Skonk with his old Chrysler Valiant in about 1990. The arch in the background is the Nicholson Arch – the First XV runs through the arch on its way to the main field, Goldstone’s. It was commissioned in 1982, the year of Skonk’s retirement.
Skonk with his old Chrysler Valiant in about 1990. The arch in the background is the Nicholson Arch – the First XV runs through the arch on its way to the main field, Goldstone’s. It was commissioned in 1982, the year of Skonk’s retirement.

Skonk’s Valiant heads north

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Aug 7, 2021

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Durban - It took less than a day for the Maritzburg College Old Boys’ Association to rally together to restore the much-loved “Skonkmobile”, a 1966 Chrysler Valiant which holds a cherished history and which was severely damaged in the recent riots.

The Valiant belonged to College legend, the late James Mervyn Nicholson, aka the “great Skonkwaan”, who started teaching at the school in 1944. He was a teacher, deputy headmaster and master of rugby to thousands of boys over the years.

The ’Skonkmobile’ was damaged during the recent riots and looting in Pietermaritzburg.
Looters smashed windows on the old Valiant during the riots

The Valiant was bought by current owner and College old boy, Lucio Santoro, at the school’s 150th Reunion Dinner in 2013. He restored the “Skonkmobile” back to its glory.

This week, Santoro said his Pietermaritzburg business was ransacked and trashed during the looting rampage, including the old Valiant which was parked in a corner of his factory.

“We are still busy picking up the pieces. Our business, which is 52 years old, was destroyed in one night,” said Santoro this week, adding that when pictures of the smashed Valiant were shared on social media. “It was not even one day” and the old boys got together and called to say they would ensure the “Skonkmobile” was repaired.

The ’Skonkmobile’ being loaded on a flatbed trailer by Maritzburg College Old Boys who came together to restore the old car

With 1980 head prefect Mark Stewart leading the way, the car has been sent to another old boy, Rod Burnett, who restores vintage cars in Gauteng.

The old Valiant was much loved by Skonk, who first got his name when he was a grade 8 boarder at Durban High School (DHS) when head prefect M Bennet nicknamed him “Skonkwaan”, later shortened to “Skonk”.

Skonk as the head prefect of DHS in 1935, where he was also captain of rugby, cricket and athletics, head of Blackmore’s and senior student officer. Here he is wearing a Natal Schools rugby blazer which he also captained.

In 1935, Skonk became DHS head prefect. He was also captain of rugby, cricket, athletics, senior student officer and captain of Natal Schools rugby XV.

While always a staunch DHS old boy, Skonk started teaching at his alma mater just before World War II broke out. During the war, he served as a sergeant-major before being demobilised because of injury and in 1944, was sent by Natal Education authorities to teach at Maritzburg College. It was the start of a long and distinguished teaching career with the school where, with his passion for rugby, he also coached the First XV from 1948 to 1982.

Skonk before kick-off of a First XV match in 1979, with his captain of that year, Craig Jamieson, who captained the Natal rugby team to its first Currie Cup Final victory, in 1990. The name of the bear carried by Craig is ’Skonk’, which remains to this day the First XV mascot.

It included coaching some of SA’s rugby greats, including Springboks such as Keith Oxlee, Ormond Taylor and Andy van der Watt, and after his retirement, Joel Stransky, Jeremy Thomson, Butch James and Pieter Dixon.

Skonk owned his 1966 Valiant, also buying a 1964 model for his wife and often referred to the two cars as his “wagons”.

He died in 2011 at the age of 94. In a tribute to him by Maritzburg College’s Matthew Marwick, the deputy headmaster and history subject head, said: “One could only but bask in his wit, delicious turn of phrase and irresistible charm. With his twinkling blue eyes, gruff voice and animated face, one had the sense of being able to absorb the wisdom of the ages.

“If you were lucky, he might pass the time telling one of his anecdotes of Natal life, of his days at DHS as a boy, of rugby and, of course, of College, stories that were vividly told and famously always peppered with Zulu-isms or delightful euphemisms, because Skonk, although of a light-hearted nature, remained the most gracious of gentlemen.”

The Independent on Saturday

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