“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning… We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…” (Hunter S. Thompson)

“Rocketman”* was the most spellbinding athlete I’ve been aced by. Near-boundless fluidity. “Turing” was the smartest lad I ever met. Last I heard, Doctor Macduff – as he’s now known – is somewhere in Europe developing gene therapies. Or jet propulsion systems. I also secretly admired (envied) “Luciano”. The guy had a voice that massaged the inside of the chapel. At times I swear I saw little red hearts floating from the eyes of girls he serenaded.

But it wasn’t the top dogs that I found most fun. It was the okes with a boyish kookiness that tickled the funny bone. “Bebop” mostly lived in a fantasy world of his own making. He had a lexicon few understood, several societies, sports teams, and gangs that existed largely in his own complicated head. Days would have been less hilarious without him. He could balance a desk on his chin. “Tall Kid” was 4ft1 on a termite mound. That alone was funny. Then there was “Nugget”. Nuggety of shape, it was his storytelling that drew little and big crowds. “Kakbroek” had one-liners and rude jokes.

Of course, at a boys’ school, the real heroes are all four years older. When you’re 14 and 43kg, wearing khaki shorts bought to last you until standard 8, a 17-year-old with a nascent beard and muscles is a god. William “Iron Will” Easter was the chief for my standard 6 cohort. Invincible. He made us invincible. When he locked in with his prefects for war cries, our little hearts bounced and fizzed. We shouted our throats sore. “Two… Three… SAINTS!”

Top lads

Easter’s close buddy Jasper-Smith was my favourite to cheer on for the first XV. Brutally physical, he was said to be highly respected among practitioners of some rare and esoteric martial art. He was a keystone of the greatest triumph I ever did see play out on Baytopp Field. But it was Gift Majola who took individual glory that day. His blitz along the touch line – directly through approximately 17 St. John’s tacklers, as I recall – for the winning try could not have been more perfect if Hugh Bladen himself was on commentary. “Gunshow” was the best and coolest water polo player ever to have donned a Speedo. So was Thompson. And “Catapult” Caulfield. In my domain, tennis, there were half a dozen guys I’d have paid to watch play. Later on I did, for two of them. 

Long after matriculating, I’ve loved the intermittent discovery that some chap I thought was unremarkable was anything but. The quiet guy at the back of Afrikaans class can now move equity markets with a word. One contemporary I pitied for lack of guts runs a multinational corporation. And supposedly directionless smokers and party animals are now lawyers and dads. And splendid blokes.


Being at Saints at the turn of the millennium was a privilege. St. Stithians – as we never called it – was a boys’ school in the north of Johannesburg. Set in rolling acres of greenery and slate-roofed buildings, surrounded by forests, dotted with dams, and lined by gum trees, it was a gem in the heart of a big city.

Alone, each of us was a small boy. Saints Spirit made us more. As the school motto went, “One and All”. The esprit de corps was drenched in a sureness of great things. Our breaking voices were sure to give way to manliness. Pocket money to our own empires. Awkward spading of chicks to the wife of our dreams. “Even [our] acne had a strange nobility about it” (Blackadder).

Most of these privileges are the sort a kid takes for granted. Dozens of tennis and squash courts. Rugby and cricket paddocks abounding. Astro hockey fields and three pools, at my last count – polo, swimming and diving. An entire music block for learning the instrument of your choice. All at our fingertips. Most of us could have taken better advantage. But youth is wasted on the young.

I’ll pause the romanticising. I’m hardly old boy aggrandising the alma mater at the braai. More an accidental activist. Saints was not all sing-songs and football at second break. It was a hard place for a lot of guys. Unforgiving. Fun banter could hide emotional knocking about. There must have been outright abuse. I never saw anything severe. Only the sort you’ll get at any school. Kids can be mean. Typically one chap asserting his alpha-ness over another. If you were podgy, you’d get ribbed for that. Teen angst and pimples could make you a target. The slightest hint of femininity got hammered. This must have cut deep for chaps who later came out as gay. I don’t recall anyone coming “out” in my day. I believe and hope the school is now far more welcoming on this count.


