We were tribally prejudiced back then. Our tribe was English, regardless of any original ethnicity from Italian to German, as long as we were English-speaking. The enemy was the Afrikaans tribe, and the only reason they were the enemy was because they didn’t like the English. Maybe they had some reason; because of the Boer War, where we stole their country, and the British invention, the Concentration Camp, where we murdered their women and children…
Despite their dislike of the English, the Afrikaans embraced another English invention fiercely. Maybe because it was a place where they could continue to do battle with the English without getting locked up for it.
Rugby. Affies vs. Boyzaai!
Our hardest fought, bloodiest battles were against the Dutchmen, the Rockspiders, the Mielie-Crunchers and a few worse epithets. They, too, had some choice names for us.
And they were the Government!
1962. Sabotage Act General Laws Amendment Act No 76
This “allowed for 90-day detention without trial … and defined sabotage broadly enough to include strike action” (Fine & Davis 1990: 237). Furthermore, sabotage was made a capital crime by Section 21 (Dugard 1978: 125).
Even as school children, we were aware of the passing of the Sabotage Act, where you could be put to death for an act of, well, blowing things up!
So, obviously, we’d show the bloody Dutchmen they couldn’t make laws like that. I don’t remember how it developed, but a new friend of mine from another hostel, Robert Reindorp (a fine English name!) and I decided to protest. He found a one gallon plastic can with a hollow lid; I bought the petrol and inserted gunpowder and a wick into the lid.
The target was the little Afrikaans-Medium primary school build on a corner of what had once been Pretoria Boys High School grounds. (The cheek of it!)
One Saturday night, while all the borders were watching a movie in the school hall, three shadowy figures slipped away across the rugby fields.
Robert had brought along his friend, Mike, and bloody Mike had lost the hollow lid with the gunpowder in it, hadn’t he?
Pressing valiantly on, regardless of this setback, the saboteurs scaled the fence and gained access to the enemy quarters. They took them by surprise; the place was empty, ha-ha.
They audaciously jammed their toilet rolls down the loos. Take that!
They mercilessly turned on all the taps and blocked the basins to cause a flood. Take that!
Then, the grand finale, although a loud bang would have been nice, I broke a window in a basement laboratory and poured in the petrol. On your marks, get set, throw match, run!
Mike left a long strip of skin on the barbed wire fence, but otherwise we made our getaway across the fields and into the hall before the movie ended.
And for the next few days, we nearly poofied in our drawers as police and police dogs roamed about the place. Mike was drinking water at a fountain when a police dog barked at him. He nearly had a heart attack, but the cop said, don’t be scared, little boy; come away, you stupid dog.
The fuss slowly died down. Luckily, the petrol had fallen onto a stainless steel laboratory sink and caused little damage.
A year later, my house master called me into his study.
“Blown up any good schools, lately?” Mr Willy (W.C.) Brooks asked. He gave me a well-measured amount of time to feel that my world was caving in, before telling me that he and the headmaster had decided to keep schtum about it as, having investigated our records and been satisfied that we would be more likely to become criminals if we were expelled and exposed to the law (and hung?) than if we weren’t. Robert had, in any case, left the school.
Why a whole year? Well, due to a conversation between headmasters at a function nearly a year after the event, our headmaster had heard about a certain piece of skin on a fence and decided to keep his eye out for a certain scar…
Then: “Of course we know all about it, but in order to decide whether or not you are to be expelled, you had better tell me your side of the story…” Which led them to me.
Clever things, headmasters.
(I salute you, Mr Desmond Abernethy, for your canny sense of humanity)
I hope there’s such a thing as a statute of limitations for sabotage. Or maybe I now qualify as a Struggle Hero?