Archive for the ‘Plumtree’ Category

The Beit Hall plays host to The Plumtree Players production of ‘See How They Run’

Mum, dad (married off and on stage) and Aileen Robinson. Set put together by Bill Baker.

Plumtree School’s Beit Hall

Taken in October 2008 when my parents passed through Plumtree for the last time and left Zimbabwe.
Taken in October 2008 when my parents passed through Plumtree for the last time and left Zimbabwe.

Among the many casualties of the covid-19 pandemic has been the Beit Hall at Plumtree School in Zimbabwe. It was set ablaze as a protest by disgruntled returnees from Botswana who were unwillingly quarantined there with minimal amenities.

The Beit Hall is central to activities at the school. In the pre-1980 era, stern pictures of Rhodes and Beit exhorted schoolboys to continue their work in Southern Rhodesia and post-UDI Rhodesia. Headmasters also cast beady eyes on and exhortatory pearls to generations of teenage boys. It was also where we wrote major exams.

For me, the Beit Hall mainly meant musicals and plays, most of which involved my parents. From early childhood to early parenthood I watched them produce and participate in Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway and West End musicals, Whitehall farces and the staples of amdram drama such as Rope and The Black Sheep of the Family. I joined as a member of the girls chorus and then as second pianist/electric organist from the age of 11, and even after leaving school contributing a song to Salad Days.

To celebrate what the Beit Hall stage rather than the walls and lectern contributed to life in colonial and post-colonial Plumtree, I will post some pictures of high school musicals and productions of The Plumtree Players. Perhaps someone you know and/or love will appear. Celebrate them and the Beit Hall of fame!

Harold Westwood RIP

My father died on October 5th 2016.

Here is the Eulogy I gave at the funeral.

It is, of course, a privilege to be able to deliver a eulogy on my father, Harold Hughie Westwood Esq – I thought that the word ‘eulogy’ was derived from two Greek words, ‘good’ and ‘word’. But as my father would have told me and my daughter did tell me, the ‘eu’ is a prefix rather than a word. So a eulogy. Not a panegyric (another Greek-derived word) because, wonderful as he was, dad was not perfect and, for the sake of old boys of Plumtree school (known as Old Prunitians or OPs), I must not hold back from pointing out just a few imperfections, as he freely would point out theirs. As Roy Jones, ex-pupil and former colleague, has perceptively pointed out, dad was ‘one-of-a-kind’. Yet I wonder if this son of the English Midlands (or the Black Country as he delighted to call it when living in central Africa), if this Oxford graduate in the Greats ( Latin and Ancient Greek) would have developed this unique set of characteristics if Felix had not dragged him from his native soil and planted at him in the tropical sun she sought, on the edge of the Kalahari Desert – the little town of Plumtree

As I think back to dad’s intellect and cleverness, his ability to absorb facts like a sponge and marshal them into squadrons, I can imagine him as an Oxford don with students around him being challenged, affronted and delighted. What he got under the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean sun forced a different response from him, but it was no less challenging, affronting and (from the many comments from OPs over the years and in the days since he died) delightful to the teenage sons of the central African soil among whom he was transplanted.

This brings me to important aspect of HHW’s nature – a lack of ambition. A quiverful of curiosity, but no driving sense of impetus or direction. Do what you do well, yes, – ambition with a small ‘a’ certainly – but the aim is not to get ahead. Hence the 39 years given to where he landed in 1958, what he found there. Bravo, I say! Turn ambition on its head and we have enviable capacity for contentment.

Of course there is another factor in this ‘one-of-a-kind’ equation and that is Felix. With mum behind him and next to him with her energy, her restless energy, his remarkable gifts – verbal, intellectual, creative, imaginative, – saw expression in the Plumtree milieu – plays at school and with the Plumtree Players, play readings, writing playlets and sketches, articles, clever words; producing dozens of musicals turning boys into maidens, ruffians into love-lorn heroes; and the church, the school as a whole, our home that welcomed everybody – so much was done, given – achieved even, but dad would never have accounted these achievements in a notching up kind of way. That wasn’t his style. Ask him to teach French, History to help out – of course and with aplomb. He even coached waterpolo for a term though he’d never learnt to swim!

Harold and Felix, Felix and Harold – yes!, Remarkable, God-given. Immensely appreciated by so many.

Now I’d like to close the doors and bring your Harold and Felix into the home; father, mother, 4 children. Hush the busyness of school life – the bells, the choir practices, house duties, the societies – out please, it’s just us now. Family time.

