Rondebosch Boys School, Cape Town, South Africa: My School Days

Rondebosch Boys High School 2013 50th Class Reunion.

My rugby photographs with coaches left to right below: youthful me, Mr. Laidlaw U10A,  Mr. (Mousy) Clive Young U15C, Prof. Tinkie Heyns U15C, Mr. Sam Wiggett U16B, Mr. Willem Dieperveen U19.


Laidlaw (U10A) Back: Peter Barrett, Chris Munday, Hugh Hodge, Fred Versveld, Owen Ashley, Malcolm McCrosty, Center: Frank Einhorn, John Barry, Derek Van Den Berg, Mr. Laidlaw, Richard Morris, David Taylor, Roydon Wood, Front: Bruce Ferguson, Lindsay Kennedy, Payne, Crisp

Young (U15C) Back: Morris, Swart, Duckitt, Versveld, Owen Fletcher, Clive Downton, Chris Buyskes, Mark Swift, Center: Block, Russel, Eric Wells, Jeff Leeuwenburg, Tony Monk, Sapieka, Barber, Front: Richard Frantz, Chris Matchett, John Barry, Mr. Clive Young, Johan Walters, David Cohen

Heyns (U15C) Back: Richard Frantz, Chris Matchett, GC Botha, Alex Cohen, Clive Downton, Center: C Latham, Owen Fletcher, Bruce Ferguson, Andrew Joubert, JAM Garisch, Fred Versveld, Front: MJ Russell, John Barry, Prof Tinkie Heyns, Hugh Hodge, Neil Tuchten

Wiggett (U16B) Back: De Wet, Stephens, Fred Versveld, Botha, Swart, Neil Robinson, Chris Buyskes, Center: Frank Einhorn, John Barry, Keith Payne, John Dew, Cramton, Anton Starke, Johann Mostert, Front: Peter De Villers, Owen Ashley, Mr. Ron Wiggett, Chris Steyn, Rousseau

Diepeveen (U19?) Back: Murcott, Geffen, Versfeld, Steyn, Block, Kyle, Brinkworth, Bernard, Hayden, Schrire, Middle: Barry, Edwards, Fletcher, Niehaus, Stanton, Meyer, Pocock, Russell, Lisegang, Front: Rossiter, Sapieka, Van Boxel, Theron, Frantz, Garrish, Monk, Mr. Willem Diepeveen

In March 2013 we celebrated our 50th high school class reunion.  Neil Veitch, a classmate, recommended that we publish a book “In a Class of Our Own”.  His rationale was simply that as we assemble class friends from all over the world for a day or two of celebrating and socializing, we really don’t spend sufficient one-on-one time to get updates from everyone. 

The book addresses that situation and provides recollections of life at Rondebosch Boys Preparatory and Rondebosch Boys High School.  We canvassed our cohorts and about 80, or half responded with a copy of the book.  Neil, an English teacher, provided the final edit and working together with recently deceased friend John Hill we assembled the book and had it published and printed in Cape Town. 

The text below was my contribution, now 4 years old since 2013.  I made a few minor updates, (usually bracketed) to allow this recollection to remain current.  I made some annotations to make the text understandable for American friends. 

One quick comment about the way our classes were arranged throughout the school.  We started school in Sub A followed by Sub B.  Those were the “pre-standard” classes.  Grade 1 and 2.  The junior school then ran from Standard 1 through Standard 5 (grades 3 through 7), and high school Standard 6 through Standard 10 (grades 8 through 12).  To complicate matters, Standards 6 through 10 were represented alphabetically by classes A, B, C, D, and E.  So our senior year was Standard 10, or E, and appended with the year.  So our cohorts were E63 since 1963 was our graduation, senior, or matric year.  I thought clarifying some of these cultural differences may benefit readers.  Happy reading.

My twelve years at Rondebosch were a stable and happy time in my formative years.  It had its ups and downs, but when I reflect on those times I rate them positively.  Getting into Rondebosch was in itself a story.  My parents were both raised in Afrikaans’ homes.  My initial home language was Afrikaans until at about the age of 4 when my parents decided that I would have a better future in the country (South Africa) if I was raised in English. 

My dad liked to joke that the only two English words he knew were “yes” and “no” and he frequently confused them!  Our home language remains English to this day.  I clearly remember the day that my mom put on her best dress and took me to meet Mr. Roche Enslin, the principal of the Preparatory School, (or Prep school as we called it).  He had a colorful carpet in his office and asked me to point out the lilac color, which I did, passed the test, and was accepted into Rondebosch.  My mom was particularly proud because we had a neighbor who could not get her boys into Rondebosch.

My bilingual background did benefit me; I think it was about Standard 3 (grade 5) that I won the class prize for Afrikaans.  I recall one prize that I could not win in the lower grades.  Some boys were rewarded because they stopped biting their nails.  I could never qualify because I was not a nail-biter.

