Liberation came to Livingstone High long before 1994 because, along with the three Rs, it also taught resistance, says former principal Simon Banda.
It proved a valuable lesson for pupils of colour growing up in apartheid South Africa.
This Claremont-based high school was founded 93 years ago when men and women from the Teachers’ League of South Africa (TLSA) and the African People’s Organisation (APO) set out to start a secondary school in Claremont for children of colour.
The campaign to start the secondary school in Claremont finally gave rise to Livingstone High School, which officially opened its doors on February 26, 1926, giving pupils from mission primary schools an opportunity to further their education (“Livingstone High School celebrates 90 years,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, November 17, 2016).
Mr Banda was a pupil at Livingstone High from 1959 to 1963. He returned as a teacher in 1966 and stayed until 1996 when he retired as the school’s principal.
It was tough, he recalls, being a teacher when apartheid laws were designed to suffocate the aspirations of people of colour.
“It was during the mid-1960s and 1970s that teachers at the school were banned, placed under house arrest and isolated for apparently contravening the state’s arsenal of legislation intent on silencing any voice it suspected of being a threat to its pernicious agenda.”
He says it was important for the school at that time to help pupils understand the true nature of the socio-economic and political system designed to rob them of their human dignity and any hope they had of being part of an inclusive and productive society.
Mr Banda was the school’s principal from 1993 to 1996, during the country’s transition to democracy.
But he did not see 1994 as the start of a “liberation” process for Livingstone, because he says the school had always developed a culture of critical thinking and analysis long before the “dawn of liberation”.
The school’s current principal, Donovan Niekerk, started teaching at Livingstone in 1989 when pupils were still involved in protests against the apartheid regime.
“The school needed to make the pupils politically conscious of what was happening in the country at that time, and that is still maintained today.”
And the political challenges of those times have been replaced by new ones for today’s crop of pupils, he says. “We live in a society that has become fragmented, we need to build a sense of unity within our pupils.”
Russell Dudley who matriculated from Livingstone High School in 1977, says his late father, Richard Dudley, and staff like Victor Wessels, GL Abrahams, Ali Fataar, Stella Petersen and others played key roles in providing academic, cultural and political direction at the school.
“The school encouraged self-activity, curiosity and exploration of young people through the well-organised programme of learning, cultural and sporting events that would build a society fit for all.”
Mr Dudley says his father – who was part of Livingstone from the mid 1950s until 1984 – had fearlessly confronted apartheid authorities, including riot police and the Special Branch, to keep pupils from harm.
Salegga Mustapha, 71, originally from Harfied, attended Livingstone High in the early 1960s. She says they used to have their classrooms in the old Judges House, where Claremont police station is today.
She remembers parent-teacher meetings weren’t allowed because of the laws of the time.
Ms Mustapha and her family were forced out of Harfield in 1972 under apartheid’s Group Areas Act.
Mr Niekerk says South Africa still has its fair share of political issues and Livingtone will be there to help its pupils navigate them.
“We as a school need to engage with pupils on any matter to help them during the current changing environment.”