1. Evaggelos Georgakis
In 1978, the Greek Government decided to send educators to Greek settlements in South Africa to aid them in keeping contact with the motherland. The Committee of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein immediately acted so as to acquire a teacher for their children as well. It must be stressed that all the teachers who served the Greek school of Bloemfontein were primary school teachers, while in other, bigger cities high school teachers, theologians, and even gymnasts were sometimes appointed.
The first Greek teacher, Evaggelos Georgakis, who previously served for a year in West Germany, arrived in Bloemfontein with his wife, Niki, at the beginning of 1979. He was 50 years old and had two adult children who never came to South Africa. The community granted them a furnished apartment, opposite the President Hotel, with all expenses paid. Being a sociable man, he was invited to a Greek home every weekend. He participated in all the feasts and other social activities, while he danced the traditional Greek dances very well.
The school functioned in the community hall, but there were neither desks nor a blackboard or anything else that reminded one of a schoolroom. However, in 1979, 42 children were taught the Greek language, history, religion, and geography. Furthermore, the teacher was requested to give lessons to adults who wanted to improve their Greek – an opportunity that many people looked forward to. All the Greek national feasts were celebrated in the hall; the children, under the teacher’s guidance, recited poems and performed small plays, and the teacher, as was the custom, made a speech. In 1980, after money was collected from community members, desks were bought as well as a Greek typewriter. Until then, all the Committee’s as well as the school’s communications were written by hand.
The greatest problem in those years was transporting the children to the Greek school in the afternoons. The majority of the parents worked and others did not have a car available. Although the community had not yet acquired a car for the teacher (only for the priest), Mr Georgakis took up this duty. Every day, using a borrowed car, he picked up the children who had a transportation problem at their daily schools, and when the Greek school closed for the day, he gave them a lift back home. Although it was tiring work, he was rewarded with extra pay (R100 a month) by the community. His “salary” in 1982 was R400 a month.
Mr Georgakis also wrote a 240-page manuscript with the title “Ο μετανάστης” (The emigrant). It was typewritten in a very simple style, in order, as he said in the preface, to be understandable to everyone. It was divided into three sections. The first one describes the history of two friends who left their village and emigrated to West Germany (it is unknown whether these persons are/were real, yet, it was a very common story for Greeks during the 1960s). In the second part, these same people settle in Cape Town, South Africa. Then the style becomes very personal and the writer deals with his stay in Bloemfontein. He mentions many persons and situations, while he alludes to the strengths and weaknesses of the Greeks, which of course, followed them abroad. Finally, the third section contains certain elements regarding the history of South Africa.
This “book” includes a few photographs (although not of good quality) and it is an interesting source relating to the history of the Greeks in Bloemfontein. However, one could question the accuracy of its contents, considering the subjective style it is written in. Approximately ten copies of this manuscript were made by the teacher (bonded by a string), which he offered to some of his friends, but unfortunately, it is difficult to find one of them today.
Evaggelos Georgakis, by his own admission, spent four good years in Bloemfontein. He requested the Greek Ministry of Education to stay for one more year but they did not grant the request. On 14 August 1982, the community organized a farewell party for him and he was also given a R100 gift. One year after his return to Greece, he went to England to have a tumour removed from his brain, but did not survive the operation. Even today, certain Greeks of Bloemfontein keep contact with his family, while everyone has a good word to say about him.
2. Evaggelos Kyriazis
After E. Georgakis’s departure, which took place before the end of the school year (probably because of his illness), the Committee members asked for another teacher via the Greek Consulate in Johannesburg. Evaggelos Kyriazis arrived in Bloemfontein on 12 January 1983 and took up his duties as teacher. A young man of 27 years old, he stayed in the flat, which the community provided.
He associated with a couple of Greeks from the Peloponnese, which was also his homeland, though he did not like the way these people showed off their wealth. At the beginning of September 1983, he transferred to Johannesburg.
3. Froso Haldezou
Mrs Haldezou, sister of the then vice-chairman of the Committee, was of Plomari, Lesvos, and she came to Bloemfontein in August 1983 with her husband and their child. Her spouse, an ex-sailor, worked in the roadhouse business of his brother-in-law.
