Teacher retires after three decades

Alexander Sinton High School’s deputy principal Fazilet Bell has said goodbye to the school, describing her 33 years there as an “amazing journey”.

The school will have some big shoes to fill, says Stephen Lebethe, who now heads the school’s history department following Ms Bell’s retirement this month.

“She is an amazing individual who was foremost in keeping the legacy and history of the school alive,” he said.

Ms Bell had a passion for education and community issues, he said.

“She was big on empowering us as teachers. Having to continue her work is a daunting and challenging task, but she prepared us well for it.”

Ms Bell had also done a lot to support the role of the representative council of learners (RCL), he said.

Ms Bell thanked her “wonderful, helpful” colleagues and “generations of pupils who have passed through my hands”.

She worked with six principals – Michael Petersen, Khalid Desai, Bernard Levendal, Toyer Hassiem, Fazil Parker and Adela Domingo.

Ms Bell and Ms Domingo were the first female principal and deputy principal appointed at the school. Ms Domingo retired last year.

“I started out as an English and history teacher,” Ms Bell said, “but after Razia Girie’s departure, Mr Petersen asked me to come over to the history department. And although I loved teaching both subjects, I could now focus on my passion. My highlight as an English teacher was producing our Grade 11 setwork, To Kill a Mockingbird with the help of Ms Domingo, Shifa Desai and Chitra Narshi.

“One of our parents, Farouk Valley Omar, ended up directing the play. Our woodwork teachers and Randy Harzenberg, our art teacher, helped to design and build the sets. It really gave meaning to the setwork.”

Ms Bell wore many hats over the years, often being elected as a teacher liaison officer within the RCL, and in 1993, as secretary of the Western Cape Parent Teacher Student Forum, she helped oppose a rationalisation plan by provincial education authorities.

“I have seen police beatings and mass rallies,” she said.

More than 30 000 people had joined the “mother of all marches” to Parliament against rationalisation, she said.

“It was also a great honour to be part of the team when Mr Mandela visited the school to honour us for our participation in the struggle.”

Acting principal Michael Petersen, who has worked with Ms Bell for 25 years, said she was passionate about history and dedicated to the RCL.

“She was very concerned about the pupils and their well-being. She is a loyal person, and is so easy to get along with. Ms Bell is also very principled and would not compromise on that, and she worked hard towards unity and co-operation.”

Ms Domingo said Ms Bell had given the school “sterling service”.

“She was more than just a teacher – she was an activist and a community person, and her retirement is a great loss for Alexander Sinton and education as a whole. Her contribution to education needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. She fought against the unjust in education. She was very busy and always concerned about the well-being of pupils.”

Ms Bell saluted colleagues “who helped us navigate through those tough times of apartheid and gutter education” and said she would continue working on the school’s heritage project during her retirement, while also devoting herself to family time, painting, drawing, writing and poetry.

“I also serve on the board of the Human Rights Media Centre, so that I can continue with my history and political work. My family and I shall also be forever grateful for the pastoral care received from the school when my 16-year-old disabled daughter, Anouk, died. This school enabled me to focus outward when the journey inward became too painful. I could fight a political struggle – but this was immensely hard. I also want to express my gratitude to my daughter, Zara, and husband, Russell, who patiently shared me with the school that consumed my life.”