Dad is reading Robin Hood to Peter for the Nth time, changing the words to side-splitting effect. An audibly vigorous and typical riff-like pat of Honey, the labrador. Oh, but now it is time for the news on the BBC World Service. Oh no, they’ve got their facts wrong again! Dad rubs his hands together, the manual equivalent of grinding his teeth. There will be a letter to the BBC in consequence. Maybe they’ll read it out on air. Once they phoned dad for his viewpoint. Now dad has made a wonderfully fluffy cheese omelette. Come suppertime there will not be a scrap left on his plate, a wartime habit. Dad enjoyed his food to the days before he died.

Now dad has gone into the garden. He is standing next to his dahlias, as tall and upright as he is. Now the mielies – his ‘corn is as high as an elephant’s eye’, as Matthew Silcock was trained to sing in 1968. Next it is to tend his prolific veggies, and inspect his beloved compost. Contentment again, no hurry, no rush. Now there’s a broken teapot lid to be glued – delight indeed. Next a chair needs repair. Etc etc, to quote Henry Olonga in The King and I.

Shift the focus a bit and Harold’s 4 children are married: he has acquired 4 outlaws, two of whom (fittingly) are OPs. Now, to misquote the Pirates of Penzance, comes a train of little laddies – seven grandsons and three granddaughters. I think dad was a little more comfortable with these young people once they were verbal and able to have conversations than when they were at their vigorous noisy preschool age. A particular delight to him came last year when Sarah and Ursula won scholarships that allowed them to follow him to Oxford University, 70 years on. And then this year in pops the tiny Quinn, Alex’s grandchild. Dementia could not dull dad’s connection with this little bundle.

But dementia performed the Benjamin Button act on dad – as it progressed his life connections (apart from direct family) moved backwards. In the difficult final months, Cape Town disappeared, Bulawayo faded, Plumtree’s details grew dim. We find ourselves before Oxford in his last weeks, dad riding his bicycle around central England as in his youth – an explanation for the 89 years achieved by largely sedentary adult, perhaps – and at the end he asked Peter when his father (an undertaken by the way) – when his father was coming. Well, dad, I believe you’re now with your two fathers who art in heaven. Happy thought.

As I draw to a close, some apologies & some thanks.

To all the blithering idiots, morons and cretins who seemed to pepper Plumtree school in dad’s time, my apologies. I remonstrated with him after I encountered a flesh and blood cretin at medical school. To those who sometimes couldn’t get a word in edgeways, I sympathise. He met his match in Joan Suttle! To those whose anecdotes I could not include, apologies, but there will be time enough for those many stories from many people.

Our thanks to many, many people, friends, colleagues, pupils. What a rich life you gave to dad. To Rosedale, who gave Felix and Harold a new community after the dislocation of Zimbabwean refugee-hood. To Ward and Sheila Jones who took them in at the start of that traumatic time. To St Thomas’s Church – another home from home provided. Dr Charlie Miller, consummate family practice and personal care – thank you so much. To the staff at Doordrift Lodge – you knew dad in the most difficult two months of his life. Your professionalism and warm care despite his anger and intolerance is so very much appreciated by the family. Special thanks to the old Prunitians who stayed in contact and supported dad and mum over many years, and have said and written such wonderful things about dad in his last days. To Peter and Caroline and what you have done for dad and mum since illness separated them, and long before: you have demonstrated all the fruits of the Spirit, most especially patience and love. Thank you from all of us. To mum – you were the pole star in dad’s life. He could never have been who he was to all of us without you. 61 years of marriage and the time before that is evidence of an exceptional relationship, not always peaceful – you had to harry Harry at times, didn’t you? – but always deeply committed and generous.

The last words, good words, I give to dad:

My favourites among his many rhymes: new words for ‘Rapture, rapture’ from The Yeomen of the Guard for George Meakin and Johnny Silcock to sing to a delighted Beit Hall: ‘Georgie Porgy quite uncivilly kissed the girls and made them snivelly’. Written in the guestbook of my aunt and uncle, Ursula and Frank Allen, who lived in a hamlet in Scotland called Machrihanish: other spots like acne vanish when you’ve been to Machrihanish.

