Teeth and travel

At the beginning of October I developed a toothache. It persisted and got steadily worse. The dentist saw me immediately, for which I am very grateful, x-rayed the teeth, identified two abscesses, and gave me two antibiotics. One was anti-alcohol which meant I had a dry two weeks. The following week I was scheduled to fly to Johannesburg and drive to Eswatini (Swaziland). On the Monday there was a lump in my gum, and it was still very painful. I had an emergency appointment, the abscess was lanced, and the relief was immediate!

I am aware that there is a crisis in the UK regarding access to National Health Service Dentists, and so feel incredibly fortunate to have had this dealt with so promptly! The dentist in Norwich warned I would have to have root canal treatment. I visited my dentist in Durban who confirmed the diagnosis but said two teeth would have to be extracted, and I would need root canal treatment and implants. This will be done here, where, as a pensioner, I have a generous medical aid scheme.

My travelling had been in some doubt, but I was able to get on the 6am plane from Norwich to Amsterdam and connect to Joburg. The plane was packed; however, I had a huge stroke of luck, the person next to me on take off was the father of one of the flight crew. After we were in the air he disappeared so there was an empty seat the whole way! These things make a difference.

Unusually I binge watched films. Elvis is basically the story of Elvis Presley, his manager Colonel Parker and their destructive and difficult relationship. Once I had invested an hour in it, I had to keep on watching, albeit slightly resentfully. It is not a film I recommend, and it was disappointingly short on music. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is basically Nicholas Cage playing himself, but there were a few interesting twists in the plot. The best of the bunch was The Outfit. It is a complicated plot involving a British tailor operating an establishment in Chicago in the 1950s, and laundering mob money. I won’t say any more about the story as it is worth seeing, but note the entire film is shot in the tailor’s shop (apart from a couple of frames showing people walking in snow).

After staying over at an airport hotel in Johannesburg, I collected a car for the drive to Mbabane. Yet again I was pulled over by the traffic cops: 100 kph in an 80 kph zone. The officer informed me the fine was R750, I went and looked at the camera and said, ‘fair cop’, and I would do the electronic transfer when I had internet access. He walked me back to the car and we chatted. In the end he said he had not filled my personal details in the form, and I could go. Was he expecting a bribe? I honestly don’t know, but all he got was a warm handshake, and a promise that I would donate R500 to a charity of his choice, he said, it should be ‘children’.

The main reason for the trip was to attend the wedding of Nathi Dlamini and Joanna Patouris. I first met Nathi in Waterloo in 2014. I asked the Waterford alumni organisation to give me the names of anyone in the area. He was doing a degree at the University of Waterloo. Joanna was also at Waterford, indeed that is where they met and became a couple back in 2003. She went to a university in the US on a Shelby Davis Scholarship. Over my time in Waterloo, I got to know Nathi and, through him, Joanne. It was great, despite the difference in age, to connect with people from Swaziland and Waterford. I was flattered and honoured to be invited to the wedding.

I was able to catch up with the National Emergency Response to HIV and AIDS (NERCHA) team in Mbabane and visit Waterford for lunch on Friday. On the Saturday I had lunch with Derek von Wissell, the original head of NERCHA and someone who was very influential in my career. I first met him in the mid-1980s when I was researching industrial incentives in Southern Africa, and he was the Minister of Commerce. I pointed out to him that Swaziland could not compete with the incentives being offered in Botswana. He dismissively said, “Why would anyone want to go there, it is just one long dusty street”. This I have long remembered as a momentous comment. He went on to serve briefly as the Minister of Finance, and then for many years as the Minister of Health. He was in post through the worst of the AIDS pandemic.

Photo of a statue at House on Fire, Malkerns Eswatini

House on Fire, Malkerns Eswatini

The main event was, of course, the wedding. It was held in the lush, green gardens of House on Fire in Malkerns. The venue is absolutely stunning, and I would urge readers to visit the website. It includes a restaurant, craft shops, music venues and an events tent. I have included one photograph of part of the building, but it does not show the magnificent location or the pineapple fields! There is a Waterford connection there as well, the owner is an alum and his mother, Jenny Thorn, taught at the school in the early years. I well remember how she dealt compassionately with me during a severe attack of homesickness. My initial time at the school was marred by the fact I had a hookworm infestation in my intestines. I remember the crippling pain, which was initially thought to be psychosomatic because of my first boarding school experiences.

