Phoenix principal retires after 35 years

Phoenix Secondary School, principal Shafiek Abrahams, retires after 35 years at the school.

After 35 years at Phoenix Secondary School, principal Shafiek Abrahams, is hanging up his hat and plans to spend more time with his family.

The school hosted a farewell for Mr Abrahams who has been principal for 20 years, in the school hall on Thursday December 13 which pupils, teachers, family, and ex-teachers attended.

Mr Abrahams started his journey at the school in 1983 when he transferred from Sambou Primary School as maths teacher.

He taught Grade 8 and 9 mathematics and eventually became involved with various other activities at the school, including athletics which he said gave the pupils something to look forward to and uplifted their spirits.

He also joined the Association of Guidance and Assistance to Pupils (AGAP), which was a network of schools in Manenberg providing support to pupils in their academics, careers, bursaries, among other things, which Mr Abrahams said they often did not receive from their parents.

In 1986 the school had its first matric class and in the early 1990s Mr Abrahams became the head of department for maths and by 1999 he was appointed principal.

Speaking about what it is like to be principal at a school in a gang-ravaged area, he said gang fights often extended into the school grounds, putting pupils in harm’s way.

“I was very young when I started out as the principal — only 24 at the time and it was challenging because at the time the retirement package was available for senior management. The first thing we at school decided was to improve our academic results,” he said.

The 60-year-old said one of the highlights of his years at the school came in 2000 when then education minister Kader Asmal declared Phoenix Secondary the most improved school in the province and pupils were invited to attend the budget speech in Parliament.

“They welcomed us and I took 60 pupils and we sat in the gallery. In 2001 we received the provincial award for a 96.8% pass rate and in 2009 we received a 100% matric pass rate. It was a concerted effort between the staff and pupils,” he said.

Mr Abrahams said one of the things he was most proud of was the school’s exchange programme with a school in Germany which was established in 2010 when a group of 10 pupils went to Germany. The exchange still happens every second year with the next trip hopefully next year.

He explained that his passion for teaching was initiated by his father who urged his children to seek knowledge as a tool to get them further in life.

“He said that education was the one thing that they could never take from us. As a matriculant in 1976 it was extremely tough but it was when I developed the consciousness to serve and help our people and the community,” he said.

The Belgravia resident is excited to kick back and enjoy some quality time with his family.

“As a teacher you get to spend very little time with your family and that is what I will be doing, spending time with my children and grandchildren until I get bored and then I will think of something else,” he said.

His advice to his colleagues at Phoenix Secondary School is to be happy in the workplace and everything else will flow from there.

“Create things to make you happy otherwise you will become despondent and dragged down,” he said.

Deputy principal and now acting principal, Jeremy Ontong, said after 34 years of having Mr Abrahams as a dear friend and colleague, he had mixed emotions about the farewell.

He said Mr Abrahams had crept into the hearts of many whom he met over the years and spread the ethos of love, respect, and endurance.

“We spent many years together teaching and I would call him Fiekie and so it was funny when I had to call him Mr Abrahams. We’ve always had a relationship of mutual respect and although we differed on many things we always maintained a level of respect for each other. He has been my mentor for many years,” he said.

One of Mr Abrahams’ attributes he would like to emulate, he said, was his ability to remain calm in a stressful situation.

“It is sad to say farewell to a leader of note but I am looking forward to taking this school to new heights,” said Mr Ontong.

“Being able to share years with him has made me and so many other people better people. One of the greatest lessons was that he cared for this school and the school community, therefore he earned the respect and trust of everyone who he came into contact with,” he added.