SP High celebrates 70th anniversary

The 1952 South Peninsula Girls Athletics team.

South Peninsula High School in Diep River is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

The school has a rich struggle history. Teachers at the time of its inception were known to be apartheid activists and created a political awareness among the pupils.

Current principal and former pupil in the late 1970s at the school, Zeid Baker said: “The teachers at South Peninsula during this period adhered to the slogan ‘educate to liberate’.”

The school is a commuting school, with pupils mostly coming from the greater Grassy Park area, Steenberg, Mitchell’s Plain, Pelican Park and Ottery.

It was opened in January 1950 to address the growing need for a school in the Diep River area. Unfortunately, the school witnessed the forced removal of residents from Steurhof and Diep River as a result of the Group Areas Act in 1967. The families of many of the pupils around the school were displaced to areas such as Lavender Hill, Hanover Park and Parkwood.

A few of the ex-pupils and former residents such as John Fortuin and Desiree De Lange have returned to their former homes.

During the 1950s and 1960s, most of the teachers at the school belonged to the Teachers’ League of South Africa, a union formed for disenfranchised teachers in 1913.

The union, while originally focused on issues around education, became increasingly political in the mid-1940s and started to agitate against apartheid.

“A lot of political debates and awareness happened in this period, and many teachers linked their lessons to the situation in their communities and in the country,” said Mr Baker.

In the 70 years of its existence, the principals who served the SP community were Arthur George De Villiers (1950 to 1966), Ralph Hepburn (1967 to 1975), Noor Moerat (1976 to 1984) and Brian Isaacs (1984 to 2016).

Mr De Villiers, a strict disciplinarian, and dedicated to the academic advancement of the underprivileged was to develop a tradition (the SP tradition) among staff and students, which to a great extent still exists today. His trademark saying in the 1950s was “by hierdie skool buig ons bome (at this school we straighten trees)” implying that the school would ensure that you make a success of your life.

Legendary teachers who taught at SP in the 1960s and 1970s were teachers such as Richard Rive, author of the book Buckingham Palace, Daphne Wessels, Antoinette Wilcox, Clifford Ravens, Daniel Thebus, and Fred Coker. Currently, 15 ex-pupils are teaching at the school. Joan Bezuidenhout, administration secretary, has been at the school for over 40 years and has served under three principals.

Mr Baker says that from 1976 to 1985 the school, together with other oppressed schools actively participated in the uprising to overthrow the apartheid regime. The teachers at the time never neglected their pupils and even though schools were closed for long periods, pupils were given work to keep them occupied. This he informed the current generation of SP pupils at an assembly where he compared the current situation of the Covid-19 outbreak and a perceived long closure of schools to the 1970s and 1980s.

Obviously, teachers today can connect with their pupils using Google classroom and other teaching platforms.

One of the legends of the school, who was also one of its first pupils, is former biology teacher Fred Coker, who is featured in Jonathan Jansen’s book Great South African Teachers.

Mr Coker is remembered as an excellent biology teacher who livened up his lessons with quirky and thought provoking comments. He firmly believed in the correct use of the language and often stated that “every biology lesson is an English lesson”.

“For his class, Mr Coker would come running down the corridor, hurry into the classroom, slide across the floor and ask “What’s that ?” He would then hastily write on the board F-R-I-C-T-I-O-N,” said Mr Baker. Mr Coker was also deputy principal at the school from 1984 to 1994.

Another legendary figure is Brian Isaacs
who was principal at the school from 1984 to 2016. He was the longest serving principal at the
school. He took over at a very turbulent time in 1984.

The schools at the time were affected by rationalisation (exodus of teachers from schools), the reduction of funding for schools in the 1990s and later curriculum changes from 2005 onwards. Unfortunately, this impacted mainly on the poor schools. Class sizes shifted from a manageable size of 25 a class to above 35 a class. His foresight and knowledge of the political situation in the country helped steer the school through various curriculum changes. The school thus could project itself as an excellent academic school as well as provide the children under its care with a well-round-
ed co-curricular and extra-curricular pro-
gramme.

Mr Isaacs is currently in the process of writing a book from the years of 1990 to 2020 for the school – where he will no doubt share some of his thoughts on the history of the school.

“The school has produced many great ex-pupils in various fields such as the health sciences, natural sciences, commerce and the legal fraternity. The 1968 class produced eight medical doctors from the University of Cape Town (UCT). These trends continued throughout the decades. The 2011 matric class produced seven medical doctors from Stellenbosch University (SU). The former deputy vice-chancellor of CPUT Professor Anthony Staak is an ex-pupil of the school. He was a brilliant athlete in his day.

Among other ex-pupils who continue to make their mark in shaping South Africa is Veruschka September, an evidence lead lawyer in the state capture case,” said Mr Baker.

The school was honoured recently by the tertiary institutions such as SU and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) as a consistent top feeder.

In recent years, the arts department at the school has also produced top artists and musicians such as Candace Thornton who performed with Jonathan Butler in the 2019 CTIJF.

Other ex-pupils who have made a name for themselves include actor and comedian Riaad Moosa and Dalin Oliver and Amy Kleinhans, who was crowned Miss South Africa in 1992.

Some of the great athletics champions that the school has produced to represent South Africa nationally are sprinters Roxanne Goliath and Nabeelah Parker. The current Springbok sevens rugby player Zain Davids, started his high school career at South Peninsula, before moving to Rondebosch Boys’ High School on a sports bursary.

Inter-house Athletics is an institution at SP. Over 60% of the student population participates in it annually. “Speak to any ex-pupil and the first thing they ask
is what house were you in,” said Mr
Baker.

The 70th anniversary celebrations started with the 60th Inter-House Athletics Day held in February. A prayer service was also held to bless the school last month. The school’s next big event was due to be its jazz evening scheduled for Saturday April 4, where alumni jazz bands were to come back and perform with the current musicians at the school. However, the school is having to rethink some of its events with the president’s instruction of not having gatherings where there are more than 100 people to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Other events included an alumni “Call back the past” event, where ex-pupils would share their school experience over open mic, and a gala dinner set for Saturday September 26 to honour some legends of the school who are still alive.

The school is encouraging its former pupils to support the 70th anniversary celebrations. For updates, follow “I went to South Peninsula High School” on Facebook, visit www.sphigh.org or contact the school at admin@sphigh.org