School years after the Orphanage: Wellington

In 1950, after five years in the Cape Jewish Orphanage and one year at Landsdowne Primary School, I went to boarding school at the “Homestead” Wellington. I was 10 ½ years old. Wellington is about 75 km from Cape Town.



I spent two periods in Wellington; the first, 2 years, the second, 2½ years. After the first period, I came home for three years and went to Wynberg Boys Junior School for one year (Grade 7) and Wynberg Boys High School for two years (Grades 8 and 9). I then returned to Wellington for Grades 10, 11 and half of 12 (Second Period). I came home in the middle of my matric year, and entered Herzlia High School in Gardens, Cape Town. So my first and last school was Herzlia: Herzlia Junior School in Cape Town (while at the Orphanage) and then Herzlia High School in Cape Town. Between the ages of three and seventeen, I spent four and a half years at home.

Wellington – first period:

On the banks of the Kromme River in the heart of the Boland, a town huddles at the foot of the Groenberg mountains. The Dutch called the area Wagenmakersvallei (Wagonmaker’s Valley). The French Huguenots settled in the Boland in the 17th century and called the area Val Du Charron. In the 1800s, the British invaded and occupied the Cape Colony. In 1840, Wagonmakersvalei changed its name to Wellington in honour of the Duke of Wellington, who conquered Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

Why did the Huguenots come to South Africa? ? Henry IV of France promulgated the Edict of Nantes on April 13, 1598. It gave the Huguenots (French Calvinists) significant rights in a nation that was mainly Catholic. In October 1685, however, Louis XIV (Louis Le Grand “the Great”) the grandson of Henry IV, revoked the Edict of Nantes and banned Protestantism. Many skilled individuals left France. Most settled in other countries such as Holland, England, and Switzerland. Others went to North America; and South Africa, mainly to the Cape of Good Hope. The majority of immigrants to the Cape settled in an area that came to be called Franschhoek (French corner), which is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. Other Huguenots settled in the Boland, in towns such as Malmesbury and Wellington. Dutch was declared the only medium of instruction, and so the descendants of the Huguenots forgot their French. Many South Africans have French names, for example, F. W. De Klerk (Clerq), a former President of South Africa; Hansie Cronje, the cricketer, and Charlize Theron, pronounced in Afrikaans as Charlize Tron and in America as  Thé-rone.

Two hundred and fifty years after the Edict of Nantes of 1598, a grandson of a Jewish Latvian bootmaker (Mendel Gilinsky), comes to Wellington, whose only knowledge of French was wee. Fifteen years later, he treks up to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) on a 125cc Honda, and ends up as Senior French Master at a Jesuit college, St George’s College, Salisbury (Harare). The moral of the story: when you’ve got French and neighbours, the world is a happier place.

At the top of the main street of Wellington stands a commanding building: the Dutch Reformed Church.

Dutch Reformed Church, Wellington

Dutch Reformed Church, Wellington

Andrew Murray Jr. (1928 – 1917) was the South African born son of Andrew Murray who was a Dutch Reformed missionary from Scotland. Andrew Jr also became a missionary and moved to Wellington in 1871.

Andrew Murray Jr.

Here is a picture of the Homestead Wellington.

Homestead Wellington in the Boland

Homestead Wellington in the Boland

MacCrone Homestead was built as a hostel for the Boys’ High School in 1904 and called the “Homestead” (“Te Huis” in Afrikaans). It was used later, first by the amalgamated Huguenot High School and then by the Teachers’ Training College. Downstairs left was the dining room. Upstairs left was my dormitory. The downstairs middle portion was the long study room. The Homestead master, Piet Paauw, and his family occupied the lower right side of the building. The Junior school was on an adjacent property on the Homestead’s right side. It was accessible through a rickety rusty turnstile like the one in the picture.

Turnstile between Homestead "Koshuis" and Junior School

Turnstile between Homestead “Koshuis” and Junior School

At the back of the school was a big vineyard. We slipped out at night and stole into the vineyard. We cut off heavy bunches of big purple grapes, and then made a dash for it, dropping, squashing and squirting bits of juicy purple flesh all over clothes and bodies. When we sneaked back into the Koshuis, we had to hide more than the grapes; we also had to hide our purple “bruises”.

Owing to the fact that I spent two periods at the Homestead – 1951 to 1952 and 1956 to 1958 – I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish which events belong to which period. There are a few clear memories of my first period of 1951 – 1952, which I relate now.

It was sad to leave home after spending only one year at home after the Orphanage, and a few weeks of the mid-year school holidays of that same year in the McGregor Home in Wynberg (with Gerry). I described the McGregor Home earlier in the chapter on Gerry “A sojourner there”. Three things stick in my mind: the cow, the sweets, and the nice black man and his warm fire. On the Homestead’s right side in front of the school was a field with a few cows. At the other side of the field was a fence bordering a road. Across the road was a little “Babie”, a nickname we gave to the Indian shops in South Africa that specialized in everything.

