The year that was to change Karen’s and my lives so comprehensively, started innocently enough with me graduating from Limberlost and being enrolled at St. Peter’s Preparatory School for boys. The school was situated in Rivonia, the very same suburb of Johannesburg that a few years earlier had played such an important part in the life of one Nelson Mandela.
St. Peter’s was in the middle of what was then farming land and there was no real road to the school, even the bus that dropped us off in the morning stopped about a kilometre away and we walked down a farm road to enter the school gates. My mother still drove me in the morning, but not to school, I was dropped off outside the Stutterford’s building in Rosebank where I caught a municipal bus to school with my fellow students. Once the bus passed another school by the name of Marist Brothers, we were in the countryside with rolling pastures and the occasional herd of cattle. We would then turn left, where the sprawling Sandton City complex is located today and follow a dirt road to Rivonia.
I remember the left turn only because of the girl that used to stand on the opposite side of the road as we turned, she was a child of the sixties around nineteen in age, blond and with very long legs always wearing what was termed a micro-mini skirt. She was in all probability waiting for a lift to take her to work in the city. The older boys on the bus would rush to the side of the bus where they would lean out the windows and whistle or make wisecracks at her. We juniors were roughly pushed out the way if we happened to be sitting near one of the windows that they wanted, funny thing is she did not seem to mind the futile attentions of the adolescent boys, unlike today where I am sure there would have been complaints directed at the school for sexual harassment.
The actual journey was rather pleasant after that little show of infantile behaviour, with friends swapping math’s homework answers and general conversation of what was the latest number one hit on the radio, a sort of macho camaraderie. The school was one of the better institutions of education in the country and was privately run so the school was not obliged to follow the official Government curricula. The school itself was situated on large grounds and the buildings were of modern design, the teachers were the best that the school could afford. I should rather say the best that the parents could afford as the school fees were not by any stretch of the imagination affordable to the average salary earner.
Most of the students came from very wealthy backgrounds; there were a few whose parents really sacrificed to give their children the best education available. Unfortunately money neither buys class, nor genteel breeding. There were a few boys in the school that were from some of the biggest names in Johannesburg’s social register and it was from this group that the bullies in the school seemed to evolve for some unknown reason. Here were children that had everything, their futures secured, smothered in money and given everything that their “little” hearts desired, bulling younger kids and extorting the small amounts of money that they had been given to buy a few sweets from the school tuck-shop.
There was one, who specialised in the standard one boys, it was almost as if the bullies had negotiated their own areas of influence. This particular gentleman, for lack of a better word, used to wait at the bottom of the path that we walked down after the bus dropped us off and demand the tuck money from the Standard One boys. It still amazes me the way we would line up and hand him whatever money we had. Some who were given more than the average would hide half and give him the remainder, but if he suspected that you were doing this he would beat the offender until the victim coughed up the hidden loot.
He was only about four years older than us, and as there were more of us than just a bully of note, it would be thought that we would organise into a cohesive group and put a stop to the extortion. As even five of us against him would have stopped it, but as lambs to the slaughter we just paid for the privilege of not being beaten to a pulp.
Lots of Hugs and more,