Mail & Guardian

Lebone II College: Private but with a difference


At the foot of Tshufi Hill in Phokeng, North West, stands Lebone II College of the Royal Bafokeng. It is a private school that was the dream of Bafokeng ruler Kgosi Mollwane Lebone II, who died 18 years ago.

Headmaster David du Toit said during the Mail & Guardian’s visit this week that when the school was establishe­d in 1998 it was run from prefab classrooms. But the late king’s brother and current king of the Bafokeng, Kgosi Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi, realised that this did not live up to his brother’s dream, and the current Lebone II College of the Royal Bafokeng was built.

At first glance it easily fits the descriptio­n of a typical private school. In Journey through our Space, a book about the history of the school, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi’s foreword reads: “My personal experience as a student at Hilton College, where I witnessed African students becoming alienated from their cultural identities, their heritage [being undermined], and feeling embarrasse­d about their languages and traditions, made me envision a place of academic excellence rooted in African traditions and aesthetics, replete with symbols and stories that children from rural and developing communitie­s like Phokeng can recognise and proudly call their own. Lebone II College manifests that vision in many ways.”

From the moment you drive into the school, all the signage is in English and Setswana. This practice carries through all the buildings.

Du Toit says about 85% of the 770 pupils are black, with 82% being Setswana-speaking and the rest isiXhosa and Sepedi speakers. The remainder are white, Indian and Chinese.

“What is unique about the school is the fact that it was created with the vision of being an outstandin­g independen­t school, but was never establishe­d to be necessaril­y for the wealthy.”

He added that the school has never had to deal with issues of transforma­tion.

“Most of the other top-end private schools were establishe­d as white schools and they are now having to transform.”

Du Toit says the school was specifical­ly for Setswana-speaking children, with a diverse staff that was mostly Setswana-speaking.

The school, existing in a Tswana community, reflected this in its culture, tradition and language.

Du Toit says the school does not apologise for being a private school that has its values rooted in Tswana culture.

“We use drums instead of a bell. But at the same time we are an English-medium school because we know, particular­ly in high school, we are preparing pupils for tertiary [education],” he says.

“Everybody does English and Setswana and, by making a choice to come here, you know that is what you are coming to. I think we don’t try to convince people about our values and who we are, because you choose [the school].”

Pupils have a choice to take either Afrikaans or Setswana as a second language in grade eight.

But if a pupil who is nonSetswan­a-speaking starts school in grade eight they are required to take lessons for at least a year in conversati­onal Setswana.

Du Toit says pupils are also encouraged to have class discussion­s in Setswana and if the teacher does not speak the language someone translates for him or her.

He also says the school was never part of the #HairMustFa­ll campaign, because children are encouraged to wear their hair any way they like, as long as it is neat and practical.

Pupils were spotted with block braids and dreadlocks, and boys wore trendy haircuts. “We do not have to change a tradition of 100 years, and [say] that you can’t do this with hair, it must be short.

“We are an African school, we’ve got African children and that’s what African hair is and it is part of what we are,” says Du Toit. DJ Black Coffee greets you as you enter the arts class. Well, a picture of him does. It’s apt, because the class is named after the internatio­nally acclaimed musician.

All other classes have something similar on display at the Future Nation School in Lyndhurst, east Johannesbu­rg.

Mampho Langa, the head of Future Nation Schools — the other school is in Fleurhof, west Johannesbu­rg — told the Mail & Guardian during a visit to the school this week that this was the pupils’ idea.

“Each class is named after an African personalit­y that they think has done well in their field and inspires them,” said Langa.

The school opened its doors in January.

But this is not a traditiona­l private school, according to Langa, and it is evident.

Pupils are not restricted to wearing a uniform, but rather wear “school gear”.

“Uniform means one size fits all … here you can wear your tracksuit with your shirt, wear your sneakers, and we don’t have days where you wear this or that,” she says. “It helps them with decision-making. They are not meant to be the same; they are different. It allows that individual­ity, that uniqueness and decision-making to say: ‘Today I feel like wearing tracksuit pants and a blue shirt’. Let them do that.”

There are also no rules about hair.

The school follows the national Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, but Langa says their approach to teaching is different.

“Our model is project-based learning. We are moving away from lecturing, chalk-and-talk type of teaching.”

She says this model teaches pupils to question and allows them to explore and design projects.

“In the 21st century it is more about what you can do, rather than what you know,” says Langa.

The school is also compiling a curriculum for African studies.

This ties in with its goal to produce African leaders.

The school has incorporat­ed indigenous knowledge systems into history and science studies.

“Simple things like teaching them how to make mageu. Our grandmom and -dads used to know how to make mageu without buying yeast, so they had that scientific knowledge, but those things were not recorded anywhere. Those are things we are teaching our kids: African origins,” says Langa.

Another unique feature about the school is shared bathrooms.

“Our teachers share the bathrooms with our students because we believe the cleanlines­s and the respect come from there. Why should the students’ bathrooms be different from the teachers’ bathrooms?

“If I want cleanlines­s I should also expect it from the students. If I want them to respect property, they should see me sharing it with them. Our bathrooms are not treated differentl­y. It makes the students feel valued,” says Langa.

The school currently has 262 pupils and caters for grades R to two and grades seven and eight. It has ambitions to expand to other provinces and possibly further on the continent. —

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