Teacher and activist dies of cancer

Noel Cleophas, 53, an anti-apartheid activist, award-winning teacher, principal and mentor, lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday May 12.

Noel Cleophas, 53, from Silvertown, will be remembered as a passionate teacher who went beyond his call of duty, an anti-apartheid activist and as someone dedicated to making a difference in society.

On Tuesday May 12, Mr Cleophas lost his battle with cancer.

It was while at Cressway High School that his passion for the politics at the time, was ignited. By the time he matriculated in 1984, he was already a member of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

His political activism grew to new heights when he joined the Silvertown Youth movement – a political youth formation affiliated to the UDF.

However, Mr Cleophas’ s activism blossomed as a student at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where he completed his BA degree in 1987 and teachers’ diploma in 1988.

A firm believer of lifelong learning, Mr Cleophas also completed his BA Honors and MA in Public Administration at UWC in
2003.

He kicked off his teaching career in Mitchell’s Plain, at Aloe Senior Secondary School in 1989, where he taught for 21 years, before leaving there in 2010. He was also one of the founding members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) in Mitchell’s Plain.

“He was born a teacher on so many levels, admired by his colleagues for the absolute dedication he had to his job and the unique ability he possessed to engage pupils on all aspects,” said his friend and colleague, Andre Marais .

In 2011, Mr Cleophas joined Hout Bay High School as the deputy principal. For the three years he was there, he played an active role in advocating for better teaching conditions and facilities for pupils.

In 2015, he took the opportunity to be principal of Delft Technical High School. During his time at Delft Technical High School, he introduced new strategies to improve the academic performance of pupils, resulting in the school being the most improved school in the region – transforming the pass rate from 35% to 77.5%, which was acknowledged by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and celebrated at their annual awards presentation.

A former UWC campus friend, Naz Lalla, said: “His legacy lives on in the lives that he changed throughout his teaching career. How blessed and how fortunate were the kids at the schools where he taught. He spoke so glowingly and so proudly of the kids at Delft Technical. We shared in his triumphant joy every year with every award, every accolade that he received.”

The family of Mr Cleophas used social media to live stream his funeral, because of lockdown regulations. A total of 12 000 people watched the funeral online.

In a tribute message, Grace Ziegler wrote: “Thank you Noel Cleophas for your contribution to transforming the education landscape in the Western Cape, on the Cape Flats. We worked well together. You were always visible and audible for the right reasons, development and upliftment of your learners, teachers and communities where you worked tirelessly, with commitment and unwavering passion and compassion. You believed in the quote ‘Every child matters’. You lived it!

You were there with them always on the front line. Go well, person of faith, colleague, friend, political and community activist, comrade, loving family man. Your legacy and beautiful memories will live on long after. The education sector has lost a warrior.”

David Millar, the principal of Norman Henshilwood High School, said a giant has fallen.

“He knew what school improvement was and his awards proved it. Education has lost one of its most committed professionals. He put the ‘dream big’ into pupils’ lives! I met Noel three years ago and he made an immediate impact. He never complained. He was so excited about Delft Technical High School and the children and always spoke highly of his staff. He was the quintessential professional.”

Mr Cleophas is survived by his wife Maria and son Timothy Cleophas.