Friday, 3 August 2012

The History of Mary Waters High School

Mary Waters High School.

Front entrance of Mary Waters High School
Grahamstown is known for its education institutions. The town has a number of schools, some are even regarded as the best in the country and some can even compete with the world’s best. Most of the schools in this town are legacy of the missionaries that have settled in this town between the 1800s and 1900s. The churches have played a big role in the town’s education.

Mary Waters High

Mary Waters High School (then known as R.U.C. Coloured Practising School), in the other hand is the product of the then Rhodes University College, now Rhodes University, education department in 1940. The school was formed for two reasons; the first was to offer necessary teaching training for student-teachers of the College. And also to offer J.C courses (covered in Standard 7 &8), to coloured pupils. From this initiative Mary Waters High School was formed. The school was the first junior secondary school in the Albany Road area.

Mary Waters High School from western side 
 In this article, Professor Morton, one of the first teachers of the school recalls the first day of school. He still remembers that there were sixteen pupils of both sexes who came to start the school that year. Since the St. Clements’s Hall at the train station was occupied by the upper classes (standard 6) of the Coloured Primary School, they had to hold their classes in the Shaw Hall.
There was practically nothing to run the school as there was no money, but they managed to collect things to furnish the class. Prof Morton hadn’t taught in ten year before accepting this job, but according to him the curriculum was partly optional with English and Afrikaans being compulsory. Other subjects offered where Arithmetic, History, Geography, Physiology, Hygiene, and Latin. They taught using the syllabus of the Cape Education Department.
In 1941 the coloured Primary School moved to a building which was apparently built for a recreation hall just off the old King Williams Town (presumably Raglan Road). This development led to R.U.C Coloured Practicing School moving to St. Clements’s Hall. The move was very helpful since it meant there was going to be now two class rooms available for them to use.
Now, since there were two classes, a full-time teacher was needed. The College then, through the persuasion of Prof Morton, Miss Elspeth Naude (later Mrs Danckwert), who recently qualified from R.U.C, was appoint as a teacher. She taught English and Afrikaans.
The school, in 1955 experienced further challenges. Standard 6 was merged in the secondary school. This expansion made teaching and learning a challenge since there was limited teaching staff. On top of all of that, there were no funds to maintain the school since R.U.C was not obliged to spend money on the school. With no money to run the school, it was than decided to transfer the school from R.U.C to the schools board. Around 1955, the school came under the Cape Education Department. This shift took its toll on the relationship of the school and the R.U.C. The school’s present buildings opened in 1963, making the building 49 years old and the school 72 years old.

Miss Mary Waters

Miss Mary Waters
In 1942, Miss Mary Waters (after whom the school is named after), a retired teacher was appointed as lecturer in the Education Department at R.U.C and also to assist in the practicing school. She soon established herself as the main teaching force in the school. Those who knew Miss Waters, talk of her as a very influential being. She had a lot of energy and passion for teaching. During her time, it was very rare to see women study or work, but she was different from the stereotype view of woman. She is said to have cared little for fashion and was a heavy smoker.

Miss Waters was born in England. She moved to Africa with her family since her father and Grandfather where missionaries, her Grandfather being an Archdeacon and Father a reverend. Miss Waters was a very involved in the field of education. Before coming to Grahamstown she had worked in a number of missions across the Southern Africa doing education related duties. Her passion for education led her to be involved with various missions, as either a teacher or a principal. She was the principal of a Native Training College School in Pondoland, she also successfully organised demonstration classes for a Coloured Training School in Cape Town. Before she came to Grahamstown she was working in Windhoek, reviving a poorly equipped church school.
Miss Waters retired in 1942, and she was soon appointed as lecturer by the Education Department at R.U.C. Not only was she appointed as a lecturer, she was needed to also assist with the R.U.C. Coloured Practicing School. It was at this school where she had contributed extensively, not only education for the coloured community, but also personal lifestyle.
Mr. Muriel Wood, in his article published in the Grocott’s Mail of 15 December 2009 recalls Mary Waters as untidily dressed but a brilliant teacher. Wood says Mary Waters made Shakespeare live. She would act out the scenes for her class making set works like 'The Tempest 'and 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' come to life.
Miss Mary Waters retired for the second time around 1958 a very old woman. On here way to Britain old habit came back again. She stopped at St. Helena Island to yet again take up a teaching position at a local school. It was at this island where she finally ‘rested in peace’. It said she died of heart attack while climbing the steep hills of the island, doing her teaching duties.