Froso Haldezou immediately started teaching in September 1983, after the departure of E. Kyriazis. She was a good teacher. During her stay in Bloemfontein, she also had three more children. Yet, that was at the expense of the school, which, because of the pregnancies, repeatedly had to be closed for long periods. “The children joyfully went home and told their parents that they would not have to go to Greek school as long as the teacher was pregnant.” Furthermore, certain parents ascertained that sometimes their children looked after the teacher’s infants when they should have been in school learning Greek. This situation dissatisfied many parents who ceased sending their children to school.
The Committee members, considering the complaints as well as the potential financial problems that could develop, informed the Education Department of the Greek Consulate in Johannesburg of this situation, asking them to recall Froso Haldezou, and appoint another teacher for the year 1987. Additionally, the education counsellor visited Bloemfontein, and a meeting took place in the community hall where all concerned were present, i.e. the teacher, the Committee members, and the parents. The main argument of the community members was that in 1979, the first year during which the school functioned, 42 pupils attended out of a total number of 80 Greek children. In 1986, only 28 children participated in the school out of a total number of 120. Whether these numbers are correct is unknown. In any case, the counsellor tried to pacify all concerned, but the fact is that Mrs Haldezou left Bloemfontein by the end of the year 1986, and was transferred to Springs.
4. Theodoros Vroulitis
Mr Vroulitis was the teacher of the Greek Community of Harrismith. He was married to Ismini, daughter of a Greek immigrant’s family. He was appointed to Bloemfontein, where his wife’s family had settled earlier. He took up office in January 1987, when the significant number of 55 children registered at the Hellenic School, which was divided into two levels. Lessons were given every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning, 20 hours a week in total. The teacher received a monthly salary of R1 000 from the community.
Looking over the communication papers that Mr Vroulitis regularly sent to the parents, to the Committee, and elsewhere too, it becomes clear that he was a very tidy and methodical person. The school functioned like clockwork, and he compiled handwritten statistical tables as well as lists stipulating the children’s progress, their absences, etc. Sometimes, he reproached negligent parents in writing for not sending their children to school. Furthermore, he was very strict regarding the school program, and he did not hesitate to expel from the school or fail children who did not do well or who were frequently absent. He was also the first teacher who organized an excursion for the children of the Greek school to the Botanical Gardens of Bloemfontein.
During Greek national festivals Mr Vroulitis was often given the chance to address the Greeks, and he pointed out the need for maintaining their language, their religion, and also their ethics and customs. His writings – that which have been saved – almost always include patriotic and moralizing messages.
Theodoros Vroulitis organized many festivities, not only for the school, but also for the community. Through several fund raising efforts arranged by him, he managed to collect a significant amount of money on behalf of the community. Moreover, during numerous Greek festivals and other events, he was the person who spit-roasted the lambs, and selected the music that would be played. For these services, the community rewarded him with some extra money. He also had the support of his wife, who occasionally helped him, but mostly painted very beautiful Greek pictures on canvas and used them as decor at school events or other social occasions. Unfortunately, the majority of these works have disappeared.
Additionally, Mr Vroulitis initiated the publication of the community’s quarterly newsletter, with the title “H Ομόνοια” (The concord). This “magazine” appeared for the first time in December 1979 with the title “Newsletter”, and later under the title “H Ομόνοια” in December 1986. Although the quality was bad, one can find in it interesting elements relating to the history of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein.
It appeared that everyone was happy with this active and creative schoolteacher. When his formal services ended in December 1989, he requested one year’s leave without payment from the Greek Ministry of Education. He intended staying in Bloemfontein, where his family was, and to continue being the Greek teacher there. The Education Department of the Greek Consulate in Johannesburg agreed, and a private contract was signed between Mr Vroulitis and the Committee of the community.
In 1990, everything suddenly changed. The Committee members were dissatisfied with the teacher because he refused to collect the tuition fees from the parents on behalf of the community. He also refused to publish the newsletter and play music at social gatherings. He also would not write and mail the community’s communication papers. The Committee claimed that only 26 children attended the school, resulting in very low income from tuition fees. They called the teacher to a meeting, expecting some explanation from him, but he did not appear.
