“Dis ’n Bellies ding, ’n lekke lekke Bellies ding… Ôs kannie worry nie, want ôs gaan wen”.
These were the words that Belgravia High School pupils sang with great gusto and exuberance at the annual inter-schools athletics competitions at the Athlone Stadium. These competitions were organised by the Western Province Council of Sport (WEPCOS), which was affiliated to South African Council on Sport (SACOS) and most of the schools in the Western Cape participated in these competitions, which provided a welcome relief to most pupils and a festive atmosphere normally prevailed there.
When exceptional athletes such as Rodney Regter, Colin van Blerk, Carol Esau, Ian February, Faizel “Fire” Abdullah, George Hector, Sonja Leibrandt, Roger Welft, Cassiem Paleker, Siraaj Gierie, Llewelyn Botha and many others took to the starting line, or went onto the field, the pupils would shout from the top of their voices, “Hie kom ôsse WP, hie kom ôsse WP”, confident that Belgravia High would win that event, with “WP” referring to the top WEPCOS athletes. Before the relay races started, which were usually the final events of the inter-schools athletics day, exuberant Belgravia pupils would shout uncontrollably, “Môre is ’* holiday. Môre is ’* holiday”.
For many successive years from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s, Belgravia High won most of the A-section competitions or the Champs of Champs athletics events.
The late Freddie Britten, a strict disciplinarian with a keen sense of humour, was a towering figure as far as athletics and sports at Belgravia High were concerned and he can be credited with much of its success.
After winning, the pupils would march jovially down Belgravia Road and again sing “Dis ’* Bellies ding”, with the words ending, “want ôs het ge-wen”.
The following day their voices would be hoarse from all the screaming and shouting at the Athlone Stadium and at times the school principal would allow the next day off and it would indeed become a holiday for the pupils.
Years later, during 1981, 1985 and 1986, Belgravia High pupils would march down the same Belgravia Road under very different conditions, and the mood would be markedly different. These were the years of the school boycotts, of student unrests, of the country being aflame. And in contrast to the years of intense rivalry between the Athlone schools on the athletics field, these years marked a period of remarkable unity of purpose, where these same Athlone schools held joint inter-school mass rallies and worked closely together on a daily basis.
Belgravia High School was one of the first schools in the Athlone area to come out on boycott at the end of July in 1985, in response to the declaration of a State of Emergency in 36 magisterial districts in the country. In the last week of July 1985, the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) arranged for each class to take a vote on the issue and the majority decision was in favour of a boycott. At the time, the school was one of a handful of schools that had an active and functioning SRC, with Belgravia’s SRC having been functioning effectively since 1979. During the early years of the SRC, it had more of a social function. It organised hats, flags and songs for the inter-schools athletics day. The hats and flags were funded by raffles that the SRC organised. It also organised a sports tournament at the school and used its own funds to purchase trophies. One of the highlights was a fun-filled variety concert that it staged. In 1981, 1982 and 1983, the SRC published a glossy magazine, called “The Anvil”, named after the emblem which appears on the school’s blazer. Senior and junior pupils would contribute poems and articles to the magazine. In the 1982 edition, H Abdullah complained that the previous year’s edition had been “dominated by the juniors”. However, in the 1983 edition the editor complained that “the response from the juniors of our school was disappointing whereas the response from the seniors was stimulating.” The principal at the time, Mr LS Overmeyer, congratulated the SRC of 1981 for producing “a magazine of outstanding quality”, but at the same time he berated them for the cost which “was far too high as they used expensive paper with the result that we still have 200 unsold copies”.
In addition to the above functions, the SRC co-ordinated various organisations at school, such as the Afrikaanse Taalvereniging, the table tennis team, Belgravia Chess Society, Young Christian Students, Muslim Students Association, the Christian Union and the Careers Society. One of the chairpersons of the SRC stated that, “It is hoped that the SRC will continue to maintain a balance between political and non-political activities, while continually stressing the inter-relationship between the two”, while another boldly stated that, “The SRC’s firm stand to bar pupils who further the aims of racialist organisations from the tournament is in accordance with its non-collaboration policy of SACOS … and there is no place for quislings in the struggle for liberation… The SRC can fulfil its purpose if it and the struggle for liberation are supported by a united student front.”
The early SRCs at Belgravia High School laid a strong basis for the SRC of 1985 and 1986 who took the struggle for liberation to another level. Toward the end of July 1985, the SRC voted overwhelming and democratically that Belgravia High School should embark on a student boycott. At the time, it was envisaged that the boycott would be a short one and that students would return to classes soon thereafter. That was, however, not to be.
The events that followed had an indelible impact on the course of our country and the pupils of Belgravia High contributed in no insignificant way to an atmosphere that created the conditions for the system of apartheid to be dismantled.
Pupils from Belgravia High School combined with Alexander Sinton and Rylands High to form the initial nucleus of the Athlone Students Action Committee (ASAC), a committee that played a co-ordinating role during the student protests in the broader Athlone area.
ASAC later expanded to include several Athlone-based schools, including Spes Bona, Athlone High, Bridgetown High, Ned Doman, Garlandale, Oaklands High and Groenvlei High.
ASAC served as an effective co-ordinating committee and provided direction for pupils to express themselves politically.
Resistance increased to the extent that the security forces started to apply ambush tactics and fired indiscriminately at young people with live bullets without any warning. During one such occasion, they shot and killed three youths in Thornton Road in Athlone. This event became known as the Trojan Horse Massacre during which Shaun Magmoed, Jonathan Claasen and Michael Miranda were killed.
This year the school celebrates its 60th anniversary and on Friday October 14, at 9am, current and former pupils and teachers will gather at the school to reflect on 60 inspiring years of the school’s existence. It will remember the political contribution and sacrifices that their pupils and other pupils made. It will remember the Trojan Horse Massacre that occurred on 15 October 1985.
The event will start at Belgravia High School where a former principal and former pupils will address the gathering inside the school hall. Thereafter, they will have a short march to Thornton Road (similar to those of the 1980s), and lay wreaths in memory of the youths who lost their lives in the Trojan Horse Massacre. The first wreath will be laid by the current principal of Belgravia High School, Andre Buis. The second by the South African Police Services and the third by a student who was on the scene of the killings on the day that it occurred. They will also remember other youngsters who lost their lives during that era.
Belgravia High School will also reflect on its academic excellence, despite limited resources. Many of its alumni occupy leading positions in society. It remembers fondly the time when it was established at the old Alexander Sinton building (now Ned Doman High School) in Buckley Road under the guise of Athlone Secondary School No. 2. It only obtained its name Belgravia High in August 1957, following the school’s move to the site where it exists today. And although Belgravia High School will never forget the political marches and toyi-toyis down Belgravia Road, who can ever forget the times when Bellies pupils marched down Belgravia Road after various athletics competitions and boisterous pupils sang exuberantly, ‘Dis ’* Bellies ding, ’* lekke lekke Bellies ding, Ôs kannie worry nie, want ôs het ge-wen’.
Peter Williams is a former Belgravia High student leader.