School stalwart hangs up his hat

Ebrahim Ismail retired after 20 years as principal.

After serving his alma mater Muhamadeyah Primary School for 20 years as principal, Ebrahim Ismail has packed up his school case and is reporting for grandfather duty.

However, even though he is now retired, he will still be contributing to the school as a helper.

Mr Ismail began his relationship with the Wynberg school as a pupil in 1959 and graduated from Grade 7 in 1965. He then attended Wittebome High School and matriculated in 1970.

He said apartheid made it difficult for him to get into a tertiary institution.

At the age of 18, he started working at the Wilbur Ellis company, earning R12.50 a week which he had to contribute to the family household made up of his parents and six siblings.

Then one day he ran into one of his primary school teachers who asked him what he was doing and when he explained his situation, she said, “’Ek sal vir jou in kry by die teaching college,” and so his teaching career began.

In 1972 he started studying at Hewitt Training College and completed a two-year course but faced difficulties because of his race.

“Luckily for me the rector noticed my results and said that he would try to let me stay at the college,” said Mr Ismail.

In September of 1973 a post came up for a teaching position at Muhamadeyah Primary School and he applied for it and started his teaching profession the following year.

Soon after Mr Ismail became the head of department for the intermediate phase and the deputy principal in 1995. Two years later he became the principal of the school.

When asked why he chose to stay at the school for so long, he said: “Because I attended the school as a pupil. I met some of my old teachers and became their colleague and they assisted me in my growth as a teacher. I came back home so it wasn’t foreign to me as I knew the school inside out. Which other place could I have chosen, it became like a home to me.”

He described the school as a family school with a strong religious ethos which encouraged good behaviour among pupils and said that because most of their parents had also attended Muhamadeyah, they understood the ethos of the school and instilled good manners in their children.

Asked about the challenges he has experienced over the years, he said: “In 1996 when the new Schools Act came out it was difficult because the following year all the principals of the schools were interviewed by the school’s governing body so I was the first principal of this school to be interviewed and at the time it wasn’t easy to work with the governing body because there were no boundaries so we would often clash with them. Eventually boundaries were set and we worked well together,” he said.

He said with the end of the apartheid came changes to the education system. This was when the Outcome Based Education (OBE) system was introduced.

“Our children were used as guinea pigs as the curriculum kept changing and they had to adapt to it. Eventually we moved to the CAPS system which is what we are currently using,” he said. His hope for the future is to start a group called The Friends of Muhamadeyah, which he hopes will be able to tap into their resources to improve the school and hopefully make the idea of a library, a computer lab, and a media centre possible.

Mr Ismail said that this is definitely not the end of his time at the school.

He has taken up the position of a helper at the school and will assist them where he is needed.

“The things I couldn’t do in my capacity as a principal I will do now,” he said.

Asked what his retirement plan was he said: “I haven’t decided on that yet, but I love cooking so that will keep me busy. I also have grandfather duties to keep me busy. I am part of and parcel of this school and it is very emotional for me to leave.

“I thank my predecessors and staff for always supporting me and the school. They always go the extra mile.” The school will be celebrating its 90th birthday in two years time and Mr Ismail said they hope to take Grade 7 pupils and staff on an Umrah journey (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca).

The school will now be headed by Mogamad Shaheed Salie who has been teaching at the school for 27 years.