Adventures at Carter High with great­est school lead­er­ship duo ever

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - LOUD THOUGHTS Brian Khoza

AS school re­sumes, I wish to ac­knowl­edge what I con­sider the best prin­ci­pal and vice­prin­ci­pal team I have wit­nessed, in Mr Del­port and Mr van Heer­den, be­cause schools need lead­ers like them. They were at Carter High School when I ar­rived in 1994, and their work dur­ing that tran­si­tion phase in our na­tion de­serves recog­ni­tion.

I was in awe, and am still amazed, at how se­ri­ously ed­u­ca­tion and life in gen­eral were taken at the school. It was not quite mil­i­tary, but Carter High was def­i­nitely like a small na­tion with tra­di­tions, a school an­them and a full sports and cul­tural cal­en­dar, among other fea­tures. We had as­sem­bly in the hall twice a week and when there was no as­sem­bly there would be in­ter­com an­nounce­ments in ev­ery class­room be­fore and af­ter daily lessons.

Ev­ery first day of school in­volved a hair in­spec­tion, choos­ing a manda­tory ex­tra­mu­ral ac­tiv­ity, which you could only be ex­cused from by a let­ter from your par­ents, and other ad­min­is­tra­tive stuff. With­out fail, teach­ing be­gan on the very first day and we even had home­ work. This was all run by a team led by th­ese two men, whose char­ac­ter­is­tics I be­lieve I adopted in my lead­er­ship roles. They knew that they were rais­ing re­spon­si­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

The first time I saw Mr Del­port was on the evening be­fore school re­sumed, which in­volved an in­tro­duc­tory meet­ing with par­ents, Grade 8 pupils and the pre­fects for the year. He looked and sounded noth­ing like the prin­ci­pals I was used to, hav­ing been to four pri­mary schools. Mr D was lowly, hum­ble and gen­tle, and ap­peared ner­vous as he read his speech and spoke to par­ents and pupils. This was very new to me, but I didn’t dwell on it as the evening pro­gressed. Too much was go­ing on to fo­cus that evening, but a tour ex­posed the most amaz­ing in­sti­tu­tion I had seen. Carter had many ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties, such as sci­ence lab­o­ra­to­ries, sports fields, bas­ket­ball courts, ten­nis courts, man­i­cured lawns, a pool and so many other ameni­ties that made me look for­ward to go­ing to school through­out high school.

Mr Van did not make a lot of friends but he was the back­bone of the school and would be a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the Zulu agri­cul­ture­re­lated phrase Kushaywa edon­sayo, which means, “The ox that pulls is the one that gets whipped”. In urg­ing dis­ci­pline and clean­li­ness, he made mis­takes at times and would apol­o­gise. That man loved our school, and as in­di­cated by our re­cent and blessed en­counter at Mediclinic Hos­pi­tal, still does. He is still as fit as a fid­dle and would have been there to see some­body else, but he kin­dled this trib­ute ar­ti­cle. We would make fun of him for a rea­son his friend, ed­u­ca­tion aca­demic Wayne Hugo, did not let me elab­o­rate upon dur­ing a lec­ture when I men­tioned him.

Mr van Heer­den would walk across the school premises at lunch time and even pick up pieces of lit­ter as he made sure ev­ery­thing on the premises was sound. He also took the fire and emer­gency drills very se­ri­ously, so we would joke that if the school ever blew up, he would make sure we were all safe, and fi­nally emerge from the dis­as­ter by him­self, full of soot and dust in ripped cloth­ing, just like movie he­roes. That school was his baby.

Mr Del­port was more ap­proach­able and so­cia­ble, and I re­mem­ber him get­ting re­ally an­gry with us at most, three times a year, if we did not take his hum­ble re­quests and rep­ri­mands se­ri­ously. I am prob­a­bly ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but dur­ing the few times he raised his voice to scold us in the as­sem­bly hall it looked as if the teach­ers were also afraid. How­ever, there is one in­ci­dent where Mr D was ex­pected to scream at us but sur­pris­ingly did not. A teacher who had been on leave was re­turn­ing and her tem­po­rary Asian re­place­ment was thanked by Mr D as he an­nounced that she was leav­ing.

Sec­tions of the seated pupil body hissed “yes” and he sur­pris­ingly con­tin­ued. He asked us to re­main be­hind as he and the staff ex­ited the hall. He re­turned and calmly and re­spect­fully said he had never been so em­bar­rassed. He urged re­spect for other cul­tures and said that he had apol­o­gised to her.

I can only imag­ine the head and deputy’s pri­vate dis­cus­sions on mit­i­gat­ing cul­tural stresses and clashes be­cause of the rather new cir­cum­stances then. You see, apartheid also in­con­ve­nienced well­mean­ing white South Africans by not giv­ing them much truth­ful, con­crete in­for­ma­tion on the way black peo­ple do things. In re­mem­ber­ing my years at Carter, I have grown to ap­pre­ci­ate the enor­mity and dif­fi­culty of in­te­grat­ing non­white chil­dren into a for­mer white school at the dead end of apartheid. I hope they know it was worth all the stress. Many thanks!

Mr van Heer­den would walk across the school premises at lunch time and even pick up pieces of lit­ter as he made sure ev­ery­thing on the premises was sound. He also took the fire and emer­gency drills very se­ri­ously, so we would joke that if the school ever blew up he would make sure we were all safe and fi­nally emerge from the dis­as­ter by him­self, full of soot and dust in ripped cloth­ing, just like movie he­roes. That school was his baby.

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