The garden shed next to the vegetable beds is full of the Agriculture Dept's donations: spades, forks, watering cans and a month ago, mnr. Krüger tells me, they came, not only bringing beetroot seedlings, but planting them too! Apparently someone from the Dept of Agriculture called them one day, asking whether they had a vegetable garden, and since then has, it seems, heaped resources on them.
“We [gardeners] don't have a lot to do,” Sipho tells me, “and you get bored. So I look for something to do and go the extra mile.” Does he consider himself green-fingered? Yes, he has always loved plants - he used to water a neighbour's garden after school, in Badplaas (Mpumalanga province, close to Swaziland; Sipho is umSwati) where he grew up. “Gardening doesn't cost money. It just costs energy.”
He is also receiving administrative training at the principal's office but, he continues, “I won't leave the garden just because I'm a clerk.” He has tried to interest the school's other gardeners in the vegetable garden, but they are quite prepared to leave it to him. Last year there were two boys in gr.7, the final primary school year, who helped him.
We walk around the school grounds, completely changed since my day when it had tall fragrant messy cypresses and large poplars and even larger bluegums, old red brick sheds with the mechanical equipment of the past 70 years, the marble-playing grooves of generations of children in the ground and rows of dense, gnarled shrubs. Large grounds with many hidden, untended spots. All the old school buildings have since been demolished and rebuilt. Now it is new and neat, lawned or paved, with too few shade trees. (The sports grounds have been vastly upgraded, I should mention, at large cost and effort.)
He shows me his new car, a white car with the name ‘mhlophekazi’ (‘white wife’) in silver letters on the rear. He comes to school three times a week during holidays to tend his garden. He freely enters the principal's office when he wants to talk to him. The principal is followed around by a silky black dachshundesque dog and he shows me the school's first visitor's book in soft calf leather, begun in 1907, and passed on by the school's principals. I see two teachers conduct a dialogue for the benefit of the children milling about before them: it seems the pupils have forgotten how to neatly queue up, doesn't it, Juffrou? The children coalesce into neat rows and the teacher's rejoinder gives me a jolt of happy recognition: “Nou dis mos hoe ek my graad sessies wil hê.”(“Now that's how I want my grade sixes.”) I know the teacher: he was a fresh-faced young man when I was there, almost 30 years ago, and here he is, still getting children to want to live up to his expectations.
A place where the best is brought out in people. And thank you to the lovely music teacher who shielded my telephoto lens from being trampled by many running little feet.