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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

4th of January 1965.

Now you may ask what is so significant about the 4th of January 1965. Well that is the day I started my working career, and today is the 47th anniversary of that day.

At the end of 1964 my brother and I had both reached the academic heights of std. 8, grade 10 in today's terms. Way back then there was a a school certificate, called a junior certificate, or JC. You still had 2 years to go before you qualified for a senior certificate and completion of high school. But times were tough and our parents did not have the funds for us to continue school, so with our JC's we set of to find work. I was sixteen and my brother fifteen.

One of our uncles, my mother's younger brother Chris, offered to take us to the big city of Durban to seek our fortune. At the time we were living in a small village where my father worked and employment opportunities were few and far between. The first place we went to was the employment office of the then South African Railways and Harbours, (SAR&H). 

To be employed by the railways one of their doctors had to declare you fit. So the first thing we had to do was go for a medical in the same building. My brother saw the doctor first and came out full of smiles, he had passed the medical. Then I went in, the doctor took his time and was very thorough. When he was through he said, "No sorry but you haven't passed your medical, with the state of your heart I doubt that you will see 20." As a result of  a bout of Rheumatic fever when I was thirteen, I have what is known as tacky cardiae, very erratic heartbeat. Well I think that doctor has been pushing up daisies for a long time and I'm still here. He was not the only doctor to predict my early demise, for one medical reason or another, over the years.

To cut a long story short, my brother was employed by the Railways as a clerk and he was told to report to the local railway station in our village on the 4th of January. Me? Well I went to every possible place where I might be able to find employment in Durban, with no luck. Even the humblest place had one look at me and my Junior certificate and weren't impressed. Spent two days from almost sunrise to sunset, with my uncle encouraging me to try just one more place. Eventually we decided to pack up and go home.

The day after we got home, (30th December and my 17th birthday) I decided to try at the local Post Office, I wasn't too optimistic but decided I must try.  Walked into the PO and said to the lady behind the counter that I was looking for work. I don't think she was very impressed either with what she saw, but said she would call the Post Master. The Postmaster looked at me for a long while before he said to the counter lady, "Give him an employment application form to fill in." She had to give me three or four as I was so nervous I kept messing them up. 

Eventually I managed to complete a form correctly and the counter lady took the form to the Postmaster. She came back a couple of minutes later and said, "The postmaster says you must report for work on Monday morning the 4th at 7:30." Turned out that our local Post Office was the regional training office and the Post Master got a bonus on the number of clerks he trained in a year. The only medical the Post Office had back then was to weigh you. Too fat or too thin, and you weren't employed, I was too thin, but seeing as I was the only male that had applied they let it pass. Weren't too worried about discrimination or human rights back then. My starting wage was R45 per month before deductions, a princely sum I thought. Only money I had seen before then was my 10c a week pocket money.  

Monday morning arrived and I reported for work at the stipulated time, wearing my school uniform, grey flannels, (any one remember flannels), black school shoes with grey school socks, white shirt and an old tie that my uncle had given me. The flannels were short at the ankles and the shirt short at the wrist. There was no money to buy fancy clothes to go to work in. I felt very proud though, I was a man making my own way in the World. Well, being the new guy I was the dogs body, any one who needed something done gave it to me to do. After three months I had to write an exam which I passed and I was told my employment was permanent.

Over the next two years I studied by correspondence for my Matric, (Senior Certificate) which I passed end of 1967. The Post Office paid me a bonus of R50 for this achievement and a R5 a month pay increase. (During 1966, I was the guest of the South African Defence Force, doing my compulsory military training, no human rights qualms here either. You go to the army or you go to jail). Spent the next 20 years in the Post Office, with several promotions over the years including Post Master with my own Post Office, and had to take early retirement in 1985 due to ill health. (Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise) 

If I had stayed in the Post Office this would have been my last 365 days of employment, with retirement being 4th January 2013. Compulsory retirement at 65, applies to all government emplyees


Pumice said...

I enjoy this type of post because it gives me insight into how other parts of the world function. Good stuff.

Grace and peace.

Kay L. Davies said...

You weren't healthy enough to be a clerk for the railroad but you were healthy enough for compulsory military training, tachycardia and all. Amazing!
Good for you, Phillip, to get past the apparent disadvantages and establish your self in the post office. Now I want to know how you got from there to school librarian (of course, you were a man of letters, a bad joke I'm sure you've heard thousands of times) LOL.

Phillip said...

Kay after I left the PO I had the good fortune to live in the beautiful university town of Stellenbosch, in the Wester Cape. This is where I studied for my degree in Library and Information Science, Bbil. That's a whole other saga. Several years later I did an Honours degree through UNISA (University of South Africa)

Shoreman said...

We all had to start as low man on the totem pole. I started my working career in 1964 after graduating from High School and started at the bottom. You rose to Post master, I rose to Distribution Center Manager. I believe we were both successes.


Gorges Smythe said...

And then there's guy's like me who started at the bottom of the ladder, and then got kicked off the ladder. Congratulations on a life well lived and for making better decisions than I did!