Nadeem Hendricks has spent 40 years of his life at Trafalgar High School, first as a pupil and later as a teacher and then as a principal.
He’s now leaving the school but not the fight he has long waged for equal education for all.
The charismatic and influential principal, originally from District Six, says it’s now time for somebody else to take over the reins.
“At Trafalgar High School, there are good management that can take over and they just need a good leader among themselves. As a collective, they will take this school forward,” Mr Hendricks says.
He matriculated from Trafalgar High School in 1975. For two years thereafter, he taught at Battswood Primary School, followed by Livingstone High School.
“I did not get into the University of Cape Town as I refused to apply for a permit – all other races had to get a permit to enter UCT and I did not want to go to UWC as it was known as a ‘bush college’ at the time,” he says.
During the turbulent period of 1976 and 1977, as the apartheid state felt the fury of the youth in the wake of the Soweto uprising, Mr Hendricks helped to organise student protests.
“It was the most exciting of times in terms of challenging the state of apartheid.”
Eventually, he attended UCT in 1978, when the permits were no longer needed to apply. “At UCT, we had the Black Consciousness Movement and the other left organisations challenging the apartheid state and the liberals at the university that thought the struggle was theirs to fight and interpret. What a period of activism in my life. We made sure that freedom from apartheid stayed on the university agenda and advocated education for liberation.”
His passion for teaching was instilled by some of his former teachers at the school – Erie Steenveldt, Hassen Bavasan and Goosain Emeran. He described them as “great motivators and teachers”.
Mr Hendricks returned to teaching in 1982, after Mr Steenveldt recruited him on the corner of Adderley and Darling streets, at Cartwright Corner. “I filled in the green form out of respect, and there my teaching stint at Trafalgar started,” he says with a smile.
“We were a school of academic excellence unchallenged at that time. We had brilliant teachers. They drove us to excel and get to university. We performed so well that we featured among and as the best learners in the country. These teachers never made us feel oppressed and inferior.”
The most challenging days of his career came during the 1982 and 1985 unrest, when the school became something of a staging point for protests.
“Our learners were detained and beaten up. We as educators had to run the gauntlet of protecting and fetching them as they were on the run. We had to drive out into the Cape Flats to rally support at rallies and meetings. I played a pivotal role with other educators to ensure the safety of the learners, as we had to organise safe houses for the kids and ourselves.”
Sports for Mr Hendricks also played an important role in the pupils’ development, as he watched Trafalgar produce athletics champions for 13 years in a row. Rugby players made provincial colours and there were pupils who became Springbok table tennis players and Bafana Bafana players.
“We were just doing great, and parents recognised this, and then we started attracting the best of sporting learners.”
He hopes to carry on fighting for a better deal for pupils from poor communities.
“I have fought and marched and been hounded and charged and fined for leading marches against this system of education – from rationalisation, to opposition to OBE to retrenchment and victimisation of educators.”
He also wants to spend time with his family, whom he says he has neglected for nearly 40 years.
What will he miss most about the school?
“The students,” he replies. “They are my oxygen. Their problems, their troubles, their battles to grow up in their tough township environments, their greed for knowledge, their hunger for sport, their coping with growing up, their joy of achievements. Teaching is my passion. I never gave it up.”
And he has a stern message for all school pupils: “Discipline yourself to study. Work hard to get to university. There is a world of opportunities out there. Go for it. Respect your educators as they are your hope today. They give their best if you allow them to. It can only benefit you.”