After 42 years at Voortrekker High School in Kenilworth, Madeleine Flack is going to “take a gap year and chill”, in the parlance of her former pupils.
Having ascended the position of principal in 2009, Ms Flack said goodbye to her beloved school after retiring at the end of April, secure in the knowledge that the future looks bright for the 82-year-old institution.
“When I first came here from Outeniqua High School in George in the 1970s, it was a whites-only school and it was very strict. But then from 1992 all races were allowed to attend the school. It was a very exciting time,” the former Afrikaans and history teacher said.
“It was amazing to see how the teachers and pupils came together to adapt. Something that always stands out for me is the parents, who have always thanked us and supported us for whatever we did. I have learnt so much from them over the years.” To this end, she referenced two conversations she had with parents in the latter part of her career.
“There was a grandmother who told me, ‘Although I live in Manenberg, Manenberg does not live in me’.
“That said so much about the ambitions of these families to improve the situations of their children.
“The second conversation I had was with a mother, the poorest of the poor, who told me she would not allow a single item in her home that she did not buy herself. That was the kind of parents I had, just incredibly proud and determined.”
Voortrekker High has produced a number of famous alumni over the years, both on the academic and sports front, including rugby players Jonathan Makwena and Egon Seconds, who represented Griqualand West and the Stormers respectively.
Another interesting aside, Ms Flack recalled, was that in spite of the school’s name, which in some quarters might conjure controversy, both pupils and parents had insisted that it remain.
“About 10 years ago we brought in an arbitrator to discuss the name change issue. We would first ask the educators what they thought, then the pupils, then the parents. All the educators said they would be open to a name change, but to our surprise the pupils said they would not agree to it. They believed Voortrekker’s traditions were too strong, and that Kenilworth High or some other name would not mean anything. After that we stopped the process immediately.”
She also paid tribute to the pupils themselves, whom she described as tireless in their efforts to succeed.
“For many pupils who started school after 1992, they are the first in their families to get a matric, and that is very special. Some of them come from far away, having to get up very early in the morning to travel in from Khayelitsha, Gugulethu and around the mountain in Hout Bay. I admire them so much,” she said.
While she would miss the school environment, Ms Flack said she was looking forward to gardening, reading biographies and listening to classical music now that her time was her own.
“My children, Margaux and Victor, are 27 and 24 years old now, so I’m looking forward to some me time. I’m also very interested in antiques, so I will be spending a lot of my time researching antiques and going to shows. My daughter is also moving to London in September, so I’m hoping to visit her there in the future.”