AFRICA reprise The Western Cape, Grahamstown – 12th Oct 2018 – Day 29

It rained heavily; the forecast was for more but clear tomorrow. I would walk in the rain but Ailine and David were not keen, instead opting to drive to Grahamstown to free up tomorrow. I agreed as it was only 170km according to David. Once on the road I saw that was to PE with a further 130 to Grahamstown. We were committed by then and it made sense in a way.

The only interest in this rural farming area are the amazing lush green paddocks.

Grahamstown is of interest to me for several reasons. It’s one of the first towns settled by UK immigrants in 1810, before the main party in 1820, my father’s forebears. A monument and Art Centre was built in 1964/68 overlooking the city to commemorate the event. My 1st year University was here at Rhodes, our 1st year of marriage, and the birth of Karen. We visited all the places that held significance for me.

The Settlers in the UK were encouraged to emigrate  with fables about the wonderful pastures and climate but found Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) uninviting. A sand, mud and rocky place on the edge of a wild windy almost treeless bay. The land was infertile, and hard. Only the Coega river ameliorated the tough life ahead. People had brought inappropriate flat packed timber homes and furnishings like pianos. And while the native Xhosa were initially friendly, battles broke out over cattle and grazing rights leading later to frontier wars. Nature in the form of elephants, leopards, baboons and other wildlife were also a problem.

First stop was the Settlers building overlooking the city. On my visit in 1987 we bought prints of paintings by those people, so I expected more than we found. The building is more an arts centre and theatre; Settler information was nowhere to be seen. We were guided through it for 15 minutes by the informative reception guy.

I attended Rhodes in 1965, travelling from the mine in Mashaba in Rhodesia with Phil from Gatooma who studying for ministry. We had a stopover in Jo’burg with my sister to break the long two day journey (2000km). I have no idea how I found Phil, nor where I stayed the first few nights in Grahamstown. I registered for Geology with the other hundreds of students in the intimidating main entry hall through the arch off High Street. Queues formed in front of labelled tables for the various faculties; ‘Arts’ ‘Science etc. My turn came: ’‘What are you registering for?” “Geology Sir”  “So you will also do Chemistry, Physics, and Maths – Next!’

I searched the notice boards and Town Hall for a room and eventually found a dark front room in a small Railway house at the opposite end of the High Street from the Uni (no longer there). The couple were good to me; one Saturday we drove down to Kowie (Port Alfred). On my 15 minute walk to lectures I noticed an Indian guy just a block away also going so we would chat on the way. It was unusual for an Indian to attend a European Uni and I thought the apartheid very wrong.

Hilary came down about two months later, but the accommodation was clearly unsuitable. By this time I was in need of a haircut and persuaded Hilary to do it, but a blunt scissors is not sufficient; the result was embarrassing. On Monday I crept up High Street to a barber near the Cathedral who had to do a very short cut.

I enquired again about a room and discovered Vicky’s advert on a Uni board. A junior lecturer, she and a tall pom had bought an old 5-bed house at 20 Francis Street and were letting 3 rooms. Two were already taken so we were left with the large extension room on the left side. It was probably a dining or living room and we loved it. A yellow timber floor, high ceiling, a door off the front veranda, and tall sash windows on all three external walls. In contrast to the current dark room, this was filled with light. Rent was more than for the other rooms and we had to furnish it. A bed of course and colourful curtains, which Hilary made using a borrowed machine. All six of us shared the kitchen and bathroom. The railway passed about 3m behind but we became used to it. We saw the house on a visit  in 1988 and it was still a student home, but today it looks like a family home with a playground and garage.

Vicky was a very nice woman, about 30. The other front room was occupied by the tall pom. His fees were paid by the Zambian government as he was a policeman. He even had all his gear including a rifle. Another we called the mad bomber as he was very left, studying Arts of course. The last was a studious quiet woman from Wellington near Cape Town. Across the road in a small house on the edge of a school playing field lived a single woman with kids. She had a few chooks and a rooster. Towards the end of year exams, the pom found the crowing too much so one afternoon he shot at the bird, watched by us from our door. He missed and we hastily hid in our rooms. A few minutes later we heard a knock on the door. Our pom played the innocent ‘A shot! At your rooster! No I’ve been studying. Didnt hear a thing’. We could hardly contain ourselves. The pom moved to temporary rooms at the uni.

Daughter Karen’s home-coming could have been a disaster; instead it was welcomed by all. Vicky took many photos, the mad bomber babysat, the pom took a mild interest, and the student helped as she found time. It was a difficult year but memorable. I am grateful to those four and wish we could catch up.

We returned to Rhodesia with Phil in his little mini. He rigged a rope under the boot lid tied to holes in the roof gutters as support for several cases including a steel trunk stacked on it to window height!  Hilary and I could hardly move we were so tightly packed. And Karen slept most of the time in her carrycot on top of packs next to Hilary on the back seat. It was the day of Ian Smith’s Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia  – but that’s another story. I walked alone into the great intimidating hall, then through the arch, down the main street past the cathedral and Town Hall, ending at a building in which we considered renting before 20 Francis. The room is upstairs, a roughly enclosed veranda, draughty and not weather tight. It was disappointing to see how dirty and run-down so much is.

One thought on “AFRICA reprise The Western Cape, Grahamstown – 12th Oct 2018 – Day 29

  • October 14, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    oh wow so awesome that you got there are got to see all those places. how amazing! it’s a shame to lose contact with people. pity there was no face book in those days, otherwise you would have been able to keep in contact with them. It’s so nice to have all those memories.


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