Former Principals

Mr Van Niekerk Headmaster from 1968-1973
In 1956, under the Cape Education Department, Mr R. Crozier was appointed as the first permanent principal of the school. Mr Crozier saw the expansion of the school throughout the years he was principal. He saw the school move in different buildings due to the increase of learners. Crozier was principal of the school for 12 years.
Mr Crozier Headmaster from 1956-1968
On Crozier’s retirement in 1968, Mr. Phillip Coetzee became acting principal until Mr Don Van Niekerk took the reigns. Van Niekerk left in 1973, leaving Mr Marcus Parsotam the Headmaster of Mary Waters High School. Mary Waters High School made history in 1993. Parsotam retired, leaving a former pupil who he had recruited, principal of the school. Mr Samuel Clyde Wessels Became the first and only principal of Mary Waters High School to have been taught at the school. These are just some of the teachers and principals who have played a huge role in ensuring the school becomes a success.

From pupil to Principal

In 1993 Samuel Wessels became the first principal of Mary Waters High School to have been taught at the school. Till today, he remains the only person to have done so and he  is still the principal of the school since 1993 making it 12 years since he took over from his mentor Mr Parsotam.
Wessels was born and bred in Grahamstown, a son of a builder and a house-wife. He had attended Mary Waters High from standard 6 till standard 10 (matric). Samuel matriculated in 1976, the year he describes as, ‘the year of school riots in South Africa. When our education was in turmoil, South Africa was burning. That was the year when our education was disrupted. Many of us eventually succeeded to pass matric’.
Mr Wessels Current Principal since 1993
Since the only university in Grahamstown, Rhodes University, was a White-Only university, he had to move from Grahamstown to Cape Town. He says the move was hurtful. ‘So, imagine me leaving my home-town with a University bordering on my door-step’, said Samuel.
He enrolled with the University of Western Cape, where he completed junior degree in education. Afterward he completed a teacher’s diploma.
Samuel wanted to continue with his studies, and he already had an office in Cape Town with the Office of Employment when his former principal and English teacher Mr Parsotam called and recruited him to fill in a teaching vacancy at the school. He says he got a call from Parsotam saying that 'he believed that I was finished with my studies, and I was needed to come back and assist at the school.'
It was in 1981 when he started as a young teacher at the school, recalls Samuel. He remembers not being able to socialise with his colleagues because of the age difference. He would spend most of his break time with the pupil since they where almost in the same group. ‘When I started here, the learners I left in standard 6 where now in standard 10 and we knew each other so I spent most of the time at the back with the learners instead of the staff room with the other teachers. He was then gradually promoted in the teaching profession. He started as a teacher, then, became the H.O.D of the History Department. Finally on Parsotam’s retirement, he became the principal.
Not only is he a passionate teacher, he also was the school’s rugby and athletics coach. During his reign as the rugby coach, the school was border champions for a number of years. Ten of his first team players where selected to represent the border schools rugby team, so he had to field his second team for that match. This was not the only time he had to play his second team because of the unavailability of the first team. During the 1980s unrest, about 10 of his first team players were arrested by the apartheid government for political reasons.