And to be fair to dad’s character as known to many of us, I read in toto (Latin ablative case, but also his nickname from me for a while, forgotten till I came to write this) – I read in toto one of the letters that made him famous (or infamous) in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, and lately in Cape Town. The Bulawayo Chronicle eventually refused to publish HHW so he used pseudonyms (another word derived from ancient Greek) but the style was always recognisable. Behold the man:

Your correspondent asserts that the name Africa isn’t African. The Afri lived in what is now Tunisia and the land was called Africa by the Romans, a name which spread as their knowledge of North African spread, as Libya might have if Alexander the Great had lived. Knowledge of the continent halted at the Sahara for centuries. So Asia was a small kingdom in what is now Turkey (Asia Minor), bequeathed to Rome by its ruler Attilus in 133 BC. Africa only existed when the Cape was circumnavigated by Diaz. It was a close thing; the Arabs coming the other way might have called it Kaffiristan, the land of the unbelievers. The Portuguese and Dutch got the word from them.

Continents are oddly named. Europe is named after a Middle Eastern woman who fled west to escape rape. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian mapmaker, his name being latinised. Australasia was named the land of the south wind from Auster, the Mediterranean breeze. Antarctica faces the great North Bear. Open bracket – in Greek, arctos – close bracket, full stop.

Harold Westwood

Rhodes and me

This is talk I gave to the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Cape Town last year as part of a series in which we grapple with issues of transformation in South Africa, in the university and in our department.

Now it’s typical, isn’t it? You have hardly started a transformation process to deal with the current consequences and sequelae of past injustices predicated on race and in muscles a white male, whose voice he feels, must be heard. Given half a chance he will probably use his assumed centuries of privilege to start telling you what to do.

How this came about – the justification, if required – is either offensive to all or a reasonable part of the process that is within the aims of our departmental initiative. I perceived that, as with South African society in general, a certain amount of the response to the initiation of the Transformation process had gone off screen. A sense of threat and hurt was being expressed by some of those the process has identified as beneficiaries of that past injustice. So as a previously and currently advantaged white male, I asked the Transformation Committee if I could join the Voices programme. An additional motivation was that I had been having a personal eye-to-eye with Cecil John Rhodes and his legacy, and the long legacy he now represents for a couple of years before the shit hit the statue. I had been turning “all Rhodes lead to“ into a musical as part of that engagement with what that means for me. So here we are….Speaking for myself, and no-one else.

Power & privilege – shorthand and proxy for Race in this context. I plan to face that squarely while acknowledging (as we as a Department have agreed) that it cannot be the only item of the Transformation agenda. Race itself is a proxy for so many aspects of Power & Privilege that I will acknowledge its value as shorthand in this talk, and hope that others will understand this reasoning, uncomfortable though it be.

Power & Privilege – Not so far from Pride and Prejudice.

This talk could be ‘Power and privilege, but….’ – an attempted justification for who and where I am.

Or, ‘Power and privilege, how you see me’ – but then there is no point in me being the Voice.

Approaching this task/opportunity/responsibility, I decided the following:

It will be ‘Power & Privilege, so……’. I will describe my P&P – probably revealing my Pride & Prejudices on the way – and explore the implications.

I have made the following additional decisions in approaching this task:

My past has bequeathed me the power of a very large vocabulary and a word-smithing gift in a language that has a massive hegemonic impact. Rhodes recognised this as one basis for his broad planet-annexing vision for England. The dangers of manipulating with, confusing with, hiding behind such facility I saw as real; the danger of falsity, of not being myself if I changed language persona to a group of colleagues I also recognised. So I decided to be who I am while staying aware of the dangers; language is powerful and it can shut people down or out.

The irony in my first paragraph today will not recur. Ironic humour is a standard means of messaging in my culture, but its capacity to be mis-directed and misunderstood is so great that I have not allowed it breath.

The other decision was to pronounce the word British as Breeteesh. This is Robert Mugabe’s pronunciation of the word. I use it here not to ridicule him (he’s arguably also one of Rhodes’s legatees), but to give voice to the troubled context of my charmed journey in life. The parallel voice in today’s Voices input.

In this talk, Rhodes is sometimes a shorthand for British imperialism or white supremacy. Context should tell you when I’m referring to the man.

I also need to express an anticipatory apology for unintended hurt, heavy-footedness, and offence that I may cause. Transformation talk takes us into awkward territory; often unspoken but deeply felt shoals lurk in the waters. Words spark fires, as St James tells us; the Bee Gees bleated that ‘it’s only words’. Oh, no it is not!

Generally my writing tone tends to lightness; please do not mistake that for lack of application or seriousness. So here we go: Westwood through Rhodes-tinted spectacles.