This needs nuance. The funny-looking, overweight kid could find his place to shine. Singing for the Duke of Cornwell Choir – The Dukes – was an honour demanding no athleticism. They would regale us now and then, when they weren’t on tour winning competitions. The cheers were no less heartfelt and raucous than those for a match-winning kick. The art award was coveted. Academic performance was worshipped. Quiet dignity earned respect. There was something for almost every boy.

Diagnosed many years after leaving school with a neurological condition, I’m unsure whether Saints was best for me. I could dwell on that. A small school may have fit me better. But I made friends, played air guitar for Pitts at inter-house music, and vice-captained a sports first team with aplomb. Transmogrified on Saturday mornings into the “Flying Scotsman”, I played woeful rugby for the Sexy Sixths, for a career record of two tries and 103 missed tackles. Small wins. Fun moments. I’ll focus on the good things.  

I got lashed with a cricket bat by older boys twice. Once in the house prefects’ “dungeon” and once on a sports tour abroad. The wallop was hard enough to sting. However, these were welcomes to the fraternity more than anything else. Some guys got swiped hard. That was a sign of affection. Those rosy cheeks – yes, chaps would show them off – were badges of honour. They meant the older boys knew you could take it. That isn’t to suggest lashing should continue. It only takes one hyped 18-year-old and one missed target to cause tragedy. Many juniors also don’t appreciate what I understand to be the camaraderie of a friendly klap. They need some protection.


Rules helped. There was a semblance of order amid the surging, twirling chaos. Only prefects could walk across the manicured lawn in the quad. You pulled your shirt collar out of your blazer on pain of a dressing down from Meneer van Blerk. Older boys ate first. I wish I had been less observant of these. It would have been more fun.

And every rule was broken. Smoking in the loos during chapel, bunking out on weekends, and all manner of dress code violations. Serious violations happened, too. They always will. I know there were some genuinely violent guys. Biology guarantees that among young men everywhere. And it must be dealt with calmly. You can bet there were drug problems. And worse. I didn’t see these. I think my circle was more akin to what Lieutenant George describes as, “Crushingly superb bunch of blokes. Fine, clean-limbed…” (Blackadder).

On reflection, misuse of alcohol in the senior years was a widespread problem. Older teens always and everywhere conduct this perilous experiment. We learn the hard way. I’m told today’s culture is much less accepting of Monday morning tales of blackouts and “Bengals” (booze-induced vomiting). That’s a good thing.  

But most rule-breaking was shenanigans. One afternoon we handcuffed “Hazard” to a bench. We put “Midge” in a dustbin on tennis tour in KwaZulu-Natal. Poor Mr. Botham once returned to my standard 6 history class from an errand to find Showgirls on VHS playing where his war documentary had been. I once watched Turnball swallow a frog’s head for an audience paying R10 apiece.

Now Saints is gone. It won’t come back.


Woke has captured Saints. I’m not close enough to it to describe it in detail. But I can see the generic markers. These things all follow the same pattern, wherever in the world they happen. The very same formula applies to every institution that is infiltrated by critical race theorists (CRT), intersectionality gurus, social justice warriors, grievance studies “experts”, institutional racism pundits, and race Marxists.

One or two extremists enter the ranks spouting Foucault, Marcuse, and Freire. They call everything racist and sexist. The majority find it worrying at first, but they are too afraid to be called racist or sexist, so they keep quiet. The hell-bent ideologues grow by conversion. In the case of schools, malleable youngsters are easily radicalised. Anything old is suddenly deemed regressive. Bad. Intolerable. The first race-baiting consultant is hired. And the ball is rolling.

A number of people have been warning of this for years. This exact thing. James Lindsay, a mathematician by training, defines CRT pithily: “Call anything you want to control ‘racist’ until you control it”. In his latest book he argues that this amounts to “race Marxism”. Now the manufactured groups aren’t the honest working class and the greedy capital owners. They’re races and sexes. Not individuals. Oh, no. It’s a collectivist struggle. Groups are pitted against each other. You’re in a gang, whether you like it or not. White. Straight. Formerly oppressed. Or some made-up and fleeting “community” like “Latinx”. I’m yet to meet a Latino who uses that ridiculous term.