The ceremony was conducted by a Padre of the Greek Orthodox Church in a clearing in the garden. There were rows of chairs for the guests. When I sat down, I discovered that the ground was so soft the legs of the chair sank a good four inches into the ground. I note that this is another reason for losing weight, so as not to disappear in these settings. The wedding invitation included a very thoughtful description of the ceremony. I have lifted part of this. In the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church there are two services – the Engagement Service and the Service of Crowning. Most of the rituals: blessing the rings and passing them back and forth; and crowning the couple were done three times. It was like nothing I have ever seen before, and it was a pleasure to be there. Thanks to the antibiotic I was unable to drink any alcohol and so I think I was more aware than I might have been.

Photo of a Male Weaver Bird building a nest

Male Weaver Bird

On the trip and here in Durban I became aware of the weaver birds furiously building their nests. The first place was the Ngwenya border post. I took a picture of a male (nest building bird and a nest) off the web and include it. They live in colonies, so if one is not made aware of the birds by their frenetic activity and noise, the white stains on the ground or pavement are a giveaway. My relationship with the birdlife around the flat is more complex, I am on the third floor and so am level with the trees. The first bird calls are at 3.30 and they really get going at 4.30. I don’t appreciate this.

It has been a month since I last posted to my website. I will be in Durban for at least a month and then will travel to Cape Town from where I will fly back to Norwich for Christmas. I must renew my South African passport and won’t be able to travel until this is done. It is a slow process! I suppose one of the main goals of this trip is to think about what to do next. The three certain consequences of retirement are: there is no longer a salary or wage coming in every month; one loses status; and there is so much more time. I think I am more fortunate than most: our resources are sufficient; I keep the Professor Emeritus title; and I do have things I want to do. The last is the most difficult as one has to set one’s own deadlines.

Well, that must be it for the October blog. I really appreciate the 400+ people who subscribe and get notifications from us. I am always open to feedback, either through my website or an email to me awhiteside1956@gmail.com

Have a good spring or autumn wherever you are.

Waterford Kamhlaba: 50 Years of Outstanding Education

3 February 2013 marked 50 years since Waterford Kamhlaba United World College opened its doors in Swaziland for the first time. As a past student and present governor this is going to be a busy and significant year. We are planning to mark the anniversary in a number of ways over the next 10 months. One of the key targets will be to ensure that we have enough money for the school to continue for the next 50 years. A central value is to provide scholarships to deserving students. Currently about 30% of the children are recipients of such support. The link to the school website is in this posting and I do hope people will take a minute to visit it.


Waterford School, 2 February 2013, alumni from the 1960s and 1970s


Waterford School, 2 February 2013, Ian Khama at the podium

The first Waterford event, on the weekend of 2 and 3 February was so much fun. I flew into Swaziland on the Thursday evening and spent the morning with my friends at The National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) in Mbabane, and the afternoon at the school. The next morning events were scheduled from 11am to 2pm. I drove up early to avoid security. It was reported that there would be 80 Swazi security personnel, I am not certain if this was true. There was a Royal Swazi police van in the parking area with “Bomb Disposal Unit” written on the side, and lots of uniformed men with automatic guns wandering about. The security is part and parcel of having the president of a country coming to visit, even if he is an old boy. The president is Ian Khama who was two or three years ahead of me at school.


An example of how not to write: Form 1 poem

I gave one of our founding trustees, Martin Kenyon, a ride from the hotel. We then hung around until just before 11am when we were asked to go into the hall. Past copies of our school magazine were on display in the community service room. Flicking through them I discovered a poem I had written at about age 12. It confirms that my ability to write poetry, draw, or indeed to engage in any artistic pursuits is limited by a lack of talent. Judge for yourself !

Ian Khama was taught by our guest of honour Tony Hatton, one of the teachers responsible for establishing Waterford. His book Phoenix Rising: A Memoir of Waterford Kamhlaba’s Early Years had been published just in time for the event. This is reviewed at the end of this blog.

There were lots of people wearing smart uniforms with stars, medals and gold braid. Also present was the Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland Themba Masuku whom I have known for many years. He started his career in the Ministry of Agriculture, held various ministerial posts and worked for the FAO.

It was a fantastic day. Ian Khama gave a brilliant tribute to Waterford and Tony. He began by talking to the students. He asked them if they had to go to church. Did they have to go to the classrooms and write the weekly letter to their parents on a Sunday? Were they allowed to enter the hall though all the doors? Did they have divinity lessons? A chorus of ‘no’ from the students present (except for service we all have to do it – but in our day it was physical labour – today it is community service). His masterstroke was to ask: did they have to wear uniforms? The answer was no!