Ulodzi! – That’s the working name of the musical – was going to end with Cecil John Rhodes dying under a hot tin roof in his hut in Muizenburg, Dr Jameson at his side. We hear the arrhythmic beating of his failing heart. In comes a young Sol Plaatje – he who chronicled the devastation wrought to indigenous African peoples by the 1913 Land Act. He starts to dance around the deathbed. Gradually in the band the rhythm of Cecil John Rhodes’ irregular Sino-atrial node is taken over by the young beating rhythms of Africa. Sol spins. Sol stamps. Sol shouts. The drumming rhythms rise, Rhodes dies, the roof opens up to high blue African skies. Africa’s rhythm is now the only rhythm. It spreads from the south-western tip of the continent. Rhodes has died! Africa lives! Long live Africa.

But it doesn’t, couldn’t end like that, or not yet. Here’s a hypothesis: I am living proof of that.

I am not going to try to disprove or prove that hypothesis today. I’m going to explore the questions that the British Rhodes and Boralong Sol Plaatje are asking me.

I’m nearly 60. Career-wise, a late phase. A senior paediatrician, nationally, provincially, academically. An inevitable look back: a view sharpened and refined, re-calibrated by the Transformation imperative. The retrospection will be followed by a current situation analysis, then a look forward.

Marc has read you my potted biography. I will plot the “favouring gale” that has “wafted” me “to a height that few can scale”, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan’s Lord High Executioner. Yes, I have flapped my wings but all the time under those wings were warm breezes, most but not all breathed by British imperialism and Rhodes.

My maternal grandfather’s Indian Army background, through Imperial contacts, facilitated my parents leaving British mainland (as Rhodes had intended people like them to do) to join colonial society in central Africa. The thing sought by my parents was sunshine and Central Africa, bought and fought for by Rhodes, had that. Inevitably my parents got so much more. Part of the design. Tony was the next generation of colonial society; colonial formal education (with pictures of the Founder in the Alfred Beit-endowed school hall) gave him the edge. It did by a good margin. He got one of the places reserved for Rhodesians (white Rhodesians) at UCT Medical School; apartheid South Africa opened its arms to its presumptive ally – me.

Dr Tony returns to Bulawayo in 1980 as an intern just as Zimbabwe was born. Down with the British; replace with the Zimbabwe flag. Rhodes’ statue in Main Street moves to the museum. But Rhodes is still there for me. I want to be a paediatrician; my wife is from Cape Town (she is classified white). It is so easy for me to come to better myself. We don’t see UDF marches and witdoeke as an impediment; the chances are that I will be safe. Anyway, I am only coming for higher training. Then we will return.

Some wonderfully generous zephyrs within the Department of Paediatrics UCT give me great learning opportunities, despite my colonial persona. Thank you.

Making economic decisions I see being made by young parents of all stripes even today, Jean and I put our children’s education ahead of our African contribution in Zimbabwe (good schools in southern suburbs, can’t afford the “good” ones in Bulawayo on an early 1990s Zimbabwe public doctors salary). I become an economic migrant.

Next thing Mr Rhodes turns up again. I’m offered a paediatrician post at this hospital. Recruitment: “Won’t you come to my office?” Interview: “Would you like this job?” Selection: “May I think about it, but yes please”.

If it is very important for me to say that I’m not biting the hand that fed me. In the decision some of us make, Mr Rhodes is much more present than we may think he is. My recognised merits are not all of my own making. Their expression has been facilitated by history. And that has continued to the present. Our children are beneficiaries of the continuing influence of this history.

Before I can assess the present, I have to go back again. I have had a parallel education that was certainly not typical 1960s/70s Rhodesian or colonial. Through the church we met and socialised with black Africans in our home, not a Rhodesian standard. We would never have been allowed to use the epithets others use so freely and intently to demean members of indigenous communities. Trevor Huddleston’s “Naught for your Comfort” was on my mother’s reading list for me. People tried to get my father to stand for Parliament in opposition Ian Smith’s Rhodesian front. But Doris Lessing-like radicalism was not to be found there. Nor here now.

Anglican connections when I was an undergraduate at UCT continued this attitudinal training. I demonstrated on Jammie steps – vaguely aware that Jameson had raided something at some time. (Sorry, irony crept in, but at least it was aimed at myself). In the late 1970s, my letters home were addressed to Zimbabwe. So I was ready in 1980, I thought, to be part of that country’s formal African life. Working in Zimbabwe under black consultants from there and from across Africa was formative, probably more subtly, re-formative. As was the first phase of white returnees and British doctors who were definitely not Breeteesh coming to a free Zimbabwe.

I’m going to telescope the last 20+ years in South Africa into the present. This is an acknowledgement of the limited change for many, many in South Africa and unfinished business that the Rhodes Must Fall movement is highlighting; and a tacit statement that I too may have been marking time in some important ways.

So, to now, the present. I’ve asked myself a few questions. Mr Rhodes and Mr Plaatje I’m hoping to silence. I stand alone.