Gad Saad, a Canadian business school professor and evolutionary psychologist, describes these mad ideas as “idea pathogens”. That speaks for itself. Spread is viral.

Saad also explains why the relentless hunt for some racial and sexual utopia never works. His example is a book publisher who went woke, and then broke. They decided that the archetype of a tall, dark, handsome man as the object of desire in romance novels was regressive. They feminised their male leads and removed the “toxic masculinity”. Nobody bought the books. It turns out that we are an evolved, sexually reproducing species with two phenotypes. [Rarities like differences in sex development (DSD) don’t change that.] We compete for mates. We compete for everything, in fact. That can suck. But it is wired into our DNA. If you like, as Jack London put it describing why men watch boxing, “This is the ape and tiger in us, granted. But… it is in us, isn’t it?”

Back to Saints. Hiring that first top-dollar outside consultant is a dangerous step, but the institution can still be saved at that stage. The Rubicon is crossed when policies are captured and opposition goes silent. Several go-to strategies are red flags. Racial quotas and targets are set. Books are banned for being too “triggering”. Ibram X. Kendi is assigned in history class. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility inspires a headmaster’s assembly. Maths is “decolonised”. [I have no sight of whether any of these have been introduced at Saints. I mention them generically.]

Most people realise it too late. Some only saw it at St. Stithians several weeks ago, when the head of the Girls’ College, Dr. S.J. James announced they were admitting a “transgender girl” – that is a biological boy living life “as a girl” –  and opening gender-neutral bathrooms. *See full letter at bottom of article.

Let me pause very purposefully now. The pupil mentioned in the newsletter absolutely deserves all the support and love possible. I have no sight of the particular people involved and wish them only the very best. Gender dysphoria does exist. Good and perceptive parents and experts will help. I make no claim to understand this individual child’s circumstances. The intention is only to address the new raft of policies as policies.

According to the school’s Diversity and Transformation web page at least 19 people are being paid either full time or part time, or apparently donating their time, to this mission. It is clear that every paid employee is required to spend some amount of their scarce time on these activities. The direct cost is some portion of the R154 000 in annual fees charged at the high school level. The opportunity cost is the quality teaching and other work these people might otherwise have done.

They’ve instituted all of the usual ingredients that not only waste time but generally sow tension. The 2020 Transformation Report is a veritable recipe book. Look at 1.10 below. Micro-aggressions at the Boys’ Preparatory school. Sure, little boys exhibit small aggressions. Teachers and parents have good and bad ways to address this. It is part of growing up and learning. Webinars create a problem that isn’t there.

What is a gender micro-invalidation at a preparatory school level?

You’ll notice that grammar and spelling is poor in all of these types of reports. That seems a global norm. A “Micro aggression” here, a “Micro-Aggression” there. British spelling and American spelling are used interchangeably. But this is ideology and propaganda. Not a meritocracy.

“Safe spaces” and “allyship” are dead giveaways. Like all of their lexicon, these are euphemisms that hide something ugly with unproven benefits. Of course you want school to be a place that is safe. But woke has a particular meaning for this. It means protection from anything that might hurt your feelings, coupled with validation that your worst assumptions about someone else are true. Allyship means slicing the community up by race, sexual preference, and gender, pretending these camps are in some nebulous and collective struggle, then vilifying anyone who doesn’t overtly signal “allyship” in the particular way mandated.

They’re teaching 14-year-olds to do “racial socialization” (sic). In my day, we just socialised with difference races. Sometimes poorly. But we got better. We shared dorm rooms and sarmies without a moment’s notice of a buddy’s race.

“Decolonisation”, obviously. More committees and support groups and surveys. All to create some obtuse version of utopia.

In one recommended book on this above site, kids are exposed to “gender affirming surgery”.

