The Four R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Rugby

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 10 April 2012: 5 years 7 months on … Advantage CBD

The CBD not only affects me physically. Yes, slowly it paralyses my body and renders me unable to write, but even more alarming is the manner in which it is affecting my ability to do arithmetic and my ability to read. The very things that I spent twelve years at school learning to do are now being ‘unlearnt’!

This past Easter Weekend was a quiet one and we stayed at home, the first time in many years that we have not gone away for the long weekend.

There was more than enough Super 15 rugby and international cricket on TV to watch, and more than enough newspapers to get through. Because it becomes more difficult to read large volumes at a time, I tend to read just a few pages and then leave the rest. Resultantly, the newspapers (two a day – The Herald and The Times) pile up around the house. I was adamant that I would get rid of the backlog this weekend!

The first article I read dealt with a government investigation into health and educational services in the Eastern Cape. Needless to say, both are in a shocking state and frankly, the services are almost non-existent! Then there was an article by the Rector of the Free State University, Prof Jonathan Jansen, in which he corroborated the statement of Mamphela Ramphele, ex-Rector of the University of Cape Town that education was better under apartheid than it is today!

He highlights seven major mistakes* made in education in the last twenty years, and goes on to conclude his article by saying “through a combination of legacy, neglect and bad policy decisions, our educational institutions are indeed in a worse state than before.”

“Scholastic achievement is worse than ever, from literacy and numeracy in the foundation years to the disastrous National Senior Certificate results in Grade 12.”

But then continuing through the newspapers, I read about the Easter Rugby Festivals taking place around the country: the tens of thousands of people who have been attending the matches, the millions of rands being spent on the sport, the numbers of people dedicated to and involved in the sport, the numbers of children (yes, children) who have tested positive for banned and illegal stimulant substances …

Am I reading correctly? Is my disease confusing me this much?

How can it be that in a country where educational institutions are in a worse state and where the levels of literacy and numeracy are declining rapidly, the facilities and money spent on a sport like rugby are increasing all the time?

What is the purpose of these “Rugby Festivals”?

Is it to raise much-needed funds to improve our educational infrastructure (in which case, how much are we raising?), is it to market our schools (in which case, what is the target market and what and who do we attract to the institutions), is it to teach our children the lessons of life (in which case why do they have to abandon a game where parents from two elite schools were engaged in a running brawl, and do only the elite few benefit from these lessons – what about the rest of the thousands of our children?)

Is it simply to entertain or to address our human basic needs to be the best, to win at all costs and to be number one – the modern-day version of the ancient Roman festivals of gladiators and lions?

How can we justify the amounts spent at school level on hospitality and hotels, marquees and martinis, steaks and shrimps, support staff for First Rugby XV’s the same size as smaller international teams and rugby budgets running into millions, when we cannot produce sufficient teachers to educate our children, mathematicians, accountants and scientists to crunch our numbers, medical personnel to doctor our population and engineers to build our roads and bridges?

How can we justify a rugby department in a high school with a rugby director, a head coach, a backs’ coach, a forwards’ coach, a physiotherapist, a dietician and a fitness trainer for a group of twenty players who may never play the game again after school, when we only have two neurologists in a city of two million people with many thousands who have neurological illnesses of some sort or another?     

We wonder why the use of steroids is ever-increasing (and some would say rampant in certain pockets of the country) when the intense pressure of schoolboy rugby is, according to the experts, damaging schoolboys’ personalities, their immature skeletons, their muscles and ligaments and their expectations (and sometimes that of their parents).

Yes, as the Sunday Times put it, “pressure is cooking game for schoolboys”.

Surely, schoolboy sport is ultimately just that. Yet, what these Festivals around the country serve to unwittingly perpetuate is to suggest that the schoolboy game is more important than it is.

I doubt  that you’d get any of the country’s educators, academy scouts and TV producers at these festivals to agree with you!

If you have ever been to Rome, you will have witnessed and marvelled at the Coliseum and the other remaining monuments and reminders to the Rise and Fall of the Great Roman Empire.

“Nero fiddled”, they say, “while Rome burnt”.

Will our ruined stadia and rugby poles, one day, be our monuments and reminders, that we played rugby whilst our country cried out in need?

(* Outcomes-based education, voluntary severance packages offered to teachers, closing of teacher training colleges, irrational mergers of universities, merger of universities and technikons, neglect of mother-tongue education and no basic legally enforceable minimum education standards)

 (with thanks to Luke Alfred for his article “Pressure is cooking game for schoolboys” in the Sunday Times 8 April 2012)



I’m Legal Now (and Responsible?)

Friday 16 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on . . .

Life in the Eighties was so much fun! I was in my mid-twenties and just finishing off at Stellenbosch University.

 In our winter academic holiday of 1981, a group of eight of us from Stellenbosch embarked on a summer tour of Europe. Charles and Diana had just become engaged, and Royal trinkets were sold all over, much like the World Cup memorabilia has decorated our shops and streets for the last month. But we had no money for trinkets!

Working on a shoestring budget and a Eurail Train Pass, we visited England, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Greece – all in three weeks!

Our motto was All for one and one for all. No one was permitted to do anything that everyone in the group could not afford to do. It also applied to meals. We were only to eat out once at a traditional restaurant in each of the countries we visited. For the rest, we had a blue Cadac gas burner, sachets of Cup-of-Soup, tea and coffee and a lot of student initiative.

At least, that was the way it was supposed to be and that was the way the tour started.

We would raid the tables at breakfast time and take with whatever was left to help out at lunch and suppertime. In Amsterdam, we even took leftovers from another table when those tourists got up and left – only to have them return a few minutes later to continue their breakfast, which had miraculously disappeared! (And we were the only other people there – we pretended we couldn’t understand them!)