In September 1990, after arrangements were made with the Education Department in Johannesburg, Theodoros Vroulitis was released from his duties as teacher of the Hellenic school of Bloemfontein. He was paid the sum of R3 250 for the outstanding balance of his contract. Apparently, he clashed on a personal level with certain community members, and this was probably the reason for his departure.
5. Nikolaos Karaiskos
Nikolaos Karaiskos succeeded Mr Vroulitis. The new teacher was a young man, unmarried, and he had completed three and a half years of postgraduate studies in England. Only a few children attended the Greek school when he took over. What is interesting is that only Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays were the schooldays. Yet, he requested the parents’ collaboration, aiming at a dynamic start for the next year (1991). In addition, many teenagers as well as adults expressed the wish to participate in Greek courses.
Although the teacher wanted a R1 000 monthly “salary”, the Committee members decided to offer him R740 per month plus R20 for every pupil over the number of 37. Obviously, this strange arrangement was made with a view to motivate the teacher to attract as many children as possible. He consequently promised to publish the newsletter (Η Ομόνοια), and collect the tuition fees from the parents. Nikolaos Karaiskos was the first teacher to whom the community made available a car. Its purchase was achieved after the community members made a financial contribution.
There were no complaints regarding Mr Karaiskos’s work or his conduct. He was loved by everyone, although he only associated with young people of his own age. Nevertheless, arrangements were made with the consular Education Department in Johannesburg, as well as the Chairman of the Hellenic Associations of South Africa, and by the end of 1991, Nikolaos Karaiskos was transferred to S.A.H.E.T.I. School, Johannesburg. “He was extremely good for the Greeks of Bloemfontein”.
6. Spyros Tsartsidis
Spyros Tsartsidis was appointed to a Greek school somewhere in Zaire, but unforeseen problems forced him to leave. He reached Bloemfontein in mid-1991, before N. Karaiskos’s departure and they lived in the same apartment for a while.
Mr Tsartsidis was about 28 years old when he came to Bloemfontein. He was a keen storyteller, and very talkative. He also liked the army and participated in parachuting. He also used to dress up as a military man and wear parachutist badges. A very sociable man, he easily associated with Greeks as well as with Afrikaans-speaking people. Yet, he was often involved in quarrels and once, he badly injured his arm in a fight. That also led to him meeting his future wife, who was a physiotherapist, and with whom he still lives in Greece with their two children. Their wedding took place in a non-orthodox church because of friction between the priest and the teacher, even though Father Manolis invited him to the church and taught him how to chant.
The school was not at its best with this excitable teacher. Mr Tsartsidis was very strict, and also rude to the children, and consequently only three or four children attended the Greek school. Nevertheless, he knew how to organize a successful school feast, and he also enjoyed public speaking. During his sojourn in Bloemfontein, only one issue of “Η Ομόνοια” was published, and its low quality is in stark contrast to the rest of the issues.
One of Mr Tsartsidis’s contributions was the placement of a heroes’ monument in marble in the corner of the school courtyard with the ancient sign on it: “ΑΝΔΡΩΝ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΩΝ ΠΑΣΑ ΓΗ ΤΑΦΟΣ… 18.3.1992” (for eminent men every land is a grave). Theodoros Tsartsidis stayed for five years in Bloemfontein and left at the end of 1994.
7. Dimitris Margaritis
Dimitris Margaritis took over the Hellenic School of Bloemfontein when the 1997 school year started. A young man, 26 years old, he was a quiet and shy person, “almost like a pupil”. The Committee provided him with a car, as well as a R1 000 monthly “salary”. He, in turn, also had to hold Greek classes for adults, and assist the community when a social event was to be organized.
Mr Margaritis was a novice and a totally inexperienced teacher. He even had difficulty in delivering the panegyric speech at the Greek national day celebration. He was so shy that he once provoked the anger of the Chairman of the Committee, who spoke to him abusively. It seems that Dimitris Margaritis was not given time to adapt to the Committee’s requirements, or he simply did not want to do so. Thus, he left Bloemfontein in December 1997.
8. Georgios Tsiftsis
Georgios Tsiftsis, his spouse, and their two children arrived in Bloemfontein in January 1998. They first stayed in a guesthouse, then in a townhouse, and later the community rented the apartment belonging to a Greek for them. Meanwhile, a third child was added to the family. Mr Tsiftsis was about 33 years old, a good character, who from the first moment he came here impatiently wanted to meet the Greeks of Bloemfontein. Father Manolis was the person who assisted him in this. With his conduct and also his work, Tsiftsis earned the appreciation and love of all the Greeks of Bloemfontein, while his wife, Varvara, always stood by him, lending a hand in any way she could.