The School Buildings

Class rooms on the front building.
As mentioned the school started in Shaw Hall and then it moved to St. Clements Hall. Before it finally settled in the present building, it had held classes all around the coloured community, including the Sole Hall, Indian Temple and the Old Bakery in Albany Road. The present building was built around 1962 and the new school was opened on the 15th of February 1963.
In 1993 a fire broke up in the school leaving 3 class rooms damaged. This was added pressure on an already over crowded school, due to an increase in the number of learners. With the help of GADRA, Mrs Thelma Henderson, and Anglo American Company, the school was renovated and more classes where built between 2003 and 2004.
Assembly block of the school

Former Learners

Lex Mpati, President of the Supreme Court of Appeals

Allister Coetzee, head Coach of the Stormers Rugby Franchise

Mary Waters High School has produced a number of scholars who have after leaving the school shined the light of the school, as it states in the school’s anthem. Some of the prominent leaders of this country of various fields are former pupils of this school. Lex Mphati  (judge in the court of appeal), Allister Coetzee (Stormers and Western Province rugby coach), Santy Daya (Professor at Rhodes University), Garth Van Heerden (Scientist, Institute of Ichthyology) and Bruce Wessels (Scorpions legal firm lawyer, also Samuel’s brother). These are some of Mary Waters High School former learners who have came on top and made a success of themselves. The school has produced students who can compete and contribute to the success of this country.

School Sport and Traditions

Matric learners of Mary Waters High School on the day of the Mud Bath
Mary Waters High School has traditions that are as old as the school and some adapted throughout the years of the school’s existence. In Grahamstown, when you ask people about the school, they will tell you about the school’s rich rugby history and it’s achievement of the school’s rugby team; most probably about the 1st XV rugby team of 1996. This squad is considered the most successful 1st rugby team the school has ever had. Mary Waters High School is known for their Black and White kit, resembling that of the New Zealand national rugby team. The kit is not the only thing the school shares with the All-Blacks; they too do the “Hakka”, a New Zealand tribe war dance originally done before warfare. The school has won numerous trophies for rugby and other sport codes. They have been champions in Grahamstown and other town tournaments throughout the years. Other than the Hakka, Mary Waters’s rugby team has another tradition they perform. This is an initiation for new players and old players who advance to a senior team. After the game the initiate runs through a tunnel of players while he is being smacked by his team-mates.
Some of the school's trophies they won over the years
The school’s matric class also participates in another old tradition of the school. The exact origins of this tradition are unknown. It is believed to have started during the mid or late 80s. The tradition involves the matriculants swimming in a mud bath in their school uniform. This happens every year on their last day of school just before the end of year exams. The reason is confusing, but the explanation that makes sense is that of Mr Jacob, a teacher and former learner of the school. He says the tradition resembles that of an Elephant. Elephants take mud baths to cool-off and to remove ticks and other parasites, so the learners, since they are done with the school, are cleansing themselves of high school, getting ready for the next step of their lives, University.  

Bully Day

Coffin bearers at Bullie's funeral
Bully Day was a day that was used to commemorate the death of Aliston “Bully” Kohl. Bully Kohl is a pupil who was shot during a funeral by the police of the apartheid government on the 12th of May 1985. Bullie was not only a student at the school; he was also a member of the school’s SRC and also part of GYM (Grahamstown Youth Movement). GYM was a political movement that fought for the rights of the youth in the coloured community of Grahamstown. 
He was also a soccer player, he played for the school’s soccer team and part of the reason he went to the funeral was because of soccer. According to transcripts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s case of 17 May 1996 in East London, Bully went to the funeral to say his final goodbyes to a respected soccer opponent he had knew from their playing days. He was shot at this funeral when it was disrupted by the police of that regime.
 Ever since that time till some years ago, pupils of Mary Waters High School have always observed the12th of May as Bully day. On this day learners, teachers and community members would gather for a prayer and speeches, they will then advance to the burial grounds where Bully is buried to lay flowers and remember a hero who, through sport and politics did his part in the fight against the injustice of the apartheid government.

Mary Waters High School has undoubtedly, throughout the years experienced a lot of changes, and those changes are the reason the school is a success today. The school has faced every challenge brought about to it and came out on top. The school has a reach history, that if correctly documented and preserved, could inspire future generations to live up to the traditions of the school. As a former learner of this school, you have the courage and the ability to prosper like the former teachers, principals and learners of Mary Waters High School.

By: Theo Sinethemba Yame

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