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Main Building

The Main Building was completed in 1906


and is now a National Monument. This
building now houses the headmaster's
office, administrative office, the computer
room and offices of the Reunie, the Trusts
and Finances. In the 1950s there were
nine classrooms in constant use...

Main Building

Memories of Jaap Rousseau: Master Extraodinaire1

It is all so much neater and even more impressive than it was in January 1951.
Then there was no cultivated lawn in front of the main building. Instead there was a
gravel road and, about 20 metres from the Stabilis doorway, there was a row of
ragged pine trees aligned parallel with the main building. Consequently it was
difficult to stand back and view the building as a whole as one can do today. Even so
it was impressive. I would wager, however, that all those Old Greys, who are part of a
group of about seventeen, that constituted 7E1 and 8E1 in 1951 and ’52 respectively,
even to this day, when viewing the central building, will still find their eyes and
memories drawn to, and centred on, the small classroom at ground level beneath the
northern gable.
Why?
Because that was the room where Mr J.C. Rousseau held sway and exerted his
authority. ‘Jaap’ as he was referred to amongst the boys of the school was both Class
Master to 7E1 and our Latin Master for the duration of our time in Standards2 7 and 8.
Whereas Mr Eddie East would teach us Latin in Standard 9 and in the matriculation
year, our contact with Jaap Rousseau would continue in our final two years when he
was our Afrikaans Master.
We, the English-medium boys who had selected Latin rather than German for our
first two years in the high-school, and mathematics over geography for the last two
senior years, for all intents and purposes had a class with Jaap every single day of our
secondary schooling.
I remember very clearly the first day I entered Jaap’s classroom and the first time
we saw him enter and address us. The classroom had a tiered floor with the high tiers
reaching the two windows that looked out onto the gravel road in front of the
building. The right-hand side of the classroom, as one sat facing the blackened
plaster-of-Paris chalkboard, had three windows, and on the left-hand side was a blank
wall. To the left of the chalkboard we could see a regular-sized door to a small walk-
in cupboard. The door was slightly ajar and its surface was festooned with sheets of

1
All the teachers, except for the occasional female, were referred to as Masters and identified by the
subject they taught, thus the Latin Master, Science Master, Maths Master and so on.
2
Now the designation would be Grades 9 and 10.

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foolscap paper pinned to it with large drawing-pins. Some of the sheets had cartoon-
like drawings on them and each, regardless of the nature of the drawings, bore the
words “Die Wieg”.3 Their significance would only be fully understood in 1953 when
Jaap would be our Afrikaans Master. There was also a bold caricature pinned to the
door. It was composed of a smallish trunk and a large head of a person wearing
spectacles and with a distinctive ‘Adam’s apple’ on the throat. The caricature was also
wearing a real Grey College tie with its distinctive blue, orangey-gold, and silver
stripes. The one-word caption was “Patat”. To be more precise it was an excellent
caricature of Mr J. Cronje who would later become a much loved and admired
Headmaster, and known universally by decades of boys and Old Greys as Patat.
So much for the room.
A few minutes after we had taken our seats in the tiered rows of desks in Jaap’s
small classroom He entered. He was not very tall, he was thickset, had a hawkish
nose, and the dark hairs of his balding head were tinged with grey and clipped very
short. He had a snor and a grey-and-white bokbaard. As he strode across the front of
the classroom he removed from his mouth the bent-stemmed pipe he was smoking
and pushed it into the side pocket of his sports-jacket. While he was saying something
about teaching us Latin he reached behind the half-open cupboard door and produced
what appeared to be a crudely fashioned miniature cricket bat. He then proceeded to
inform us with a smile that it was known as “die plankie”, and had been given to him
by the matric class of 1950 (10E1) when they heard that the previous plankie had
disintegrated. He told us that the plankie would be part of our lives for the two years
we were to be his Latin class. Just what that meant became clear sooner rather than
later.
Jaap Rousseau had a reasonably high forehead, perhaps
it was enhanced by his balding. It was smooth looking but
we soon learnt there was a large Y-shaped vein that ran
from a point in line with his nose upward and backward.
When the vein became noticeable you soon learnt to take it
as a severe warning sign. When the vein was full and raised
you knew trouble was not imminent but trouble had
arrived. Jaap did not tolerate ‘fools’ lightly.
More frequently than not he would commence a class
by writing a Latin tag, or idiom, on the board. He would
translate it into English and explain the meaning. And you
were supposed to remember the tag forever. The first one
was Nihil Stabile Quod Infidum, Nothing is Steadfast that is
Unfaithful, from whence the College motto Stabilis. That first tag, and those that
followed in quick succession, including Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi, were (and I
hope still are) inscribed in gold letters above the earliest of the Academic Honours’
Boards in the Re-Unie Hall.
Less interesting, and certainly more painful, were our attempts to master the
declensions and cases of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, particularly when
translating from English into Latin. Although the class was conducted in English
Rousseau’s irritation and retribution was conducted in Afrikaans. He had the habit of
normally moving systematically around the class so that each boy in turn would
3
Translated into English “Die Wieg” becomes The Cradle. The aptness of the title should become
apparent in the above text.

