School logs its 100-year journey
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There’s a journey of evolution in Berea Primary School’s logbooks.
From the days when founding manager, a Mr Pickles, wrote formal minutes in the Georgian style, to the present, when principal Bridget Williams decorates the pages with mementoes, such as a pamphlet for the 2017 Berea on Broadway school theatre production.
“I haven’t yet filled in Monday’s log,” she told the Independent on Saturday, indicating that there would be a lot to say about August 2 – the day that marked the school’s centenary.
It included a multitude of celebratory assemblies and marked the first day the school had been allowed to return to 100% attendance in these Covid days.
Grade 7s were able to make use of a special privilege they had been looking forward to: spending their break on a terrace traditionally reserved for them. The head prefects of the two groups into which the school had been divided when there was restricted attendance, were back at school together for the first time.
“This is exciting,” said one, Ammaarah Amod, watching over foundation phase – Grade R to 3 – children, including a smattering of boys who will move elsewhere for the intermediate phase. Boys have come and gone from the school at different times in its year history, once drifting off to Mansfield before it became Berea Girls' Primary and then coming back in another generation after Mansfield closed.
“(Being so central in Durban), there isn’t the space for the sports grounds growing boys need,” said Williams, looking at the basketball and netball court, created on a former tennis court with lines painted yellow for one and white for the other.
She was viewing it from the media centre, in a block that won the company Valad Construction a Master Builders’ award for creativity in putting up a school building in difficult ground space. The school was originally in an old building next door that now houses the Education Department, but had to relocate a block into the suburbs when the Western Freeway was established on its doorstep.
A sport for which the school had a reputation – ice skating – in the 1970s, happened off campus at the city ice rink.
“The children went through different exams. It was a well organised extra-mural activity,” said Williams’s predecessor, Angela St George. It had been introduced to Berea Primary by the 1970-to-1982 principal, Mrs PC Jackson.
“There were children who came to the school because of the ice skating.”
Demand for places has always been high, and now has 663 pupils having started off with only nine in 1921.
With zoning no longer the order of the day, pupils come from as far away as uMlazi and KwaMashu, said Williams.
Covid has interrupted school life. However, epidemics, quarantines and diseases have happened before in the school’s history.
The logbooks mention dengue fever in 1927; diphtheria in 1934; “Mrs Gordon absent on quarantine leave; whooping cough in her family” a day after the school’s sixteenth anniversary; the Standard 1 class being fumigated after a case of infantile paralysis at a pupil’s home in Westville, and the polio epidemic of 1948, which prompted Saturday school to make up for lost time after that lockdown. Seven years later another polio epidemic postponed the opening of schools after a holiday.
The year before the school had become a girls-only institution “but without the domestic science teacher who has broken a leg on vacation – and there is no substitute”.
Being just after World War II, Britain was going through a depression. The September 18, 1947, log read “tins of food sent to depot in ‘Food for Britain Drive’”, and the next day “posted nine parcels of food to slum schools in London”.
Charity came closer to home at the end of 1948 when, under a Miss Williams ‒ described as “gifted teacher of music” and no relation to the present principal – put on a series of concerts and raised £40 “for Bantu and European TB children” at Springfield Hospital and for leper station inmates. In 2003 Berea Primary raised its first “hungry box” for St Philomena’s Orphanage in Sydenham.
Both sides of Smith Street, as Anton Lambede Street was called, saw frequent visits from Berea Primary children, according to the logbooks. The museum for talks on topics ranging from seed distribution to bees and the Playhouse for theatre performances from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to ballet.
It also helped having the Alhambra Theatre down the road, St George recalled.
“We exposed the children to theatre as much as we could.”
She credited Mrs Jackson for her philosophy of “just making educating an exciting experience”.
“She gave us carte blanche in the classroom because she wanted the children to come to school with stars in their eyes.
“That’s still the ethos of the school”.
A pupil from the late 1950s, Charmaine Campos (nee Kemm), on hearing about the centenary, wrote to Williams from Portugal saying she enjoyed assembly each morning, singing hymns in the beautiful hall.
“It seemed so huge to me at the time. I hope it is just the same now for all the present-day little girls to enjoy.”
Back to the logbooks: the early records are full of entries from seemingly strict school inspectors, including one WR Murray-Brown who pointed out that children “should especially remember that the best writing is obtainable only with the proper kind of nibs and the proper length of pen shaft”.
Of needlework, he wrote: “Few children hold either wool or needles correctly and until this is stressed, good results cannot be expected.”
By 2002, the school embraced change by holding of an evening themed The Birth of a Rainbow Nation.
Williams, who has been at the school for 40 years, rising up the ranks to principal, said Berea Primary, in her time, has transformed from an “all white girls’ Christian school to one totally representing and celebrating the diversity of culture, religion and beliefs”.
Prayers are to a universal god and less faith-based, more moral-based.
“The focus is to appreciate and have respect for others.”
isiZulu is an important subject. One of the department’s teachers, Joyce Dlamini, started out as a domestic worker but dreamed of being a teacher. The governing body at the time helped fund her studies.
Williams said she had seen Dlamini embody what a teacher should be when she observed how pupils sought her assistance when she was a cleaner.
Another of the ground staff, Moses Mkhize, who was induna until 2019, showed similar characteristics.
“If anyone was in trouble, he would do things like carry people’s bags, children and adults. He had a great heart,” said Afrikaans teacher Tertia Japp-Pearse.
In his honour, the “beautiful hall” former pupil Campos from Portugal remembers, is now called the Moses Mbuso Mkhize Memorial Hall.
The Independent on Saturday