The education sector and community celebrated the life of former Crestway High School principal Allan Anton Liebenberg, 67, who died last week after a long battle with cancer.
Mr Liebenberg, who was described as a giant who “stood out head and shoulders among all”, died on Saturday January 7 and many have paid tribute to the “principled comrade”.
His daughter, Lenine Liebenberg, said the tributes streaming in on social media from his colleagues, friends, past pupils, and acquaintances attest to his positive impact on countless lives and echoed the stories she listened to from her father throughout her life.
She said their accounts describe a man respected and loved in the public sphere.
“My account, as a loving daughter, is of a man who enjoyed the outdoors. He was always surrounded by dogs – whether his or strays, who recognised his kindness, and trees. He was always trying to grow something or make something or improve something.
“He was always stopping to speak to someone he knew or who knew him, anywhere. His questions were thought-provoking, and his knowledge was vast. His lifestyle was simple,” said Ms Liebenberg.
The dedicated educator grew up in Lansdowne and attended Livingstone High School. Fellow educator Donald Neumann said Mr Liebenberg’s potential was evident for all to see at the age of 13 and he garnered the respect of his teachers and peers equally.
“Allan attributed his political awakening to the killing of Imam Haroon in 1969. The killing of the Imam at the behest of the Apartheid government while in detention had a profound influence on the community and Allan.”
He took up the role as chairperson of the Student Representative Council at Livingstone and led many student demonstrations and boycotts against the Apartheid government.
Mr Neumann worked closely with Mr Liebenberg and said he was like a brother to him during high school. He said Mr Liebenberg was routinely harassed by the security police at home and school.
“He would regularly receive lashes from the security police at school and be detained.”
After matriculating from Livingstone High School, he enrolled to study teaching at the University of the Western Cape and was elected onto the SRC in his first year of studies – along with other comrades, such as Mackie Kleinschmidt, Ben Palmer Louw and George Webster. They were under constant police surveillance and harassment but stood steadfast in their principles of non-racialism, Mr Neumann said. He said that during this time, Mr Liebenberg was detained more than 10 times.
Graduating from UWC he obtained his first teaching post at Lotus High School but stayed active in the struggle. As a result he was routinely dismissed by the Department of Coloured Affairs and detained by the government.
Despite this, he completed his Master’s degree in education specialising in assessment and went on to become principal of Crestway High School in the late 90s and continued with his activism and started the Western Cape Governing Body Association, which served predominantly marginalised schools.
“Throughout his teaching career, Allan remained committed to the holistic development of the child and served at various levels of the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU),” said Mr Neumann.
He added that the world has lost a principled revolutionary in Mr Liebenberg.
“He fearlessly fought for the weak and most vulnerable in society. He was an intellectual giant who stood his own against the greatest minds this world has ever produced. His actions and ideals represent the power and will of the people and of the power of people in solidarity. He has left an indelible mark in the struggle for a just and equal education system and society.”
Martin Jansen, a former trade unionist and community worker, who worked alongside Mr Liebenberg to democratise education and launched the Western Cape School Governing Body and the National Association of School governing bodies, said Mr Liebenberg’s commitment to education, the working class and poor was outstanding.
“His dedication was amazing and I always admired him. He will remain in my memory forever,” said Mr Jansen.
Moravian Church of South Africa Minister, Peter Simson, said Mr Liebenberg was one of the greatest leaders at UWC.
“He was highly intelligent and his arguments fascinated me. I can still see him with his satchel convening meetings during the struggle. He was a giant who stood out head and shoulders among all. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace.”
Former Heathfield High principal Wesley Neumann said Mr Liebenberg’s approach to politics was very clear – he was apolitical with regard to party politics. He never aligned himself to any party but favoured socialism.
“Of the thousands of pupils who passed through Allan’s classes not one can say that they were not given the opportunity to learn the comparison of justice and injustice. Every lesson was built on teaching them what is right and wrong and would inevitably lead to the upliftment of the community at large,” he said.
He added the stalwart was the true compass for integrity – and until his passing, nobody could doubt his 100% integrity.
“It did not matter who it was; if you were wrong, corrupt or doing any type of injustice, he would address it – many times making enemies, which he accepted and dealt with. The passing of Allan will make this world a poorer place, and his sound advice will be sorely missed. Hamba Kahle.”
When Mr Liebenberg retired from education he started farming a small plot in Hopefield on the West Coast, producing organic vegetables.
Ms Liebenberg said he again became an activist within his community: “His neighbours can attest to his fighting for the right to education when children were expelled from school. I understand he started a mentorship program with the kids and community members. He engaged the municipality with the small-scale farmers in Hopefield; today, they have land.”
Ms Liebenberg added that her father was an atheist and believed that his death was his end and therefore he wanted no funeral, burial, gravestone, or memorial. He wanted his ashes scattered by his family on the mountain he loved.
“We will honour him this way and celebrate his memory and teachings through our actions,” said Ms Liebenberg.