Remembering the life of a true ’Stonian

Tall, imposing and diligent are words used by many who have crossed paths with Francois “Fanie” van Zyl, a former Afrikaans teacher at Livingstone High School, who died last week.

Theo Bruinders, the school’s principal, described Mr Van Zyl, as “dedicated”, “very passionate” and “liked”.

Mr Van Zyl, started teaching at the school in 1974, and Mr Bruinders said Livingstone was a part of him.

Mr Van Zyl had joined the staff at a “very turbulent time” when the education department had been trying remove all white teachers from coloured schools.

“But this did not deter him, and he continued with teaching duties irrespective of what happened outside the school gates,” Mr Bruinders said.

Mr Van Zyl had still regularly visited the school, even after leaving it in 1997.

“Mr Van Zyl wanted an update on the school, always wanting to hear that we are making progress. So that in itself proved that he carried Livingstone High School very close to his heart,” Mr Bruinders said.

He will remember Mr Van Zyl as the tall figure striding through the school, always ready with a comment about boxing or politics.

“He was a man that was always interested in what was happening around him. He was so friendly and caring about the well-being of everybody around him,” Mr Bruinders said.

Alwyn Visagie, who was the school’s principal from 2003 to 2010, said Mr Van Zyl had been one of the most warm, sociable and diligent teachers around, with a sense of humour that made it seem as “if he was laughing at the world”.

“Everybody knew him as a gentle giant. Although he was strict, there was always this relaxed environment in his classroom, because of his sense of humour,” Mr Visagie said.

He will always remember the day Mr Van Zyl stood up to the police in 1985, as political violence swept through the schools.

“Mr Van Zyl was standing right up against the fence, facing police during this very difficult time. Staff and students were marching to have the schools re-opened. He had the guts and courage to be upfront fighting for this cause.

“Mr Van Zyl was at the school at a time when there were several campaigns to remove the white teachers from the so-called coloured schools.

“This never bothered him as he continued working with the pupils, as he was known for being such a diligent teacher,” Mr Visagie said.

Memories, condolences and tributes poured in on Facebook.

Janine Joemat said: “My sincere condolences to Mr Van Zyl’s family. He was a wonderful educator and such a humble and warm human being. Because I frequently found creative but improper ways to occupy my time, he frequently reprimanded me with: ‘Moenie jammer wees nie, wees versigtig…’ He will be remembered fondly.”

Robin Dawn Kleinveldt said: “‘Fanie’ as he was affectionately known was my Afrikaans teacher from 1974 to 1975. In one of his classes, we learnt the meaning of the word ‘melaats’ and for the next year the phrase ‘jy is melaats’ became the phrase we used to insult our classmates. Good memories. Condolences to the family at this sad time.”

Michael Paulse said: “’JC’ was my Afrikaans teacher in matric (1974) – He instilled in me an appreciation for the language. ‘Rus in Vrede Fanie’. Condolences to the family during this time of your bereavement.”

The Tatler tried to contact Mr Van Zyl’s family but they were not yet ready to talk to the media at the time of going to print.