Ninety years ago, a group of men and women from the Teachers’ League of South Africa (TLSA) and the African People’s Organisation (APO) set out to start a secondary school in Claremont for children of colour. During this time, the state did not provide primary or secondary schools for persons of colour and it was up to the churches and mosques to ensure they were educated.
The campaign to start the secondary school in Claremont finally gave rise to Livingstone High School, which officially opened its doors on February 26, 1926, giving pupils passing through mission primary schools an opportunity to further their education.
Current principal, Theodore Bruinders, who has been on the staff for 35 years – and principal for six – explained that areas such as Claremont, Lansdowne and Newlands had no fewer than 13 mission schools, battling to provide education up to Standard 4 (now Grade 6), some in brick buildings, others in iron shacks, where children paid a “tickey a week” (two-and-a-half cents) to learn to “read, write and reckon”.
But he asked: “What, then, was to happen to those who passed Standard 4?”
The school started at Standard 5 level, but it wasn’t until 1941, when Rosmead Central Primary School was opened, that Livingstone became a formal high school, with its Standard 5 classes moved with their teachers to the newly opened primary school.
Mr EC Roberts became the first principal in 1926. “Under his leadership and with the mighty efforts of his staff and parents, the school grew in leaps and bounds. It had started off in what had been a dairy farm,” Mr Bruinders said.
The double-storey building formed one part of the school and three stables were renovated to house three Standard 5 classes, still known as “the stables” to this very day. The woodwork room, science lab and domestic science room were added some years later. It was only after 10 years that huge tents were set up to provide rooms for senior pupils, while the west and north wings were added.
During the war years, the school hired a loft above a plumber’s store in Livingstone Road, opposite the school, to house pupils and this became known as “The bats’ cave”.
The school then hired “Clareinch”, a building that stood where the police station is now, to house three Standard 6 classes, until the east wing of the school and the new woodwork room, art room and home economics room were added. The prefabricated buildings were added in later years.
“Thus, from the stables of 1926 to what we see today there is a saga of a quite unreal battle to provide an absolutely vital and necessary facility for the growth and development of boys and girls who desperately needed the education they got even under those circumstances. That is just one reason to speak of ‘hard-won progress and success’,” Mr Bruinders said.
Mr Roberts created a curriculum to span language, science, mathematics, art, music, drama and physical education. In the early years, agricultural science was included in these studies.
The years between 1953 and 1987 were regarded as a hostile period, with the state going up against Livingstone High School, the brunt of which was borne by Ray Carlier, who was principal from 1955 to 1962 and the first woman to head a co-ed high school in the country.
After her retirement in 1962, the state prepared to transfer the control of the school, along with other similar schools, to the “Coloured Affairs” Department (CAD) in 1964.
In 1963, the arrest, detention and jailing of Dr Neville Alexander and three other members of staff was followed by the forced exile of Alie Fataar in 1964. “The loss of these staff members was a hard blow, but in their place, the school was able to get graduate ex-pupils who did the school proud,” Mr Bruinders said.
In 1964, the CAD ordered out of the school all pupils classified as “African” and their fellow pupils rallied to support them, demonstrating their solidarity with strictly organised stay-aways.
By 1967, however, the “war” against Livingstone, had not ended, with one of its “most creative teachers on the staff”, Victor Wessels, being transferred to Upington, said Mr Bruinders.
Under the Group Areas Act, all the primary mission schools and one state school, Stephen Reagon Primary, were forced to close. Rosmead Primary School was the only one left standing.
Mr Bruinders explained that through this strategy, the state had hoped that Livingstone would be drained of its pupils, making it easier to close the school down. Under the Group Areas Act, Claremont area was a designated “white group area” and while segregated secondary schools had established in group areas to draw pupils away from urban areas, the loyal support of the parents both for their “alma mater” and the school’s dedication to non-racial quality education ensured the school had a steady stream of pupils enrolling.
But, Mr Bruinders added, there were more trying times yet to come.
“In 1977, the school was instructed to do away with all teachers classified ‘white’. Later, the same officials sought not to appoint 13 out of 14 teachers nominated by the school committee for vital posts. It chose to appoint its own nominees, most of whom were not qualified for the work they were supposed to do. The school forced the authorities to abandon their decision and to accept the parents’ recommendations.”
The 1970s and 1980s, said Mr Bruinders, “was a turbulent time, during which the government was shaken to its foundations by revolts from various quarters. Amid the disruption of schools, this school had to adopt a course of action that would give pupils, staff and parents abundant opportunities to analyse the socio-political situation, take well thought out action but at the same time pupils could not neglect the very necessary academic work,” Mr Bruinders said.