Some snippets from 1974.
- Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign. He also agrees to pay $432,000 in back taxes.
- An Arab oil embargo against the United States, retaliation for military support to Israel, results in fuel shortages for car-dependent commuters and contributes to a recession.
- Boxer Muhammad Ali defeats heavyweight champion George Foreman in Zaire (“the Rumble in the Jungle”)
- The first programmable pocket calculator becomes available.
- The word ‘Internet’ appears for the first time in print in an academic paper by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn.
- Teenage heiress Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in California, seemingly converts to their revolutionary aims, and joins them in armed bank robbery for which she later serves jail time.
- During the summer, mass media latch on to streaking, a fad of high-speed public nudity popular among students.
And in South Africa, we were listening to the following music (thanks to The South African Rock Encyclopedia).
- WHY ME – Kris Kristofferson
- KUNG FU FIGHTING – Carl Douglas
- THE PEACEMAKER – Albert Hammond
- SUNDOWN – Gordon Lightfoot
- SOLITAIRE – Andy Williams
- SEASONS IN THE SUN – Terry Jacks
- IF YOU LOVE ME LET ME KNOW – Olivia Newton-John
- IF YOU NEED ME – After All
- THE AIR THAT I BREATHE – The Hollies
- LOVE’S THEME – Love Unlimited Orchestra
- HELLO GIRL – Dr Marigolds
- LITTLE JIMMY – Gwynneth Ashley-Robin
- RING RING – Abba
- WATERLOO – Abba
- LOVING ARMS – Dobie Gray
- CHARLY – Sean Rennie
- DAYDREAMER – David Cassidy
- PHOTOGRAPH – Ringo Starr
- WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN – The Three Degrees
- BAND ON THE RUN – Paul McCartney & Wings
On the South African political front, BJ Vorster was coming under increasing pressure from the United Nations to hand back Namibia to the Namibians, except we called the country South West Africa in those days, and we were preparing to fight a “border war” up there.
We were also getting excited about television. The country’s first television broadcast was only to take place in the major cities in 1975, before the first nation-wide broadcast on 6 January 1976.
The government at the time resisted the introduction of television, fearing that it would dilute the state’s control over the press and radio.
In the life of Synaptoman however, times, they were stressful. High School meant a whole new set of rules, a brand new pecking order (in which I was firmly situated at the bottom), and a far more serious regime of corporal punishment, than what we had experienced in primary school.
The list of offences for which corporal punishment, or “cuts”, was imposed, was extensive, and ranged from minor offences, like getting to school 5 minutes late (2-3 cuts), to answering a teacher back, or questioning authority on any matter (6 of the best).
The punishment was administered in the Armoury, where the .22 rifles that we used for cadets and target practice were kept. Three of the bigger, more sadistic teachers were responsible for the canings, and our Headmaster only got involved (and administered the punishment in his office, between sips of tea), when the offence was very serious.
Before every break, a list of boys was read out over the intercom, and we then had to report to the armoury during the break. The line often snaked out all around the tennis courts on a really good (bad) day.
We were admitted one at a time. Two teachers were always present. Your offence was read out to you, as well as the number of cuts. You took off your blazer and leaned down over a desk. You were then caned solidly across the buttocks and legs, the cane often splitting at the ends and snaking around the sides of your legs (I carry scars on the sides of both legs to this very day). Afterwards you had to thank both teachers, put your blazer back on, and leave through the metal door, as the next boy entered.
The pain was excruciating, and burnt terribly, but the worst was yet to come. I came from a poor, but proud family, and I knew the sacrifices that my parents had to make to keep me at this school and pay for my uniform. Regular caning eventually tore my trousers and I had to walk around with my blazer on, even in the heat of the summer, to conceal my shredded trousers and exposed underpants.
My Dad <respect>, if he found out about the caning, used to enquire about the offence and the punishment, and then, if he considered the offence serious enough, repeat the punishment with his belt.
For this reason we grew up to fear, and then eventually respect authority. We took pride in our appearance and respected our environment, our school, our friends and their possessions. We were rebellious, like all youngsters of that age, but were never destructive, or rude, or violent. I like to believe that most of us grew up to be good people, who contributed much to this country.
The discipline in the schools was mirrored in society as a whole. “Law-abiding” was a common, and important trait. Laws were strictly enforced. Murderers, rapists and armed-robbers were hanged. We slept with our windows open at night.
Fast forward to 2007.
The schools are battle grounds. Uniforms are almost optional and rules are impossible to impose, because corporal punishment is now outlawed. Even in the better schools, fighting, smoking and thuggery are rife, while the teachers cower in their staff room. What has gone wrong? What is different.
Like 1974, this is also mirrored in our society as a whole. Murderers, rapists and armed robbers rule the country, and in the very unlikely event that they are convicted, a short prison sentence is normally imposed.
Spare the rod? Where has this got us?