He said, “Well we did, and I am wearing my tie – which is the original Waterford tie. We also had to wear blazers, and I still have mine, let me see if it fits.”

A uniformed man came from behind him carrying a jacket holder. He took out a Waterford blazer and then taking off his jacket put it on. It was a really wonderful moment and you can see bits of it on Facebook.

There will be a weekend of celebration at the end of April when the school is hosting a symposium. The guest of honor will be Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This will be followed by a series of reunions for alumni. Those who attended in the 1960s and 1970s will have the opportunity to return to the school and sleep in their old dormitories on the weekend of 9-11 August.

I have a real sense of incredible good fortune to have been educated at this school with the principles and values it inculcated in me. I was there because it was the local school, so many of my classmates battled to attend for financial and political reasons. I remember one having his passport refused by the apartheid officials in an act of pettiness that was so typical of the time. Indeed Tony Hatton was banned from traveling into South Africa for many years. This will seem like ancient history for the current cohort of students, but they too will certainly face numerous serious challenges. These will include employment, the environment, inequality and poverty, and new diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

As I travelled home I was taken aback by an event at the arrivals at O.R.Tambo airport. A young customs officer brought a teenage traveler to our queue, was about to put him in front of the ‘fever sensor’, a device that reads the temperature of the traveler from about two metres. He noticed me, and said, “Let the old man go first.”
“Eish”, I said, “who are you calling an old man.”
Indeed I have taken to avoiding the local spa in Durban on a Tuesday. It is the day they offer a 5% discount for pensioners, and I don’t like being asked if I qualify.

Back in Durban it has not been as hot as I would have expected in February. I have had to use my air-conditioning units on just three or four occasions. Although it must be said I am very glad I have them. There has been a great deal of rain and gray skies and I have not yet had the chance to get to the beach.

On Saturday I was invited to the Rumbelow Theatre in Umbilo. This is a working-class suburb and is where we first bought a house in Durban. The company uses a MOTH Hall. MOTH stands for the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats and was established after the First World War as an ex-serviceman’s club or community. The hall is extremely basic and has flags, maps and memorials on the wall. The show Suspects of Love consisted of four flamboyant men in drag miming to the words of love songs. It does not sound that promising but in fact was great fun. The Rumbelow has a great website.


Phoenix Rising A Memoir of Waterford Kamhlaba’s Early Years By Tony Hatton, Kamhlaba Publications, 195 pages ISBN 978-0-620-55588-3
I really enjoyed reading this book. Because we lived in Swaziland, I felt that I knew something about the history of the establishment of Waterford and its early years. I was there as a student from 1969 to 1974 so lived through that period. The book is one view of what went on and is a valuable record. It is more than that though: it is well written, humorous and thought-provoking. I had seen an early first draft of the manuscript many years ago and know a little bit of the back story of getting it published in record time. Well done to Tony for writing it, my colleagues Catherine and Gwythian for putting it together, getting it printed and published and down to Swaziland in time for the weekend. It can be ordered from the school website. For those who went to Waterford do buy it, for people who are interested in the history of the school and the region it is a good read.

Films (two from the 10 hour flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg in January)

Starbuck 2011

This French-Canadian film is the story of a man who is a sperm donor and fathers 533 children. He believes that he will be kept anonymous, but about 150 of them enter a class action to find out the identity of their father. The story centers on their attempts to find him while he seeks to retain his anonymity. At the same time, his girlfriend is pregnant with his child. An additional part of the plot is his relationship with his father and brothers who run a butchers shop. It is not a deep or meaningful film. It is light and enjoyable. The dialogue is in French with English subtitles. It is an example of the quality films coming out of Canada. The in-joke, which is beyond non-Canadians, is that Starbuck was a prize bull used to inseminate thousands of cows, something Canadians know.

Brave 2012(Pixar)

This computer-animated fantasy film is set in Scotland many centuries ago. The daughter of the King, Merida defies the age-old custom of marrying the son of a local chief and causes chaos. She heads into the forest and consults a witch for help. The result is her mother is turned into a bear and the story is about her putting this right. The voices I recognised were Julie Walters, Billy Connolly and Robbie Coltrane. It was good fun and technically brilliant. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film and BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film.