stick so told him he better find it before our Afrikaans class, which he did. Delighted we told Varney this and he had his old stick back. So he decided to beat us ALL six as well. Bravely I questioned his morality on this, to which he replied, “aaaaaaah Karr Peeea, you little white rat, is it or whaaaaaaaaaaaaat, I have already beaten three classes of innocent boys for this so it would be wrrrrrrrrrong not to do the same to you.?” He then went and beat his next four classes six as well. The moral of the story? Don’t steal Varney’s stick.
All boys lived for trying to put any master teaching whatever subject off the subject. This was almost impossible with Varney,
but, like most people he had his Achilles heel, in his case politics and a certain legendary Springbok rugby player. So elections were being held in South Africa and we got him off the subject of Afrikaans by asking him which party he thought would win. I forget the name now, but, it was an ultra right wing party who would make the latter day AWB look akin too, a bunch of left wing Commie sissies. Even as young boys we knew his party had no hope, so we took him on a bet, which was 25kgs. of biltong (jerky). Now Varney was an acknowledged poacher, any animal which put up it’s head on any farmers land, immediately went missing. They always complained to the Police who could never catch the phantom poacher. Instead, they should have asked the boys who could see the carcases hanging up in his back yard. The great day arrived and true to form his party barely got a vote, so we wanted to know where our biltong was. He replied, that he was caught short by their poor showing, he really believed they would win, so he needed more time. The great day arrived and our biltong arrived, but, it tasted funny. One of the Afrikaans lads then said because it was baboon. How he knew flummoxed us but he was indeed correct. We all then complained bitterly to Varney who gave his typical Hyena, cackle of a laugh, and said, ” I said, biltong, I didn’t say what type of biltong.” So we had lost again.
The next thing was rugby. Now the thing about Varney was, that he was no bullduster, and was an excellent rugby player in his
heyday, being no less than a Junior Springbok. Now we knew this about our Afrikaans teacher, so one brave lad asked him, “Sir, did you ever know Mannetjies Roux?”
I’ve never forgotten his reply and he was spitting the words out and fuming. ” If Mannetjies Roux, was walking down the street, in any city in the entire world, and somebody jumped on his back, he would know, it is Renier Van Vuuren, right on his heels.” The thing is Mannetjies Roux became a legend in rugby and if he tackled you, you stayed tackled. So, Varney (our nickname for our Afrikaans teacher), was in fact speaking the truth here. It was a question of the selectors making the choice between him and Mannetjies Roux. He never forgave them for making the wrong choice, in his ‘considered‘ opinion.
So I am going to end this brief epistle with another rugby story at Plumtree school. Varney was the third team rugby coach which was another sore point with him. Here we had the greatest rugby player the school was ever going to see. But, he wasn’t even good enough to coach the first team. No Sir, he wasn’t even good enough to coach the seconds, just the lowly thirds. Life in the end is so unfair is it not? Anyway we had a new Headmaster at this time and he was trying his best to make the school into something far less harsh. Normally we went to school for the whole term without a break. However Jim Beef thought this was so hard and harsh, so he had arranged for the school to get a half term break. He had come from the school Umtali, on the North Eastern boundary. So he arranged for our first team to play their first team during the half term break. I had a friend, no less than Diggiden Buffee, nicknamed by the lads (as he was a hood of note), after Rhodesia’s most noted criminal, one Diggiden, who boasted no prison could hold him. He was right, they couldn’t and he had escaped from ‘maximum security’ prison yet again. The funny thing is he won the South African trampoline contest where some Rhodesian prison officer was attending and remarked. “Hey that’s Diggiden, our most wanted criminal.” I honestly forget what happened next. But here was our Dig and although playing for the thirds, he had been selected for the firsts for the Umtali festival. Now he had a chick in Salisbury who he was desperate to see again at half term (damn devil), and he had told us that there is no way he’s going to Umtali to play bloody rugby, firsts, or not. Here’s what happened.
Dig had explained to few close mates that he was going to injure himself. As it turned out we were playing our biggest rivals, Milton school and although we were up the game could go any way. Suddenly with 5 minutes of the game to go, a terrible whining was heard from the bottom of the ‘scrimmage’. ” I can’t bend my legs straight?” Dig was at work and play was suspended as Varney Van Vuuren celebrated Afrikaans teacher, rugby player and coach came onto the field to help his player off the field. Dig was still softly moaning my back, my back as Varney helped him off the field. They sat down left of the stands and somewhere around our 25 metre mark. Now Plumtree made a daring move and the fullback joined the attacking line. They balled it up and Milton got the ball and their wing was home and dry with nobody to stop him as he sprinted for the try line and victory. Hope springs eternal, even in my breast. The great ‘white’ hope materialised, in the form of Dig Buffee who came out of his agony, sprinted back on the field and tackled the Milton player. By the time Lubbe Robinson, the referee reached the ensuing melee, fists were flying. Lubbe, sometimes known as ‘nipple’ to the boys because he was too small to be a tit, but he sure could blow a shrill whistle. “Buffee, get off the field immediately.” Time was up, but he awarded Milton a penalty which if got would have got them the game but their bloke missed and the game was ours. Throughout all this time, Varney, was lying on his back in hysterical laughter. The Milton
coach was now there, waxing lyrical about how this was an absolute disgrace and the worst thing he had ever seen in all his years as a teacher and he was going to see the ‘press’ about this. Varney fell back on the floor laughing hysterically again. To which the Milton coach said, “And you, I’m going to make especially sure they mention you.” The last thing of this saga is, Marula trees are endemic to this area and Van Vuuren loved nothing better than hiding behind the trunk of one of these trees and pelting unsuspecting boys with Marula berries. True to form when the Milton coach and his lads were boarding the bus to go back home, someone was pelting them with Marula berries. GUESS WHO?