Heathfield Primary School is a product of apartheid’s Group Areas Act, but, in the 50 years since it was birthed by forced removals in Diep River, it has defined itself as “a beacon of light to the poorest communities of Cape Town and the Cape Flats”.
This is according to principal Branmal Swartz, who described the school’s beginnings at its 50th anniversary celebrations on Friday October 29,
“In January 1971, 420 non-white children and teachers were moved from Central Primary, two kilometres away in the former ‘white Diep River’ to the current site,” he said.
“Our school, is situated in the affluent community of Punts Estate in Heathfield but serves the impoverished communities of Lavender Hill, Hill View, Seawinds, Capricorn Park, Westlake, Gugulethu, Philippi, Khayelitsha, and Die Gatjie, a local informal settlement, and many other surrounding areas where poverty and unemployment are rife.
“We are a commuter school as most of our learners are bused in, and very few of our learners are from the immediate surrounding communities. Many of our parents invest their money in better safer education outside the areas they commute from due to gangsterism and daily shootings and violence.”
Guest speakers, former teachers and pupils were invited to celebrate the school’s half century at the Baptist Church in Roscommon Road, in Heathfield.
Mr Swartz was appointed at Heathfield Primary, on July 1 2018. He was the former principal of Norma Road Primary in Silvertown, Athlone and he taught at Harmony Primary.
As a boy, he attended Delta Primary and Crestway Senior Secondary. “Most of my teaching experience is in the Metro South (Die Duine Primary School, Prince George Primary and Harmony Primary).”
He said he was proud to be part of Heathfield Primary’s “proud history” and was determined to honour the legacy of the school’s former principals: founding principal Stanley Hartog (January 1971 to June 1982), William van Beulen (July 1982 to June 1984), Faud Williams (July 1984 to December 1993) and Andre Pretorius (January 1994 to March 2018).
Former teacher Gloriana Cloete was one of 13 teachers who reported for duty on the first day at Heathfield Primary in January 1971.
“Sadly, all but three of us, Yvonne Preyser living in Australia, Patricia Wellman Petersen and I, have passed away. Constance Buckley and Faiza Davids, joined the staff in May later that year,” she said.
In those early days, she recalled, the school consisted only of a school building, surrounded by undeveloped grounds and poorly resourced classrooms.
“Our school was supported by enthusiastic, young parents, living in the newly developed area of Punt’s Estate and Elfindale, therefore, it got off to a positive start,” she said.
The following year the DRC School in Heathfield Main Road was also closed because of the Group Areas Act and Heathfield Primary absorbed its staff, including, Marie Mesias, Mervyn Fortuin, Hajira Solomon and Marlene Septoe. “It wasn’t long before trees and grass were planted,” Ms Cloete said.
A garden and rockery were added later.
The school had originally been named Puntsplaas Laer but that had not sat well with the staff and the community, Ms Cloete said.
“So Mr Hartog, together with the staff, decided upon a logical name which would fit in with the names of Heathfield Pre-school and Heathfield High, which were already in existence.
“Besides the academic subjects, the school boasted the services of needlework teachers like Vicky Pettersen, Lorna Powell, Joy Theys and handwork specialists Leslie Koopman, Andre Pretorius and Mervyn Fortuin. These teachers could proudly exhibit their learners’ masterpieces at the end of each year.”
Heathfield Primary also offered ballet and instrumental music as extra-curricular subjects.
“Our students gave a good account of themselves when they entered the Trinity College Examination every year – a result of dedicated instructors. Not only did our learners fare well academically, but they were also a tremendous source of pride on the sports field and at the annual inter school athletic meetings under the skilful coaching of Joy Theys, Lesley White, Andre Pretorius and the late Trevor Sedras,” said Ms Cloete.
Pupils had also done well during school productions and Eisteddfods, she said.
“We can actually claim that we revived the school concerts in our circuit and beyond. The school was indeed blessed to benefit from the amazing contribution of musical genius, Neville Corker, who lifted our productions to great heights. Unfortunately, owing to rationalisation, our school started to gradually lose the expertise of its specialists,” said Ms Cloete, who taught at the school for 40 years under four principals.
Another highlight in the school’s history was the food fair of 1974, which, according to Ms Cloete, brought the surrounding communities to a standstill.
“People still remember the spectacular sight of a helicopter landing on our sports field, offering a trip around the peninsula for R15.”
Ms Cloete said Heathfield Primary had had its “fair share” of triumphs and tragedies, joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments, but through all its challenges, it had remained steadfast and firmly united.
“None of this would have been possible had we not had the unwavering support of our governing body and its dedicated chairpersons, too many to name.”
Ward 72 councillor Kevin Southgate was a pupil at the school during its early days.
“I was in Standard 4 when we were moved from Central to Heathfield Primary. As learners, we were not as politically aware at that time, but we were told that we were moved because Diep River was a ‘white’ area and so because of apartheid laws we could not go to school there.”
Mr Southgate said it had been honour to meet the school’s teachers at the anniversary celebration.
“It was great to meet two teachers who taught at the school during the time I was there.”