After 50 years, Rio Grande Primary School is stronger than ever, having even survived a freak tornado back in 1999.
The school, the second primary school in the area, opened on January 27 1970 to accommodate the people who had been moved from District Six to Manenberg under the apartheid era Group Areas Act. At the time the school ran classes in shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon as there were more pupils than the schools in the area could accomodate.
Back then the prefabricated school had a staff complement of 27 and three classes per grade. Five pupils who attended the school now teach there.
Situated in an area between the turf of two rival gangs, pupils at the school are often witness to violent gang fights and shootings.
Deputy principal Kader Barendse said over the years pupils’ attitude towards education had changed and so had their behaviour. He said that because pupils knew corporal punishment was now illegal, they misbehaved more often, and teachers had to find alternative methods of discipline.
Challenges over the years have included drugs and gangsterism at the school which the youth easily fell into as it was so readily available for them in the area.
Shahieda Mohamed, who has been a teacher at the school for more than 40 years, said the children’s academic performance had dropped over the years and that many came from homes where one or both parents were drug users.
Over the years, however, the school’s systemic results had improved and last year the school came third in the inter-school athletics after having participated for 20 years.
She added that being situated in the middle of the gang warfare was traumatising as pupils had to run for cover when they heard shooting and struggled to get back to their academic routine after the shooting ended.
Teachers, she said, also needed counselling to deal with the trauma associated with working in these conditions.
“Many of our classrooms have bullet holes in them and the windows too. Now we have fencing and burglar bars so our school doesn’t get broken into and vandalised so often,” she said.
Outlining what the school did to try to uplift its pupils, Ms Mohamed said they organise school tours and also have a feeding programme for those who need it.
In 1987 the school started taking 50 pupils on tours — first to Oudtshoorn, and later to Johannesburg and Durban. They do this every second year and in 2018 they went to Sun City as well. This is made possible by raising funds throughout the year and asking parents of 50 deserving children to pay the bare minimum.
They also give 20 children from each class porridge, food, and snacks as part of their charity drive every day.
In 1999 the school survived a freak tornado which left many homes roofless and street poles and trees damaged in the area.
“Over the years the staff has really shown so much passion and have never left or stayed away. They are passionate and hardworking and they are the ones who keep the school together with the community,” said Mr Barendse.
The school also hosts concerts every year to showcase the pupils’ talents.
“This is a community school. Parents know that they can talk to us about anything and we will help them as far as we can and we always make sure to follow up,” he said.
Ilhaam Du Toit, who attended the school in 1987, said that she wishes the school the best for the future.
“Keep going, the children are always your first priority irrespective of their circumstances at home so keep that up. Love the children as best you can,” she said.