Life was not always easy at Rondebosch.  Neither of my parents completed high school, both came from humble backgrounds.  We lived poor until I was in Standard 8 (grade 10) when my parents moved from a rented house to our own newly-built home.  My dad (who passed away at 93 in November 2013) worked extremely hard putting in significant overtime to provide for us. 

When my two younger sisters were old enough, my mom (who passed away in November 2020) went to work to supplement the household income, and that helped save money for our new residence.  I never had excess clothing.  In fact, I never had anything but black school shoes to wear part of the strict school uniform—a single pair at a time, which was only replaced when I outgrew or wore them out.  I remember all too clearly walking in Claremont Main Road (a suburb of Cape Town) and seeing Martin Furman walking along, wearing brown shoes and I was amazed that he had anything other than black shoes!  (Martin later explained to me that his brown shoes were part of his dress code required for his instructions at his synagogue). 

I was good friends with Jack Garlick.  His parents had a chauffeur Cornelius.  My mother would die a thousand deaths when Cornelius showed up to drop Jack to play at our humble abode.  Cornelius would fetch me sometimes to play at Jack’s home.  I remember attending a birthday party for Gregory Coplans.  They served Coke for refreshments.  I drank so much of it that I could barely eat any of the food served.  Fizzy drinks were not a normal part of my diet. 

I took part in athletics and fancied myself as a runner.  My dad borrowed a pair of running spikes hoping to give me the edge I needed.  I practiced diligently the night before the race on the Ackerman’s Sports Field off Keurboom Road.  The next day I was too stiff to run a good race. 

While at High School, my mother bought me a Barathea blazer.  I was very proud of my expensive possession.  I was sitting on the wall across the river near the swimming pool one lunchtime with my hands in the side pockets when a friend (a medical doctor today and I’ll protect his identity) pretended to push me.  I ripped my hands out of the pocket to steady myself and tore a gaping hole across the jacket back from one pocket.  My mother had it invisibly mended—but it was never the same again.

I think back about two teachers.  One, an English teacher who will remain anonymous, requested us to write a creative essay for homework.  I clearly remember the effort I put into that piece of prose, handing it in with much pride.  A day later the teacher asked me to read my work aloud in class because he had never read such rubbish in his life.  Without exaggeration, that incident affects my confidence to write good English to this day.  My job requires that I write extensively.  I am currently writing specifications for a new software system and have already produced 800 pages with an equal amount to go.  Then too, I (no longer) write a monthly blog for my business website. 

The other teacher was Willem Diepeveen, our geography teacher.  I was blessed with the name Johannes Christoffel Barry, a family name passed down from my grandfather, uncle, and numerous cousins who are similarly named.  I always thought it a bit dumb because all my family members went by John, JC, or Jan (pronounced Yun).  We had to provide Willem with our full names and I was reluctant to blurt out mine.  He told me to stop being stupid because he too had an Afrikaans name. 

However, there was a second and more important event.  Our knowledge was tested and I did not do too well.  In class, Willem said to me “John, you are capable of doing so much better.”  That was my wake-up call and a comment that I respected so much that I made contact with Willem and his wife Yvonne a few years ago to say thank you.  I don’t believe teachers fully appreciate the influence, for better or worse, they have on their students.  By the way, when you arrive in the US, you can take any name you want without any questions asked.  I am now officially John Christopher Barry.

My dad was about as mild-mannered a man as you will find anywhere.  He did not ask too much of me other than I should never take up boxing.  My dad was a boxer in his day and although he was good he also learned to hate the sport.  He was taller and had a bigger build than me.  At 93 he shrank a bit and was quite thin.  I rarely saw him get angry. 

I was in Standard 9 (grade 11) when our gymnastics teacher and rugby coach decided that a number of us needed to be taught a lesson.  I was captain of his rugby team, and we were in for a caning.  I cannot remember what we had done wrong.  While hitting me the coach made some stupid remark about promoting me from captain to corporal.  When I got home that night, my dad had to help me get my underpants off because the blood had congealed into the fabric and was even more painful to remove than getting the cuts had been.  The anger in my dad swelled up, and he was ready to go to school and beat the living daylights out of the coach. 

The only way I could stop my dad was to warn him that the Standard 9 (grade 11) tests were more important at Rondebosch than the matric (grade 12) results.  If I did not score well I would not be promoted to Standard 10 (grade 12).  Allowing the situation to escalate may have been the reason for the teachers to make me repeat the year.  With that, he let the matter rest.  My Standard 9 results were of the best of all my school years.  I do remember studying hard and taking those tests seriously.

Attending a boys’ only school had its disadvantages.  I was deathly afraid of girls and never dated any until after High School.  The matric (senior) dance was a problem for me, who would I ask?  Jennifer Flowers lived a few doors from us.  She was a very attractive girl and I plucked up the courage to ask her.  She accepted.  My dad borrowed a tuxedo from his brother and, though it was an ill-fitting garment, to say the least, it had to do for one night.  As much as I liked her, I never dated Jennifer again.  A similarly named Gennifer Flower claimed to have had an affair with Bill Clinton, and during that 1992 scandal, it brought back High School memories.

