Athlone High celebrates its rich 75-year history

Athlone High School’s alumni executive members, are, from left, Nash Petersen, Vernon Roodt, top matriculant of 2020, Kristin Julius, former principal Howard Mackrill, and the first principal’s son, Sydney Petersen.

When Athlone High School opened its doors 75 years ago, there were no desks and no books, causing the first principal, the late Sydney Vernon Petersen, to remark that they did not even have a cane – just a prayer and a hymn.

At least that’s how the current principal, Vincent Hendricks tells it. He spoke at an event held at the school late last month to mark Athlone High’s 75th anniversary.

“There were 89 pioneering learners at the school way back in 1947. Some of them included Ivan Abrahams, Phillip Burger, Joyce Collison, Angeline Gabriels, Gadija Jones, Lilian Oliver and Edmund Malander,” Mr Hendricks said, reflecting on the year the school opened.

“Mr Petersen decided that the school’s motto will be, ’Nothing but the best.’ His teacher friend at Trafalgar High School, Paul Heneke, translated the motto into Latin, which reads ’Nihil sed optimus.’

“Mr Petersen was a strict disciplinarian and an Afrikaans poet of note. He was a very good school administrator who was meticulous in his planning. Through efficient administration and sound teaching, Athlone High soon became an august, sought-after high school. Students who attended the school came from near and far, even from distant cities such as Durban, Pretoria and Windhoek.”

Over the years, the school had excelled in academics, sport and the arts, and former pupil Lyn Hanmer had been the first woman of colour to graduate in engineering from UCT, Mr Hendricks said.

The school is also known for its involvement in the fight against apartheid, and, according to Mr Hendricks, the class of 1976 was ahead of its time during that tumultuous year.

“Athlone High was arguably the only Cape Flats high school to be a member of the South African Students’ Movement (SASM). More than 400 of Athlone’s 670 pupils were protesting against the then government’s imposition of Afrikaans in black schools, and these learners were prepared to sacrifice their year in order to gain a better education.

“Dulcie September, the reserved church girl who studied teaching and who later became a dedicated, principled political activist, attended Athlone High. Our school will honour her legacy by hosting a semi-permanent exhibition about her. The school is also renewing its partnership with the Dulcie September School in Paris,” Mr Hendricks said.

The anniversary events include a thanksgiving service on Tuesday March 22. There will also be sport events, and the school plans to exhibit photographs spanning the decades of its existence.

A food fair and anniversary dinner will raise money for more teachers, building maintenance and security improvements.

Mr Hendricks said that while the school was “anchored to our glorious history” it also embraced technology and modern teaching methods so that pupils received an education that was “meaningful, excellent and humane”.