TW Kambule: Legendary maths teacher
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
MATHS MASTER: Dr TW Kambule