The bigger boys sent me on errands to buy sweets for them. One of the boys was Roger, an English boy (in South Africa, white English-speakers were called “English” in contrast to white Afrikaans-speakers who were called Afrikaners). Roger played a lot of tennis on the Homestead tennis court. He was always immaculately kitted out in whites. He was also very handsome and tanned. He often sent me on shopping errands across the field through the fence to the “Babie”; I made a wide berth to avoid the cows. He always gave me a few sweets. My favourites were the marshmallow fish and other sweets in different shapes: white hearts and yellow stars with pink writing etched on one side. Up to then, this was the closest I’d come to the tablets of the Ten Commandments. One day some of the big boys dragged me into the field towards a cow. One of them lifted me up and held me in front of the cow’s muzzle. I split my lip and started to smear the tiny trickle across my face. One of the boys wasn’t fooled and laughed in mock agony.

At the back of the Homestead lived a black man who was in charge of the boilers and did other jobs around the Homestead. Sometimes, on cold nights, after supper and before evening study time, I would visit him in a shed where he warmed himself  next to a large paraffin tin pierced with holes and full of hot coals. We didn’t say much to each other. I felt so happy. Here was someone who was just happy to be with me. He didn’t speak much. We took turns to poke the fire, but not to smoke his pipe.  After I left him, I smelled of smoke. None of the other boys cared, because the time before evening study was normal smoke time for many of them anyhow.

I was in the under-12 rugby team where I played wing. I was a fast runner, and scored lots of tries. I once scored six tries. Other than that, I was too skinny for rugby, even if only as a wing (See my knobby knees in the Orphanage and family photos). I seldom got tackled. I was too fast. I don’t remember tackling much either. We had a number of away-from-home matches at different schools in the Boland. For our away games, we traveled in the school bus. On one of these occasions, it was pouring and very cold. I didn’t have a rugby jersey; instead I wore a hairy sleeveless pullover that itched all over. The field was soaked. You had to lift your legs high to make any headway. The centre passed the ball to me. I loped for the try line. I was running forever. Surely the try line can’t be far now. Ah, at last. Better jot the ball down before the dead ball line or I’m dead. I plonked the ball down inches “before” the  “try line”. The referee blew his whistle and everybody started running back. Hey why is the other team running back; they’re meant to stand behind the posts and wait for our kicker to kick the conversion? What I took for the dead ball line was really the try line. I had jotted the ball down inches from the try line. I don’t remember whether we won that sodden match. Neither do I remember that no one spoke to me on the bus.

I used to visit a school friend’s farm, Sidney Stigant, on the outskirts of Wellington. We shot at birds with our catties (catapults). I once shot a dove. It fell from the tree. I ran up to it. It was on its back blinking up at me. Murderer! I never picked up a cattie again. Sidney Stigant, my Wellington friend, became a fisherman. He drowned in a fishing boat about 15 years later.

At another friend’s farm, I saw a naked woman. We were walking past the little round brick houses of the “coloured” farm labourers. On the rough cement yard in front of one of the houses, a naked woman lay stretched out on her back in the hot sun, legs akimbo, dripping soft parts, softly moaning. That was the first time I had seen a naked woman. So that was what the boys at the Homestead were so obsessed with.  She smelled of vaaljapie. She would have done Rodin proud. (Vaaljapie is a South African raw young wine containing sediment, very popular among the farm workers. Vaaljapie derives from Dutch vaal “muddy” and japie “Jack or Jim”).

I carried on to the farmhouse; a tumbledown structure with cement floors. The farmer, my friend’s father, was in a sweaty vest and sweaty hat, sitting on a rickety chair in the kitchen. He was stirring  a tin bath full of fizzing ginger beer with a long crooked branch.  A dog lay laughing happily next to the farmer’s chair. Bobs of ginger swirled around the basin. Flies were doing dambuster passes low across the hot froth. The farmer removes his dog-eared hat to administer a limp sweep across the spumescent brew. He ladles some into a tin mug and thrusts it into my wavering hands. I bring the brew to close to my lips. I hazard a sip. What is more execrable than warm ginger beer? Hot ginger beer – laced with dambuster flyshot?

Some Saturday afternoons I would walk the 3 kms to the railway station, stand on the platform and imagine catching the train home. The Cape Town- Wellington railway line was the Cape Province’s first railway line, completed in the earl 1860s. During the day, there were very few trains to Cape Town, and so whenever I visited the station, I sat and stared at the empty tracks.  What does an 11-year old know about train timetables? And even if I did know, did I have the leisure to fit my rare visits to the station when it suited me? I did sometimes see trains going in the opposite direction – to mysterious places north. I sat on the bench next to the entrance to the station restaurant and watched people with their lucky children darting off the train and into the restaurant, emerging with handfuls of hot dogs and coffee.  The train hissed with steam. A little while later, the train pulls out of the station on its way to the unknown. Through the train windows, no one is worried about entering the vast unknown.  They’re talking and smiling and eating and drinking.   The train disappears down the tracks. It’s all quiet again.  I get off the bench, climb the steps on to the bridge, and walk back to the Homestead.

On the way to the station from the Homestead, there is an Apostolic church. One of the boarders at the Homestead told me that apostolics make a lot of noise; then they suddenly jump up and run round in the church looking for the Holy Ghost. That is what “apostolic” meant to me for many years and what it still means for many.

After two years at the Homestead in 1951 and 1952, I returned to my Claremont home where I lived for the next three years (Jan 1953 to Dec 1955). I attended Wynberg Junior and High Schools.

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