School honoured for struggle history

Achmat Conrad, Abu Desai, Raghmat Jaffer and Rukeiya Conrad unveiled the Khalid Desai Memorial.

Alexander Sinton High School received Blue Plaque heritage status from the Simon van der Stel Foundation for its survival under difficult circumstances in the fight against apartheid, and particularly, the 1985 incident, dubbed the Siege of Sinton.

On Monday March 26, former pupils, staff and guests gathered at the school hall at an event to mark this recognition. The event formed part of the school’s legacy project, which was launched in Human Rights month (March), and which will honour its other founding fathers like the first principal, Franklin Joshua.

Thirty-three years ago, pupils and staff engaged in rallies during which they called for equal education and the release of Nelson Mandela.

On September 17, 1985, as schools reopened in defiance of the then education minister’s closure, Alexander Sinton High was targeted by the apartheid police. Assisted by soldiers, the police surrounded the school and prevented pupils and staff from escaping. Some were assaulted and injured.

Deputy principal Fazilet Bell, said they also used this opportunity to honour the school’s former principal, Khalid Desai, who died in December, and named the school hall after him.

“Without Mr Desai’s political and democratic leadership, we would not have had the school as a site of struggle. As a result of our activism, we were the first school Nelson Mandela visited on the Cape Flats in 1992, after his release from prison. In Mr Desai’s honour, we named the old hall – the Khalid Desai Memorial Hall. Jane Desai sent her sister and brother, Achmat and Rukeiya Conrad, as well as her in-laws, Abu Desai and Ragmat Jaffer, to unveil the plaque.”

Activist, journalist and author, Zubeida Jaffer thanked the school on behalf of the Desai family, for this honour.

At the event, Leonard Gentle, former mathematics and physical science teacher, spoke about the politics of 1985, the Siege of Sinton and Mr Desai’s democratic leadership style and how apt it was to name the hall after him.

Ms Bell, who was the organiser of the event, said: “Mr Desai’s words during those turbulent times, were ‘If heads must roll, mine will be the first.’

“Mr Desai, his deputy, Nabil Swart and his son, physics teacher, Dehran Swart, were later detained. Over the years, the school has kept its activism alive by fighting rationalisation in education, being part of the Western Cape Parent Teacher Student Forum, as well as the Concerned Teacher Group to fight for extra teachers for poor schools.”

The school archivist, Virginia Gabriels, appealed for financial assistance to build display cabinets for the rich history of the school to be preserved, in order to educate future generations.

Among the guests were former South Peninsula High principal, Brian Isaacs and CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, Professor Crain Soudien.