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The Schoolboy

Krugersdorp High School Insignia
Insignia Krugersdorp High School

The white page in my hand carried the words, promoted to STD V, that's all that mattered to me, even if all my marks were low.

The important thing was that I would not have to remain in the fourth class.

There could be no greater disgrace, in my mind, than failing and held back, repeating the same material with children younger than myself.

There was a guy, Deon Visser, who repeated form three, several times. 19 years old and there he was with our group of 15 year olds.

I would have died of shame, but he took it in his stride. The only person to find this unusual was me. "Why does this upset me while others display non-concern in the event of such an occurrence?"

Horn-rimmed spectacles, he gave the appearance of an old professor, staying behind, didn’t worry or make him feel disgraced. The old schoolboy merged with us as if redoing the grade was a normal condition.

Cadets, was the name for the weekly session of military drilling. All the boys dressed in uniform, like soldiers, Khaki shirt and short knee length trousers, glistening polished boots, white pieces of canvass, known as putties, wrapped around thick dark chocolate-coloured socks.

The veteran scholar wearing a shiny, leather strap, a Sam Brown, across his chest, indicating officer status, impressed me powerfully.

Promoted as a scholar soldier completely overshadowed his lack of promotion in the academic sphere.

The school cadet orchestra, marched smartly, with him in the lead. On route marches he shouted out the step, left, right, left, right, through the suburb where our educational institution was located. A quiet residential area of neat homes, built out of yellow face bricks. This wasn’t a building requirement, simply the colour brick that was sought after by everyone in this middle income neighborhood.

The senior didn't push his weight around. Teachers often left him in charge of pupils when they were away on an errand somewhere. The teacher’s right hand man, fixing things, whenever called upon. The old-timer was always there to help.

Residing in the hostel, popular, but never fussed over, he kept a modest profile. School was like an occupation for him. For all I know he might still be there, 80 years old. A permanent schoolboy.

What did he do to earn his keep? Useful to have around, he might have lived there for free. Certainly he didn't have rich parents. He must have married one of the teachers, because eventually he took over the job of housemaster of the student's residence.

Where was his ambition? His competitive spirit? We were all competing against each other. Who could get the highest marks, for example. This didn’t interest him. With grades of more than a simple pass, he could have moved forward to a higher standard. How did he manage to stay in one place is an unsolved mystery? 


Going to the following level was going up in the world for the average schoolboy. Not managing to meet the requirements for the next rung up the ladder, was a disgrace. So I thought, but that fellow took it in his stride and nobody deprecated him for not making the grade.

Not growing up, like me, surrounded by people forever critical about failing, gave him confidence and a feeling of security. In my family success and being first was the measure of a worthwhile individual. 


Every effort was made to keep silent about my failure in form IV, like a skeleton in the cupboard. The teachers and my parents knew, but no one else.

An institution called Damelin College, to my relief, had come into existence. This private educational establishment in Johannesburg, 60 miles from where I lived in Krugersdorp, crammed two years of schooling into one. Going there, the fact that I’d failed, wouldn't be noticed, and I wouldn’t be disgraced.

At the end of STD IX I would have my matriculation certificate and nobody would ever know that I was a numbskull.

I’d been given a second chance. Separated from my friends, Geoff, Kenny, Sheba and others. No more cycling with them, chatting and joking. Now it was up at 6, then running, panting and puffing up the hill to catch the train to Johannesburg, from Windsor Mine, half a mile away.

My route took me up Percy Stewart St. to the café on the corner of Luipaard St, then up Francis St, finally reaching the platform, out of breath.

Compensation for my efforts came in the form of Cathy, always in the garden of her parents’ home. My young heart beat faster as I caught a glimpse of her blond hair and slim, attractive figure. A friendly wave as I ran passed, put me in a happy mood and drove me to ambition to succeed.

She became a dancer and married a wealthy Englishman. They visited Krugersdorp, the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud got all the kids ogling.


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