I was friends with Leon Boonzaier and in Standard 8 (grade 10) I visited him at his house when he had distant relatives staying from Pietersburg (now Polokwane in Limpopo).  Rina Lister was there with her daughter Linda.  I recall sitting on a lounge chair opposite Linda and at 16 was quite smitten.  I met Linda again through Leon when I was 21.  Linda had moved to Cape Town to be in a bigger city and to be watched over by her aunt.  I asked her out the instant we met up again, and our first date was to the opera Carmen at the Alhambra Theater in Cape Town (no longer in existence).  After the performance, we drove to Muizenburg to walk on the beach.  It was a late night or early morning for us. 

Linda was working as a conveyancing secretary for Balsillie’s law firm in Cape Town.  I was at the head office with Mobil Oil in the computer department as a programmer.  We dated for 4 years, and after 41 (now 50) years of wedded bliss (?), somehow stayed together.

At some point during Standard 6 (grade 8), Ernest De Wet encouraged us to take woodwork and metalwork if we planned to go on to university to study engineering.  This class covered engineering drawings.  Since engineering was my likely path, I followed his recommendation.  Once I got to varsity I learned that Richard Franz (if I remember correctly) was headed to study engineering but his parents had advised him to take pure physics and chemistry at school as that was a better track for engineering.  I learned a valuable lesson 5 years too late.

When I see what is going on in schools in the US today, I can only look back in gratitude at the opportunities we were given.  Today in America, it is all about budget cuts, no money for physical education or other lessons or activities deemed unnecessary.  Most sports are after-school community affairs if the parents are interested in getting their kids involved.  Many parents try to make ends meet by both working with little opportunity to run junior around. 

I have spent most of my 43 (now 48) years in the computer field, love technology like iPhones and iPads, and am quite amazed to see how even my granddaughters proficiently operate iPads.  I clearly understand the dangers of kids getting home and playing computer games and not socializing or exercising, so adding to the obesity crisis facing our kids today.  I believe it is up to the parent to keep moderation in the lives of their offspring, but too many attempts to sub-contract these responsibilities and blame the schools and teachers for all their issues.  I see with my four granddaughters how my son and daughter work to keep a healthy balance, but parents too are in pressurized jobs calling for long hours on the job and turn to us grandparents for support.  We are blessed.

The concept of uniforms came home to me recently while in Bangalore, India.  My (then) business partner is Hindu, but his 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter attend private Catholic schools.  We were talking education and cost for their kids’ education is not cheap, but includes the school uniform.  They are each at single-sex schools, and made clear to me that the students are from all social strata; rich and poor alike.  I was shocked to learn that the son is one of 66 children in his class with a single teacher. 

In my case, I was in class with Peter Goble whose father was an executive at an oil company, while my dad was a supervisor in one of the operations at a different company.  What a contrast.  I also remember an incident where one of the principals was called to ask how many Jewish boys attended Rondebosch, only to be told “they are all Rondebosch Boys.”  The diversity there was another great big plus for the school.

One talking point in America is the cost of university education.  Many leave university with a significant debt burden.  Linda and I are from the old school.  Our daughter Robyn earned a double major in International Business and Spanish graduating cum laude.  Our son Sean graduated in computer engineering summa cum laude.  Both attended expensive private universities and were left without debt.  Both married spouses with university debt.  We are proud of being able to provide our kids with a great education, and their contribution was to take their studies seriously.

I set a goal at 21 to have my own business.  I knew the constraint would be that it would have to be brainwork because I did not have a nest egg I could draw on.  That became a reality when I turned 36.  My first consulting company in South Africa was my springboard to getting a position in the US in 1986.  I started business number two in the US in 1988, closed it in 2005 when I ran out of money.  I started my current venture in 2009, but now only operate as a one-man-band.  I no longer need the responsibility of employees or worrying about people issues and making payroll.

In reality, I have given my family a torrid time with constant moves.  We have had apartments and homes in South Africa: Claremont, Sea Point, Johannesburg, Germiston, Pietersburg, Rondebosch, Tokai, and Edenvale.  In the United States: Brookfield, Wisconsin where we lived in 3 different homes, and finally to nearby New Berlin where we are in a condominium.  At least I can attest to the fact that we are adaptable!

Linda and I have a daughter, Robyn, married with identical 5-year old (now 10) twin girls, and a son, Sean with two girls aged 3 and 6 (now 11 and 8).  I remain motivated to succeed in business (or to move into the next chapter of retirement).  My inspiration is to design a new computer system being developed in India at present.  (That task was completed and I had the pleasure to help sell it).  My area of specialization is supply chain management inventory systems for manufacturing, wholesale, distribution, and retail companies, the highest investment for these companies.  My functional role includes education, training, consulting, project management, business process re-engineering, software architect, and sales.  Rondebosch Boy’s was my springboard to lifetime success.



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