All the efforts in planning and training were put under threat by doubts over our departure day due to the strike by South African Airways. A phone call at 11am on the morning of departure gave us the go ahead. The tour was up and running. However, another obstacle awaited us is Johannesburg in the form of passport control, which took two and half hours to clear. This put enormous pressure on catching our connecting flight to Cape Town and only the pleadings of an old man and the size of the party allowed us to win the day and board the plane half an hour late.
Finally, we arrived in Cape Town and after jettisoning our bags at the hotel we descended upon the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, nestled beneath the imposing shadow of Table Mountain. The travel weary tourists had at last a chance to soak up the African atmosphere and experience the first of many red meat binges.
The next morning the party went on a guided tour of Langa Township, seeing first hand the basic living conditions of the inhabitants. A walk about with visits to a primary school, the sports stadium and a further education college preceded a very appetizing lunch, which was accompanied by a singing and drumming group. On departure from Langa the party split with the girl’s netball teams and the junior boys travelling to their hosts at Swartland School, Malmesbury, whilst the senior rugby travelled the shorter route to Bishop’s School at Newlands.
The junior rugby team were introduced to the rigours of South African school rugby at Swartland and suffered a 36-8 defeat. They now had a standard at which to aim. The senior boys, playing at Bishops, under the magnificent backdrop of the back of Table Mountain, did not come to terms with the speed of the opposition, the authoritarian style of the South African referees or their own ‘ring rust’ and succumbed 24-7. There was a desperate need to learn the lessons quickly.
Friday saw the groups reuniting for a day of blatant tourism, which started at Hout’s Bay with a boat trip to the seal island just off the point. A bracing trip, even if Mrs Michael preferred the safety and warmth of the inner cabin. On return to land we set off for the Cape of Good Hope, which gave us the first opportunity for a full tour photograph with a stunning sea scape background. The trip then ended at Boulder’s Beach, where Ms Cody’s favourite penguins parade for the hordes of sightseers, cooing at every waddle.
Stellenbosch was our next base from which we travelled to Paulus Joubert, a development team at Paarl. A casual approach by the seniors against opponents more adept than perceived saw the team fight an unnecessary rearguard action. Some unlucky bounces, poor defence and some liberal refereeing brought about a surprise 14-10 defeat. The juniors fared no better and lost a spirited combat by 20-10. Disappointment permeated the camp. Nonetheless, it did not affect the warmth of the Paulus hospitality even if it overran forcing drastic changes to the afternoon plans.
Disappointedly, on the Sunday torrential rain ruined our chances of seeing whales at Hermanus, and this same rain followed us to Somerset West where Parel Vallei were to host us for the second time. In wet conditions the junior rugby team showed renewed urgency to overcome their opponents and register their first win by 17-6, lightening everyone’s spirits. The seniors accepted the challenge and even though a penalty kick at the death could have stolen the game they held out for a 17-15 win. Relief all round. It had been a very muddy affair and resulted in a bleached OB logo being re-patented red. Parel then laid on a fantastic evening of dinner and drumming where hosts and guests alike had to drum the selected beat on a multitude of instruments. A truly fun evening.
Before the flight to Bloemfontein on the Tuesday we managed to take the cable car to Table Mountain and luck was with us in that the cloud lifted as we ascended, giving 360 views of Cape Town and its surrounds – a fitting farewell.
Bloemfontein was very different with vast areas of very flat farmland dominating the horizon. The girls were staying at Eunice School across the road from Grey College, the senior boys’ billet, whilst the juniors were a few miles away at Sentraal School, where bells abounded. The junior rugby, in fact, played one of Grey’s U15 sides and after an edgy first half of mistakes, leading to a 22-5 deficit, the team settled and the score stayed the same. In the follow-on game, the seniors, playing one of Grey’s senior squads, matched to our strength, found themselves in a classic struggle. Leads changed six times but at the death we scored to secure an 18-16 victory and more importantly, the respect of opponents and coaches, a matter of great pride to Mr Halsall.
Prior to travelling to the Drakensberg Mountains, the tourists were given the opportunity of visiting the ‘Big Hole’, the remains of the diamond workings that established Kimberly. Mr Dahl and Mr Lyon-Taylor had to be removed from the panning beds so we could move on! The long journey ended at Cathedral Peak Hotel, a paradise nestled in majestic hills and perhaps the first time of some ‘down’ time. Golf, volleyball, swimming, climbing wall, gym, hiking – something for all. The therapy was much needed and even Ms Langhorne decided that training was unnecessary. It was no surprise that a group of supporting parents also made their way to paradise.
All too soon we were on the move westward to Durban and our final hosts, Westville Boys and Westville Girls, two separate schools in pleasant suburbs. Having been evenly matched to this point we finally caught a crab, especially the juniors, who played a mature U16 side and thus lost by 56-0. For their part the seniors faced a feisty test in their game and parity only disappeared after the loss of three players, resulting in a 22-7 loss, a disappointment after so much effort.
Recovery therapy was again needed and this was supplied at Damazulu Village, on the edge of the Hluhluwe Nature Reserve, where lodges afforded the feeling of ‘bush’. There were tours of Zulu culture and dancing, the snake and crocodile park with the crazy keeper and the game park, displaying a wide variety of game. On the final morning on the way to Durban airport we even found time for a boat trip on Lake St Lucia with its crocodiles, hippos and a vast variety of birds.
We had fitted in an enormous amount of activity, both sporting and cultural, covered many miles in coach and plane and met new and varied people and as a result no-one, hopefully, could have failed to be enriched by the experience. The touring parents provided those familiar faces and one OB, David Blake (B. 1952-56), travelled from his home in Johannesburg to support us in Cape Town and Bloemfontein. Such memories and stories will, I am sure, last for years.