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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mat Sabu goes back to school

Mat Sabu joins former schoolmates from 5S1 in a classroom at SMK Bukit Mertajam.
BUKIT MERTAJAM: It was a nostalgic day for Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu yesterday as he set foot in SMK Bukit Mertajam, better known as “BM High”, 48 years after graduating from the fifth form.
His military police convoy was welcomed by the school’s current students and teachers and some of his contemporaries.
He embraced his old schoolmates, surprising some people by recognising them after nearly 50 years.
“Now, after seeing my old friends, I just realised I am old. That’s sad because I always think that at least in spirit I am still young,” laughed the 65-year-old, as he delivered his homecoming speech in the school hall.
Mat Sabu looks at a write-up of him on the school notice board.
Mohamad, better known as Mat Sabu, was born in Kampung Guar Petai in 1954. He received his primary education at SK Padang Menora, Tasek Gelugor, and secondary at SMK Bukit Mertajam, graduating with an MCE, the precursor to SPM, in 1971.
He told his audience he was never an athletic student but more of a spectator-cheerleader and was really only interested in participating in debates.
He recalled that during his time there, six teachers from the school were married to each other, and he was still able to remember their names.
He also recalled the girls’ netball team, which he said was one of the best in the state. The current netball team was in the audience and stood up and cheered.
“Principal Wan Yahaya Wan Din was the most memorable personality at school during my years,” he said, recalling how the principal had told him that one day he would be a politician.
“You see, my debating peers usually chose to speak on topics such as My Trip to Kuala Lumpur, or My Scariest Experience.
“I, on the other hand, usually chose to talk about something like then-president Richard Nixon’s so-called ping-pong diplomacy.”
He was referring to what is historically seen as the start of better US-China relations in the early 1970s, when a group of table tennis players became the first Americans to visit the People’s Republic of China.
Mat Sabu said that curiously, the same principal was his returning officer during his first foray into politics, when he contested the Kepala Batas parliamentary seat in 1982.
He stood under the PAS banner and lost to Umno’s Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who eventually became prime minister in 2003.
“I thanked my old principal for having the foresight to see that I would be a politician someday,” he said.
Looking back, he recalled how far he has come.
The old block of SMK Bukit Mertajam where Mat Sabu studied.
As a small-town boy he never expected to one day be negotiating with the five major defence players: the US, the UK, France, China and Russia.
He also never expected to be cooking and serving meals for his erstwhile political enemy, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the same man who detained him under ISA decades ago.
“We are like best friends now,” he assured his audience.
“These days, I preside over national security meetings, to make sure the country is peaceful. And I am the man to advise the Agong during emergency situations. It’s scary. Sometimes I ask myself, am I in the right place?
“What I am today, and the confidence I have developed, for that I have to thank the fine staff of this school who taught me.
“Most of them will be drawing their pensions or passed on by now. But I would love to meet them again,” he said.
Mat Sabu was then given the honour of opening a new History Centre, where items from the school’s founding in 1964 are on display.
A picture of him is in the Notable VIPs section, together with a snapshot of his name on the school’s 1966 roll, showing he is a son of Sabu Din of Madrasah Kg Baru, Padang Menora.
He was given a tour of his old classroom, F5S1. That was a science stream, and he told reporters not to be surprised.
“I am not that smart nor that stupid. I am just average,” he said.
His three best friends from school sat together with him in the classroom, recalling old times.
Mat Sabu with his three best friends from ‘BM High’: Mohd Daud Mohd Yusoff, Razali Yahaya and Abd Rashid Osman.
Abdul Rashid Osman, Mohd Daud Mohd Yusoff, and Razali Yahaya, all now 65 just like Mat Sabu, were his cycling companions to and from school.
Razali recalled Mat Sabu was very talkative back then.
“He was as good as a talk show host, and his chatter would make our long ride back home seem shorter than it really was.”
“We remember him being excellent at writing in Jawi. But his Rumi was not so good lah,” Daud laughed.
The three said despite being a minister, Mat Sabu has never forgotten them and often keeps in touch.
Rashid said, “Today, we are still the ’empat sekawan’ (four friends) that everyone knew.” - FMT

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