His activities started with the republication of “Η Ομόνοια”, which was available on a quarterly basis throughout the period of Mr Tsiftis’s stay in Bloemfontein. Reading his articles in this newsletter, a romantic and sensitive man is revealed who was indignant of injustices all over the world. Many times, he identified and accused globalisation and the “new order” as the root cause of the suffering of countless people. Although an ardent patriot, he did not hesitate to stigmatize the faults of “neo-Hellenes” (the recent Greek generations). Furthermore, on many occasions he reminded the readers of the sacrifices that Greeks made in the name of freedom and democracy. This “magazine” also contains articles written by Greeks of Bloemfontein, as well as of the motherland, usually in a patriotic, informative though seldom humoristic style. Additionally, the teacher interviewed some of the older Greek immigrants of Bloemfontein, who talked to him about the old times. Moreover, through his initiative, clothes and games were collected for children suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Georgios Tsiftsis organized a large number of school events in the Hellenic community hall, providing entertainment not only for the children, but for the adults as well. He did not limit the events to typical national Greek feasts, and displayed sketches and children’s handicrafts, and organized entertaining games in the courtyard, to name only a few. He additionally arranged many volleyball, table tennis, and friendly soccer events in which quite a number of adults as well as teenagers were involved. Through his prominent work, the teacher’s goal was not only to entertain the community, but more importantly, to bind them together. Furthermore, Tsiftsis participated in the founding of both a theatrical and a choral group consisting of Greeks.
An important achievement of his to be considered was the organization of the school library. Sending letters to many cultural associations and also newspapers in Greece, and after being interviewed by a Greek radio station, he managed to attract the attention of several people who sent a number of books to the Hellenic School of Bloemfontein. Both the children and the adults could borrow these books of diverse content.
The children loved Georgios Tsiftsis; they did not grumble about going to the Greek school as he was a pleasant man with a great sense of humour. He arranged many excursions for the children as well as for the parents of the Greek school, which was much appreciated by them. He often arranged fund raisings to collect money for the benefit of the community. Furthermore, he held classes for adults, and he also visited Kimberley once a month giving lessons to a small number of children. For these services, the teacher received an extra payment from each learner.
In 2001, Mr Tsiftsis found a way to separate the area where the Greek lessons were given from the rest of the hall. He made four wooden wheeled panels and commissioned an Afrikaans-speaking artist to paint traditional Greek pictures on them. She (the artist) also added some maxims on them, hoping that they would inspire the pupils. These panels were eventually displayed and a so-called “classroom” was created. This partition was removed in 2003, when more space was needed in the hall for a big function, and unfortunately, it was never put back.
Georgios Tsiftsis became part and parcel of Hellenism in Bloemfontein. He associated with all the Greeks without exception and was also compassionate to people with health or personal problems. He was familiar with all the community members, and he never behaved badly or lost his temper. He was always a gentleman.
When his five-year contract expired at the end of 2002, he requested the Greek Ministry of Education to prolong his stay in Bloemfontein for one more year. They did not accede to this request and Georgios Tsiftsis returned to Greece as the friend of many of the Greeks in Bloemfontein.
9. Georgios Katoleon
In January 2003, G. Katoleon arrived in Bloemfontein with his wife Hristina and their seven-years old daughter, Marianna. They rented a house at the Westdene area where they lived for two years. Both these years the Greek School functioned in a classroom made available by Saint Michaels School. Yet, all the events in connection with the Greek School continued taking place at the Greek Hall.
Mr. Katoleon, started teaching traditional Greek dances, although, quickly ceased due to the lack of both time and concern. Furthermore, with his wife’s assistance they twice published the School’s calendar. The 2003 calender contained pictures of various Greek areas while the 2004 one contained traditional Greek recipes. The Katoleon family returned to Greece in December 2004, but not before Georgios started researching the history of the Greek community in Bloemfontein, for a Master’s degree, under the supervision of Prof. André Wessels.