TW Kam­bule: Leg­endary maths teacher

Sunday Times - - World -

THAM­SANQA Wilkin­son Kam­bule used to tell his stu­dents they should never be teach­ers be­cause it was a thank­less job.

Dis­re­gard­ing his own ad­vice, Dr Kam­bule, who has died at the age of 88, be­came a leg­endary maths and sci­ence teacher and prin­ci­pal of Or­lando High School in Soweto.

He taught many of the great names in South African pub­lic life, in­clud­ing busi­ness and re­li­gious leaders, sports stars and politi­cians. So many of his for­mer pupils were in par­lia­ment that he told for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki that if he him­self had had po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, Mbeki would not be pres­i­dent.

Kam­bule was born in Ali­wal North on Jan­uary 15 1921. His mother died when he was 18 months old and he was brought up by his aunt. He be­gan school at the ripe age of 11 but was com­pen­sated for this by be­ing sent to the most pres­ti­gious “black” school in the coun­try, St Peter’s in Roset­tenville, Jo­han­nes­burg. He quickly de­cided that the only thing he cared about was maths.

“I knew maths was for me and I was meant for it,” he said. “I be­came a fa­natic.”

So much so that, when made to at­tend ser­vices at the Angli­can church in Sophi­a­town, he killed time do­ing al­ge­bra. The priest, Fa­ther Trevor Hud­dle­ston, caught him at it and warned him to stop.

“I didn’t,” re­called Kam­bule. “I be­came more cau­tious.”

Af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing, he went to Adams Col­lege in Natal where he ob­tained his secondary teacher’s diploma.

He taught in Zam­bia and Malawi be­fore re­turn­ing to South Africa to teach maths at Jo­han­nes­burg Bantu High School (now Madibane High School) in West­ern Na­tive Town­ship from 1948 to 1956.

One of the pupils was Des­mond Tutu. He was never taught by Kam­bule, but re­mem­bers that even those who were not in his class were in­spired by his in­flu­ence.

Kam­bule be­came vi­ceprin­ci­pal of the school and in 1958 was ap­pointed prin­ci­pal of Or­lando High. In 1977, a year af­ter his pupils had re­volted against the im­po­si­tion of Afrikaans as the medium of in­struc­tion, he reg­is­tered his own protest against Bantu ed­u­ca­tion (‘gut­ter ed­u­ca­tion’, he called it) by re­sign­ing.

Later he com­mented bit­terly on the irony that Or­lando High was a far su­pe­rior school in those days to the one it be­came in the post-apartheid era.

In 1978 Kam­bule ac­cepted a post as a maths tu­tor at the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. He and a col­league, Pro­fes­sor Nor­man Fer­randi, pro­duced a set of maths text­books aimed at al­le­vi­at­ing prob­lems en­coun­tered by ill-qual­i­fied teach­ers at black schools.

In his spare time he con­tin­ued to help school pupils in Soweto, and in 1988 stu­dents and par­ents at Pace Col­lege per­suaded him to be­come the prin­ci­pal.

When he re­tired in 1996 at the age of 75, he promptly be­came the prin­ci­pal of O R T Step Col­lege of Tech­nol­ogy in Midrand.

Kam­bule blamed the poor qual­ity of post-apartheid ed­u­ca­tion on politi­cians who were out of touch with prob­lems on the ground, on out­comes-based ed­u­ca­tion, and on teach­ers with no sense of vo­ca­tion. Un­der apartheid, the best and bright­est be­came teach­ers be­cause there were so few al­ter­na­tives, he said. Un­der democ­racy they left class­rooms to those who were of­ten no good for any­thing else. Given half a chance he prob­a­bly would have cho­sen struc­tural en­gi­neer­ing, he said.— Chris Bar­ron



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