Prof shares his best memories

HE has been all over the world but for Grahamstown College of Transfiguration rector Professor Barney Pityana, the best place to enjoy his “working retirement” will always be the Eastern Cape. 

One of the founding members of the South African Students’ Organisation of the Black Consciousness Movement, who studied theology at King’s College London and trained for the ministry at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxford, Pityana joined La Femme for lunch at The Coachman in Cape Road, where he shared some of his best memories of the city.

I picked The Coachman because it’s right next to where my brother’s place is, but also because I’m a PE boy. These are just places of amazing memories for me and this area of town was a very special place, especially during our times of the struggle, when we were doing underground work.

In 1964, I had finished matric and I failed maths and science, and needed to write a supplementary exam.

It was the first time in my life that I ever failed anything and I was quite upset and I deliberately went to the Holy Rosary Convent because I needed somebody to help me. At Newell High, where I had done my matric, there was no maths or science teacher.

I rang the bell at the convent and the nun who came spoke to me so badly and chased me away and I felt so angry about this that the first publication I ever did in my life was a letter I wrote to the Evening Post, expressing my anger at being treated like this, especially at a time when I really needed help.

The letter was published and John Sutherland, who was the editor at that time, called me and asked me to tell him the story. Then the principal of Holy Rosary was so touched and upset that it had happened that they offered to do anything to help. I never took them up on the offer, I went to work and forgot about university.

But years later, when I was married and had a daughter, my wife and I were in and out of jail and our little daughter had to stay with my mother. Then the sisters of Holy Rosary actually told my mother they really wanted my daughter to go to their convent school, which was really nice of them. That’s one of the best memories when I think about this place.

Also, when we were running away from the special police, we had friends in this area and we used to disappear into homes and police would never find us.

The Coachman is one of the oldest restaurants in the city, it used to be in Central and was a great place to meet people without fear of being caught.

I’ll know I’ve made it when those who had been opposed to me and fighting me begin to recognise what I can offer and do.

For me, I knew I had made it when I stood in front of the judge at the Cape High Court and the deputy president of the high court was admitting me as an attorney, on February 6 1996.

And after all the formalities had been done, he said to me, “Dr Pityana, I want you to know, in our small way, what we have done is to correct a historical wrong. I want to say I am very sorry that it took so long to get this right.”

I love my job because it puts me very much in touch with the church. I have spent quite a lot of my recent career away from the church and its formalities and for the first time, I am very much at the heart of what the church is trying to do.

The person who has taught me the most is my mother. She was never married. She was always a working woman and she advanced her career in nursing while bringing us up. I have a soft spot for beer. I should have studied medicine, but after I failed maths and science in high school, I had to give up my place in medical school.

I love to party with my wife, Dimza. We virtually grew up together. We were in our early 20s when we got married.

I’m listening to Basadi, Women in Jazz, a wonderful group.

When I was 16, I wish I knew my father better. I wish I had a better relationship with him. I only developed a relationship with him when I got married.

My music weakness is jazz, it still speaks to me very closely.

Nothing makes me happier than reading a book. I read lots, I wish I could write more.

My favourite item of clothing is a tie. I have a whole wardrobe full of ties, I spend a lot of money on them.

I absolutely hate gospel music. I find it boring and repetitive.

I am saving to buy nothing – at my age, there is nothing to save for to buy anymore. But if I had money – and I don’t – I would go and buy a cattle farm.

I share my life with my wife and our grandchildren. We’ve got three wonderful grandchildren who keep us going, keeping us sane.

I can’t go a day without saying my morning and evening prayers. I try to keep that practice, and that’s the priest in me.

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