St Stithians College Founders Day
Yesterday I went to St Stithians College Founders Day. I don’t often attend, but this was a special occasion, for me anyway, as I was in the class of ’58, so it was 50 years since my matric year. Some schools try to arrange class reunions on such anniversaries — my wife’s school (Pinetown Convent) did on their 30th anniversary, but if there were any of my former classmates there, I either didn’t see them or didn’t recognise them (after 50 years I probably wouldn’t).
St Stithians is a Methodist School and they had a service on one of the playing fields, led by the school chaplain the Revd Daniel Nkomo. The choir sang African songs, and it was very impressive indeed — a polished professional performance. There were 230 in the choir, which was about three times the size of the whole school when I first went there in 1953. Here’s a picture of the choir of 2008, with the VIP guests, and below, for comparison, is the choir of 1958, with Mrs Behagg, the part-time music teacher (professional name Clarice Greenstone) at the piano. She would come a couple of times a week to teach the choir and give music lessons to those pupils who wanted them.
I was told that the school music department now has about 15 full-time teachers. Our performances sounded pretty amateurish, and nothing at all like what I heard yesterday. There were two guest speakers at the service. One was Ms Nqobani Mkhwanazi, who told how she had become concerned about the struggle against HIV/Aids when she was 13, and had helped to raise funds for those affected and infected by HIV.
An unscheduled guest speaker was Naledi Pandoor, the Minister of Education. She spoke very well, I thought. She said that this years matrics would be the first who had gone through the new curriculum and that the new curriculum was aimed at excellence, so they would have to work harder. She also spoke a bit about Aids, and said that she did not want to distribute condoms at schools, and that such a thing did not set a high enough ideal before the youth. She said they ought to abstain from sexual intercourse while they were young, and only if they really couldn’t would she recommend condoms, but they would have to get them from the chemist or clinics and not in schools. That was another contrast from 50 years ago, when no adults would talk about things like condoms in front of the children as she was doing.
I wondered what old Wally Mears, the first headmaster would have made of it all. I think it would have rejoiced his heart to see black and white kids at the school together, and singing as well as they did. After the service some of the pupils entertained the crowd with more singing, and there was a very good marimba band (in the picture). Though I didn’t see any of my old classmates, I met the mother of another pupil in a class below mine, Mrs Read, 94 years old, who did know some of my classmates. Her husband, Basil Read, ran a road building firm, and in 1958 his firm tarred the road from the chapel to the main gate. I told her how we used to drive the road roller, and ride on the very ancient and clapped-out water lorry that sprayed the road.
We also admired Basil Read’s Maserati, which was in total contrast to the water lorry. The Maserati, it should be noted, was no mere executive toy, but a working vehicle. Basil Read had road building projects at various places around the country, and the Maserati was the quickest way of getting to them — back then there was no 120 km/h speed limit. Mrs Read also told of an assistant housemaster, Ian Alva-Wright, who had given her son the nickname “Worsie” (Little Sausage), because he had got fat after a spell in hospital. She was rather amused when I told her that we called Alva-Wright “Bogroll”. Later we went to a kind of garden party at the Rector’s house, and again I saw none of my former classmates there, but there was someone who knew some of them, but though he shared the surname of one, Robert Ewing, he was no relation. Robert Ewing was one who, before the matric English composition exam, was reciting picturesque phrases to use in his essay, like “The sun cut itself on the mountain ridge and bled down into the valley below”. Whether he got the opportunity to use any of them, I don’t know. When Naledi Pandoor spoke of excellence, and said that this year’s matrics, with the new curriculum, would find it harder than those of the past, she also said that St Stithians was an example of excellence. She had obviously done her homework before she came, and noted that in last year’s matric class, the St Stithians girls achieved a 100% pass rate, and the boys a 98% pass rate, and she wanted every child in the country to have an opportunity to achieve that. Of course it is easier for St Stithians, as a private fee-paying school, and very few parents can afford to send their children there. It is now very much a school for the children of bosses. South Africa has a long way to go before all schools can reach those standards. And it’s not too late for a 50th anniversary Class of ’58 reunion, so if any of them see this, perhaps it would be possible to organise one before the end of the year. So here is the class photo, though probably none of them bear much resemblance to what they look like in the picture.
ST STITHIANS COLLEGE 1958 MATRIC CLASS
Back Row: M.J. Naylor, John Lundie, Stephen Hayes, Theo Christenson, Peter Lange, Robert Ewing
Middle Row: Chris Genis, John Bolton, William Harris, Geoffrey Palmer, David Curtis, Neil Hodges, Adrian Callard
Front Row: Robert Mercer-Tod, Bruce Young, E.M. Harris (the funny little maths man), W.G.A. Mears (headmaster, Steyn Krige (deputy headmaster), Eric Pfaff, Jack Turner.