As the tour continued, the rules were bent somewhat. In Rome, I desperately needed an egg! So I broke away from the group, entered a café just opposite the Coliseum and bought a toasted egg sandwich. In Italy, they charged you a tax to sit inside and eat, so I took my sandwich and sat outside on the kerb.

What more could I want? A freshly fried egg and a view of the magnificent Coliseum!

But so much for cheating! As I put the sandwich in my mouth, the egg slipped off the bread and landed in the dirty Roman street! But, in desperate times, so much for hygiene! I picked up what I could save of the egg and just popped it straight into my mouth – and here I am to tell the tale!


In Copenhagen, before we visited the famous Tivoli Gardens and rather than buy the beer, we visited the Carlsberg Brewery. A free tour and lots of beer to taste – free –  made good economic sense! Tourists from all over the world visit there and they have this huge beer hall where everyone gathers at the end of the tour for the tasting.

 National flags decorate each table and you sit at the table that has your country’s flag on it. So there we were, with a number of other South Africans sitting with the now old South African flag.

Thank goodness, unlike wine tasting, beer tasting does not require spitting out but does require swallowing! But, we also swallowed hurriedly and left when it was discovered that the SA flag had “disappeared” and all the South Africans were asked to remain behind to have their bags searched! (We were honestly not the guilty party!)

 This week, I have thought quite a bit of that tour and those carefree student days.

One reason being that, last night, our Men’s Group (known as Fred’s Must have Beer Group) and a few others, visited the local Ibhayi SAB Brewery.

Unfortunately, the CBD affects one’s short-term memory and so I can’t remember all the facts and figures given to us last night. What I do remember is that only some 120 people operate this fully mechanised brewery that supplies millions of litres of beer to the Eastern Cape from George to Umtata. (They are still crunching the numbers to calculate how many extra litres were consumed during the 31 days of the World Cup!)

There is also the ever-present communication of responsible drinking!

Kilometres of carefully planned stainless steel pipes carry the precious cargo from tank to newly washed reusable glass bottles that arrive at the right place at the right time on kilometres of carefully planned conveyor belts. I could have sat there for hours watching everything going up and down and round and round . . . it’s quite a process to get that beer into your throat!

There was no reason to take a flag because we all have our flags left over from the World Cup now! But we did taste, until quite late last night, and then just had to stop at Dagwoods on the way home (only because we were responsible and had parked our cars there!)

Another reason for reminiscing was because earlier in the week, I spent time with a group of almost 50 students from Helshoogte Residence at Stellenbosch University. I had lived there when I was a Matie and became the Primarius, the head of hostel, in 1981.


This group is currently touring the Easter Cape in the last week of their winter holiday. It is a 30 odd year-old tradition that a rugby tour is undertaken at this time. I met up with them on day 2 of their 6-day tour (no one seems to be quite sure!)

The tour is now called a sports tour – what sport, I’m not quite sure because I was told that only one pair of rugby togs was packed in! But, thanks to Kipper Halbert, the tour operator in St Francis Bay, we managed to take them on a boat tour of the magnificent St Francis canals, and later had a beer at Cob’s Cove in the village.

There was also no money for food, but they seemed to manage well on the two bags of oranges that I passed on to them (with courtesy of Eppie and Lande Ferreira from Patensie with whom we had a wonderful braai earlier in the week). There did appear to be a substantial amount of money for beer though (and other liquid food!) and I was a bit concerned that the weight of the packets carried onto the boat would see them all swimming in the ice cold sea water!

Many of the tourists are sons of student contemporaries of mine, and it was amazing to remember those friends when seeing their peas-from-the pod sons. One thing worried me though – I was convinced that as students we definitely did not drink as much as these youngsters!

I phoned Noel Basson, a contemporary of mine and now a father of two students. After leaving Stellenbosch, he became the private secretary of FW de Klerk and later Nelson Mandela. With such authority, I wouldn’t question his integrity, and he concurred with me that we definitely did not drink as much in our student days as they do today!

Anyway, after a fines meeting on Tuesday evening (which also brought back many good memories), we parted our ways. Me back to Port Elizabeth, and them, on to Grahamstown, Rhodes University and the Rat and Parrot, and then to Somerset East for the Biltong Festival.  Indeed, a “sports tour” of note!

My thoughts turned to Sean. He has had quite an eventful few months. It started off with him being awarded his Colours Blazer for service to his school. In all probability, he will also be a student next year. In May, he turned 18 and that made him “legal”, meaning, of course, that he could now legally, in terms of the law of the land, purchase alcohol.

It also means that, in terms of the law of the land, he could now get his driver’s licence. And, because he could get an appointment much earlier in Humansdorp than in PE, that’s where he went on Tuesday morning. After a three quarter of an hour test, he appeared with a large smile on his face that told me everything. Another ten minutes and R200 later, and he became the proud owner of that document that also now makes him “legal” on the road. (He is, since 16, with his Skipper’s Licence, also “legal” on the water!)

On the way back to Port Elizabeth, we discussed this “legal” thing, and I reminded him that despite now being legal to drink and legal to drive, that it was not legal to do these things at the same time! (Possibly, I should phone Noel and get him to affirm that we never did do that as students or as adults either!!)

Maybe the Americans have it right. At least, you can get your driver’s licence there at the age of 16 (and earlier in some states), which gives you at least two years to get more driving experience before you become legal to buy alcohol at eighteen (or even later in some states).

Whatever, with the freedom comes the responsibility, and I guess, as parents, at some stage, we let go and hope that we have met all our responsibilities!

To Sean and all your friends who are now attaining that magical age of 18:

May you drive many happy kilometres, may you experience many happy tours in our wonderful world, may your beers always be cold, and may you always be responsible!

Happy driving, happy touring, happy beering!