when charlize won her oscar, south africans weren't surprised that a fellow south african achieved such a great thing. what we couldn't believe was that benoni could produce anything even remotely worthwhile. having said that i actually know of the other good thing benoni produced (yes, there were only two).
when i left school, my headmaster taught me never to look down on someone who actually might still achieve something in his life. the way he did this is that he wrote me a letter. in that letter he said;
"you are a lout! your five years in this school have meant nothing and you will amount to nothing in life." just in case i didn't get the message (i think he thought i couldn't read) he wrote a letter to my father. in that letter he said;
"your son is a lout! his five years in this school have meant nothing and he will amount to nothing in life." i thought he was a sad old man who had risen as high as he ever would and he was just a headmaster. i felt sorry for him. but throughout my medical and surgical training i never looked down on someone below me on the pecking order. one day they just might surpass me.
my friend came from benoni. he was brought up there and went to school there. like any self respecting benoni boy he only just scraped through matric, probably close to the top of his class. he was lucky. at that stage the university of pretoria had a sort of remedial science course for the intellectually challenged. most of the candidates would drop out in first year. some might actually achieve a watered down degree or diploma. one or two might actually get into the mainstream bsc course and get a real degree. some say it had actually happened before. my friend managed to get into this class. i'm sure most of benoni was proud of him.
right at the beginning of the year the class mentor (not too sure what the english word for voog is) called each student to the front of the class and asked what they hoped to achieve with this opportunity. most had realistic expectations. not my friend. he stood up and said he wanted to use it to get into medicine and maybe one day do orthopaedics. the voog laughed at him in front of everyone. people in that class just didn't have the goods upstairs to go that far. in this case, however, removing the boy from benoni allowed him to come into his own and actually work for something. quite soon he was in the mainstream bsc course and then moved on to medicine where he was always close to the top of the class.
i worked with him when he was a house doctor and he was the hardest working house doctor i ever knew. he even took the occasional gunshot abdomen to theater and only called his registrar when he got stuck. i thought he was going to become a surgeon. but alas... i visited him recently in bloemfontein where he is presently half way through his orthopaedic training.
so i often think back thankfully to that letter my headmaster took time to write for me. he helped me never to look down on my juniors and never to despise small beginnings, even if they were in benoni.