Dirty Tricks

Dirty Tricks

The Hughes family, Angela, Tim and Gervas, boiling up a kettle of water for tea on the way to drop off Tim to boarding school at Cecil John Rhodes Junior School in Gwelo. 1948

Dirty Tricks 

Cecil John Rhodes Junior School at Gwelo (CJR) accepted Tim in 1946.  Drummond House for boarders housed thirty girls at one end and thirty boys at the other. At meal times girls and boys ate together in the same dining room, sitting at separate tables. After meals the girls filed out first, then the boys. The dining room passage led past an unlocked suitcase store room before dividing to the dormitories. The storeroom was used for kissing.  Pretty girls hid in the room until their boyfriends arrived.  After a quick kiss and cuddle they parted and went their separate ways. Tim was too shy to participate!

Dirty Tricks

Drummond House had sanitary bucket toilets. Buckets collected at night were replaced by empties. Full buckets were carried to an ox-trolley waiting in the street. Africans who did the work were nicknamed ‘Suffuki men.’ One dark night some of the older boys took a plain wire from the school perimeter fence and tied it to a post at the entrance to the sanitary passage.  Once the Suffuki man had a full bucket on each shoulder the wire was pulled taut.  It tripped the unsuspecting man sending the buckets hurtling into the yard. The mess was cleaned up during the night. The wire taken away. Luckily for the school boys, no complaint was lodged by the African.

About 1949, the boys were given first choice and moved to the newly built MacDonald House leaving Drummond House for the girls.  The new buildings was very cold and drafty.

‘Bunking out of school’, leaving the school grounds without written permission, was punished by caning.  This deterred most boys from such a crime but not Tim. During normal school hours every teacher knew when someone was away and the reason but after lunch and the compulsory one hour rest on their beds the boys were free to roam the school grounds or play  soccer.  Some boys, including Tim, often bunked over the road into the veld to climb the Gwelo kopjie.

Sneaking across the road without being detected was nearly impossible. When Tim finally became a senior boy (twelve years old) they decided that a tunnel under the road would solve the problem. Junior boys were coerced to do most of the digging.  Screened by bushes, a vertical shaft was sunk beside the boundary fence. At six feet deep, with progress extremely slow, tunneling commenced.

Digging tools were scarce, short pieces of half inch diameter round iron, salvaged from a building site, were hammered into the hard soil. The rods when levered sideways broke up the soil.  Jam tins were filled and the soil carted away.  A junior, tired of his slave status, wrote home to his father, a miner, requesting dynamite to reduce his work load.  A very irate father arrived at the school demanding to know what was going on. The tunnel was discovered and filled in. Some of the workforce were severely caned. Tim escaped punishment: he was away at the barber in town when the crime was discovered. A very strong bond existed between the boys, no one told tales, so punishment was always confined to the few who were caught red-handed.

Tim would travel to and from school at the beginning and end of  each term in the guard’s van of a goods train catching it at Hunters Road. If Gervas had business in Gwelo he would be lucky enough to ride instead in his Chevrolet pickup truck.  The very best of times would be when they would stop along the way to boil a kettle of tea.

Many thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia for the picture and the excerpts from his unpublished manuscript Matambega and Son written in the 1980’s.




  • Robert Baldock

    Reply Reply May 4, 2013

    Hello Diana. I much enjoy the weekly snippets. Might I ask Tim for e-copies of his and Joan’s books? Good wishes. (b. Selukwe, ed Milton, now diaspora.)

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2013

      Robert, Tim hasn’t yet decided what to do with the unpublished manuscript Matambega and Son so you can’t get a copy of that, but Joan Freyburg’s book is available free on pdf. I’ll put him in touch with you. Enjoy!

      • helen saria

        Reply Reply July 20, 2016

        Diana how are you
        iam interested to read the joan book

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