I’d like to add a book that provides challenging evidence. Irreversible Damage The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, by Abigail Shrier. This book does not deny the existence of the sorts of gender issues that Saints is attempting to address. It provides evidence of the dire and irrevocable damage some of their efforts can cause.  

Gender reassignment surgery seems to help a vanishingly small number of people around the world. According to the most thorough study of its kind, the suicide rate of adolescents who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to 20 times that of comparable peers, as monitored over some 30 years in Sweden.

Just as important as the key finding is the assertion of a “dearth of long term, follow-up studies after sex reassignment”. This is not something to be guessed at. Not a “helpful” link on a school newsletter. And most certainly not something any parent should want managed by a teacher. 

Social contagion

Further, there is robust evidence that schools that bring in transgender “education” programmes cause viral spread of faux transgenderism. “Peer contagion” is the term. Much as teenagers all like the same (invariably terrible) fashion and haircuts, “transgenderism” can spread virally. Girls in particular are prone to “outbreaks” of this so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”. Brown University’s Lisa Littman coined that phrase in her peer-reviewed work. Children who don’t suffer gender dysphoria are vulnerable to getting caught up in this emotional contagion. Like any field, this is a living question. It is rich with uncertainty. Too much to entrust its management to teachers in schools with untested models. Certainly not without far more evidence than has been provided.

At its worst, youngsters take puberty blockers and undergo gender reassignment surgery, only to regret it and “detransition”.

If social engineering, untested theories, and telling a 15-year-old boy otherwise quite content with his gender that he may be a girl aren’t solutions, what should we do? I suggest the same things we learned to do pre-woke. Any youngster that expresses confusion about gender needs love and support from the right people. Racial abuse has got to be dealt with decisively. Other than that, let boys be boys. Let girls be girls.

Drawing on Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we now look back at Saints, and “with the right kind of eyes, we can almost see the high-water mark. The place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back”. Saints may very well be irretrievable. However, there is time to protect individual youngsters from this fate.

Blokes, test your masculinity on the rugger field. If you want to. Flirt with a girl or a boy. Or a few of each. At some point you will bully someone. Every one of us has. You’ll look back on that with shame. You’ll harbour racist and sexist feelings here and there. That is a biological certainty. We have in-group/out-group preferences for deep evolutionary reasons. You’ll experience them, live through them, and learn. Not by being told you’re sick or defined by your skin colour or wedding tackle. With some guidance and maturity. With time, you’ll get wiser. Try out for the choir, challenge a teacher for his take on history, play tennis for the 8th team. Whatever. Break ranks and suffer the consequences. Take your place in the tribe wherever that feels right. Become an individual. Not a victim of ideology. Read widely. Demand evidence for things people tell you – especially your teachers.

As for parents, I’d ask questions. First, “Why?” Why should my son read this book about sex reassignment? Why is there a gender-neutral bathroom across the hall from my daughter’s biology class? How do you know that 11-year-old boy committed a sexual micro-invalidation? And what is that? How does it differ from a moment of poor behaviour or an unproblematic statement of a growing mind?

“Why you?” Why is this the person to address this issue with my child? Do I trust this maths teacher to decolonise calculus? What makes school the place to explore whether my son should puzzle over removing his penis and testicles?

And press them for evidence. “How do you know this is a good idea?” What are the examples of this policy that have worked well in other schools? Are there longitudinal studies that showed good results many years later? What unintended consequences have emerged?  

Finally, rands and cents. Is this the best use of my hard-earned money and your valuable time? What are you not providing me and my child in order to build gender-neutral bathrooms?

Ian Macleod

Vice-captain of tennis, BAK founder, Silly Buggers and 56 Club, Saints (2002)

*Names and nicknames are changed and stories altered for anonymity.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend


Ian Macleod studied business science at the University of Cape Town and journalism at Rhodes University. He completed his MBA at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). Macleod consults on a variety of economic topics, writes about sport and endeavours to speak truth on the culture wars. He has run seven Comrades Marathons.