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attempt the translation of a sentence. A first stumble would solicit a frown and a
growling “Nee man!” We soon understood that to be an invitation to a second and last
chance of providing the correct word, form of the word, phrase or whatever. Then if
you did not get things correct you would hear “Kom”. Leaving the safety of your desk
you would move down to where Jaap now stood near the classroom door with the
plankie in his right hand. One last failed chance to correct your mistake was followed
by “Nee poppie, nee”. At which point you would bend over and receive a resounding
whack with the short broad blade of the plankie on the seat of your pants. The
question would be posed again and a correct answer alone would provide a reprieve
whereas failure would be marked by the ‘thwack’ sound of the plankie doing its thing.
To this day I marvel at the fact that Jaap’s method provided the clear evidence that
there really is a direct relationship between our backsides and our brains!
One boy’s failure followed by correct answers from the next boy-in-line would
miraculously restore Jaap’s good humour and English as his choice of language. But
if there was a series of boys making a close acquaintance with the plankie the vein on
the forehead would not only become pumped up but would almost pulsate.
It was not unusual for a third or more of the class to receive a whack or two during
a 35 minute class. I am almost certain that the record number of whacks for one class
period was 22 spread over a little more than half the boys. My own personal best, or
PB in today’s idiom, was five.
Yes, the whacks did sting but at the same time you ‘enjoyed’ a certain vicarious
notoriety by virtue of being in the Latin group. Senior boys in 9 and 10, who had
previously endured two years in Jaap’s Latin class, revelled in hearing the details of a
‘raised vein’ episode. Despite the method of instruction there was a grudging but
growing respect for Jaap. He was a most enthusiastic advocate, and supporter, of the
annual College cross-country race that attracted the participation of virtually every
boy in the high-school. During the winter terms he was the vocal and very able coach
of the under-sixteen A and B fifteens. He was passionate about the ‘inter-school’
matches that were accompanied by the mass singing of College songs to music by a
boere-orkes co-ordinated by the College cheer-leader. He would attend ‘song
practice’ in the Hall and together with Mr ‘Volies’ Volsteedt offer advice to the cheer-
leader based on experience of inter-varsity matches from their own days as students.
No one was surprised when we all passed Latin at the end of 1952. We sat not the
College exams but the Free State Junior Certificate papers that were common to all
Standard 8 pupils in the province.
Then in 1953 and 1954, when we were in Standards 9 to 10, Jaap became our
Afrikaans Master. The only books we used were the prescribed novels and a volume
of poetry as well as a dictionary. Grammar, idioms, and a rapidly widening
vocabulary associated with all sorts of topics, were all ‘taught’ or conveyed by talking
with the Master and with fellow pupils. All discussion in the class periods was strictly
only in Afrikaans. By the time we entered the matric year we were ready to write our
first Die Wieg. It was in effect a quarterly ‘newspaper’ written entirely in Afrikaans
for all the high-school by the English-medium matric class of 10E1. With Jaap as the
Voorsitter we elected an editor, sub-editor, as well as a sports editor. We all joined in
the debate as to what ‘cartoon’ would grace the cover and examined closely the
selection of previous covers that were pinned to the cupboard door. Then each boy
assumed the role of a reporter and was assigned a task in which he would write at

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least one article on a topic of his choice. He would also conduct and write up at least
one interview with a member of the public.
The articles and reports were typed using old typewriter machines, passed around
and collectively corrected. Thereafter they would be re-typed on wax-sheets from
which multiple copies were printed using the Roneo machine in the College office.
Finally we would all help in collating and stapling the duplicated pages prior to
distribution in the high-school. In stark contrast to our first two years with him there
was no plankie and no one was ever whacked. We had clearly earned our stripes in
the previous two years with him.
In between the production of each edition of Die Wieg we were ‘entertained’ by
Jaap’s inter-active methods of dissecting the essence of the various set-books and
selected poems. The words and phrases of Jacob Ontong, Ampie die Natuurkind,
Doppers en Filistyne, Hercule du Preez, sedelike lafaard, and olienhoutboom still
evoke warm memories of the respectful bond that was formed by free and frank
exchanges between Master and class. All in that small classroom on the ground level
below the northern gable.
Just before writing our matriculation examinations Jaap, by invitation, met with us
all, and in that classroom he received our thanks and farewell present to him of a new
plankie. In later years when I visited Bloemfontein from time to time I made a point,
as did others, om ‘n draai te maak om Jaap te groet. My everlasting regret is that I
never met him after he had retired from Grey and was living in what is now the town
of Centurion and after I had taken a job in nearby Johannesburg. Yet whenever I see
images of Grey on the TV and hear its name mentioned I remember Jaap.
Salve Magister!

Professor Keith Beavon


Johannesburg.
1:xi:2OO8