Making marks on history

Solly Ariefdien, Lansdowne

The Tatler’s story on Livingstone High School (“Livingstone High’s tale of early liberation,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, October 31) in its souvenir edition rang for me many a bell, the first of which took me back to 1938 when I met a man who more than anybody else had a hand in the founding of the first two institutions of secondary learning for children of colour in the history of South Africa.

That man’s name was Doctor Abdullah Abdurahman, who, in the year 1903, became the first person of colour in South Africa to win – not only for his people – a seat in a municipal chamber of governance.

Around that time already, he happened to have been the president of the African People’s Organisation, a political entity that played a major role in the founding of the African National Congress in 1912.

Not too long after his inauguration as a City councillor, he also became a member of the Western Cape Provincial Council, all of which provided him with the opportunity of working towards the establishment of the first high school for children of colour in this part of our land.

So come 1912, District Six saw the founding of Trafalgar High School to be followed 14 years later in 1926 by Livingstone High School in Claremont.

History will tell that Dr Abdurahman had more than just a hand in the laying of the foundation stones of both those learning institutions.

Of significance during the Trafalgar event was the fact that a man by the name of Dr Harold Cressy was appointed as the first principal of that school; needless to say who had a hand in that having come about.

All of which, in due time, had a natural sequence and Dr Abdurahman wasn’t slow in that regard either. For over and above his official roles in local governance, his political position as the president of the APO had a lot to do with the eventual laying of the stone that saw Livingstone High School rising above to where it figures today.

At the time of the good doctor’s death in 1940, he was still the president of the APO.

That said, three of my children were privileged to have walked the learning paths of Livingstone High School, one particular path of which got my eldest, Cherene Thomas, to become one of its teachers in 1983.

During her 14 years as a teacher at Livingstone, she served under four principals, the last of which was Simon Banda. Both Cherene and Mr Banda ended their teaching stints at Livingstone High School in 1996.

During her school-going days there, she remembers fellow teachers, Mr Banda and Stella Petersen themselves, having been past teachers of hers.

The day Dr Abdurahman died in 1940 a massive crowd of people assembled outside the Cape Town City Hall to honour him prior to his journey onwards to the Mowbray cemetery.

The following extract from Ian Uys’s A Journey Through Time says a lot about the man: “An indication of the high esteem in which he was generally held was evidenced when Cape Town came to a standstill on the occasion of that funeral. 30 000 people took part in the procession which started from the City hall on its way to the cemetery. It was one of the largest funerals ever witnessed in Cape Town, attended by all his fellow City councillors.”

Not long thereafter, an arterial road in Athlone was named after him as well as a day clinic, still in operation there today.

Even the Boland town of Wellington proudly acknowledges the role the late Dr Abdurahman played in the advancement of a better future for our children in general, if only because he was born in their town. Today still, a main thoroughfare in Wellington goes by the name Dr Abdurahman Avenue.

And in Nelson Mandela’s last year as president of South Africa, he posthumously conferred on the late Dr Abdullah Abdurahman the Order for Meritorious Service: Class 1 (Gold) for “his sterling work towards a truly democratic South Africa”.

One of those bells still ringing in my head says that those institutions of learning – Trafalgar High School and Livingstone High School – as well as Harold Cressy High School for that matter, should not be unmindful of the role that doyen of a man played in their respective histories.

Our very students should be reminded of what happened in our past, for isn’t it history that teaches us everything including what our tomorrows have in store for us?