Am I a racist? I cannot assume that I am not. Am I a sexist? I cannot assume that. I am an not. Elitist? Myopically class conscious? I know that my upbringing in colonial and Apartheid central and southern Africa have made me an agile classifier, and hard on the heels of that, unless I’m very careful, is a stratifier. In there are the seeds of prejudices if given any quarter. So I have little doubt that there would have been not a few actions, omissions, assumptions along the way that would demonstrate prejudicial discriminatory-isms. Pervasive? I trust not, but here’s a story within our department that may illustrate some of the things I need to think about. In synch with the overall theme, I call it ‘Ralph and me’. When I was a registrar here pre-1994, I used to see Ralph coming to Respiratory Clinic for his session. So friendly but his anger at Apartheid’s bitter consequences was palpable to me. Later I went on outreach to Worcester where he was the sole paediatrician. So welcoming. Later still I was part of the interview panel for the post he took up under me in Ambulatory Paediatrics. My partner and colleague. After I left Red Cross and he stepped into the senior role, there was one issue regarding service provision that we found that we did not agree on. When I look back with Rhodes-tinted spectacles, I see two things: I may well have behaved like a supremacist, not giving quarter just because I’d been around longer and felt a right to my wisdom and authority. I also know for a fact that I did not engage at the right level because I was not certain that the things that Rhodes has given me would not poison the atmosphere. What right had I, who the system had favoured, to confront someone who had had a harder journey to where he was? What would happen to us if I did push through? I let things drift. I do not know what Ralph felt about our differences on that issue (and we only crossed swords on that one), but I cannot impute to him anything I have found in myself.

Second question. Am I an African? Some may see it as an H word, hubris. How can I a white person from Breetain answer that question? Others would see it as a long-since answered question that it is foolish to bring up. I consider that I can and must answer that question (with its resonances and sub-questions) myself if I am to be a prepared and thoughtful part of our shared re-designed future. But I have – with the opposite H word, humility – to put myself through a number of tests, and I believe that I am. Perhaps a superficial example. Can I love the music of Gustav Mahler (who probably never gave the needs of Africa a thought while the king of the Belgian was raping the Congo Free State) while not being able to name a Kwaito star and call myself an African? It depends how that love for Mahler is expressed. To adapt St Paul: if I give all my money to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra but have not Africa in my heart, I am but a sounding gong and clashing cymbal. In other less poetic words, being an African in Africa is about a deep commitment to the people and continent, I believe. “Je suis Africain” I stated to a group of French MPs who visited Somerset Hospital under the auspices of Kidzpositive. I had restitution by a colonial power in mind. Was I a hubristic poseur? A self-deluding Romantic? Do I, like Shakespeare’s Portia, “protest too much”? Can the same words come out of Africanist Thabo Mbeki’s mouth and mine? I believe so.

“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of Words!” sang Eliza Doolittle. “Show me!” And that’s where I move from present to future. In looking forward I must not assume that because, in the new South Africa, I work for and with largely poor and needy children in the public sector as a white South African that this cancels out or assuages the consequences of my privileged past. If I think that, I am undertaking an accounting exercise. My medical, academic and policy-related work is or can be part of the post Rhodes and Race R-words – restitution, reparation, redemption of the past (Michael Lapsley’s phrase), redress, re-distribution. But those R words must walk the corridors with me; they must go home with me; they must pervade my choices (he who has been bequeathed choices in almost every sphere of his life). Choices in what I do with ‘my’ time, ‘my’ money must also be guided to a significant extent by those R words. Most of those “my’s” have been bought with a price. White guilt? White reality. White liberation, I would say. Our shared future demands these responses of me, work and play.

Here’s an example: I am both discouraged and angered that our government granted an unaffordable pay increase to civil servants. I further regret that the obvious re-distributive and restitutive step of giving smaller increases to people at the top (like me) has never been taken. What I can do is to take that tainted gain (and any other such gains, financial, skills and other – present and those stretching into my pre-history) and plough it and them personally into reparation and redress.

So I hope to be guided by some words in thinking this through and acting.

H words: Hubris – out. Humility – in. The other silent H word, honesty – with myself and with colleagues and friends and everyone!

R words. I won’t spell them out again, but they all begin with R and E, thanks to the way the English language works.

The academic in me is screaming at this point because I have not had time to construct a neat ending to this talk. But this is probably just as well.

R is for Raw. So let me leave a raw, ragged and bleeding end to my Rhodes and Me talk. It may be a fitting metaphor.

Thank you.

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