The Story of EPS - Eastgate Primary School

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The Story of EPS

Eastgate Primary School was first known as Kensington South School, named after the suburb in which it is located. It was built at a time when money was in short supply, and the years have seen many changes and
developments. Public schools always reflect the current political ideology, and for most of its life Eastgate Primary was a ‘white’ school. Three things always remain constant, however, namely children, teachers and parents, so its history begins in 1930 not in 1994. What has happened is, we hope, is that Eastgate Primary has become a more complete school.

The Early Years

Kensington South School opened its doors on 23 January 1930, just three months after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. During the previous decade there had been a widespread strike by black mineworkers, the 1922 strike by white mine workers, and a rural revolt which lasted from 1925 to
1928. The economic Depression was made worse by one of the severest droughts of the century during 1932/3, greatly increasing the number of poor whites forced from the land, and driving greater numbers of Africans to seek employment in the town and cities, but forced to live in slums on the outskirts. It was not a propitious time to open a new school.
Mr. R.H Clough had been appointed acting principal, and the school started with 38 pupils and 6 teachers. By the end of the year, the enrolment had increased to 155. Mr. H. Fellowes – Frisby was appointed principal in July 1931. During the early years, there were regular epidemics of mumps, whooping cough and scarlet – fever: in April 1932, these occurred simultaneo
usly. At the time there were sewerage works in
Bruma, just opposite the present Queens’ High School, and the principal regularly reported that bad smells came from there. Children became ill, parents complained and there was a proliferation of flies. In 1936, fly – screens were installed throughout the school.

When Mr. Fellowes – Frisby left in 1935, the enrolment had risen to 281, with a staff complement of 8 teachers, including the principal. He handed over an amount of £18:3:0 (eighteen pounds, three shillings or just over thirty-six rand) to the acting principal, this being both school fees and cleaning money.
Mr. P. Barnes took over as principal on 21 January 1936. On 28 April of that year he noted:

“Investigated personally a persistent complaint that coloured children attend the City
and Suburban Cookery Centre. Apparently a few children, who are more or less
borderline cases and on the roll of our ordinary schools for white children, visit the
centre with other children of their class.”

Apartheid existed long before 1948, and the Pass system had been in effect in various forms since settlers arrived at the Cape. Mr. Barnes was principal for only two years, but during this time the enrolment increased to 346, the school was upgraded to PI, and electric lights were installed in the office in 1937. The school actually had a Standard 6 class at this time, but it was transferred to Queens’ Intermediate in 1938, and Mr. Barnes left in April. At this time the Broederbond was very active mobilising the Afrikaner community, in particular the poor white members, and in 1938, one of their members suggested a symbolic trek from Cape Town to Johannesburg to commemorate the Great trek of 1838. In the meantime, there was a boom in the economy with the increasing price of gold; however, the very low wages of farm labourers and mine workers remained static.

Mr. J.A Morrison assumed duty as principal in January 1939, the year that saw the outbreak of the Second World War. The enrolment had unaccountably dropped to 224. In June 1940, Mr. C.C Taylor, a parent
offered £ 10 (20 rand) a month to assist the school’s knitting scheme of War Work: the Kensington South School Knitting Centre was established. Throughout the War, the Centre knitted woollen clothes for people affected by the war: by May 1942, 380 parcels of knitted items had been made up to send overseas, to hospitals and to prisoners – of – war. In August 1940, the principal went on military leave, expecting to be away 7 months, but he didn’t return except to visit the school. On 23 September, he came to say goodbye because he was then on active service. He visited the school again on 2 April 1943 and was transferred on 1 July, presumably to take over as principal of Malvern High School.

On 28 September 1942, the education inspectors notified local schools that there would be an air-raid drill. The acting principal arranged for the children ‘to be dispersed to nearby houses’. The air-round siren sounded on 1 October and the acting principal noted that ‘all children were out of the grounds within 3 minutes.’

Mr. R. Bollen was appointed principal in January 1944. At this time, the school did not yet have proper playing fields, so Sports Day and sports matches were held at Rhodes Park. An education inspection report of the school in November of that year pointed out the limited facilities of the school saying that urgent essentials were an enlarged principal’s office, an assembly hall, and another staff-room. In 1945, the year in which the War ended, the enrolment was 285, with 8 teachers and the principal. The school cricket team beat Jeppe Prep by 1 run, the scores being: Kensington South 38 runs, Jeppe Prep 37 runs. On 9 April, the school cleaner named Towel was arrested for ‘being without a special’. On 5 May, the vice – principal, Mr. S. Tuch died while refereeing a soccer match. On 8 May, the principal noted that there was a ‘cessation’ of hostilities (i.e. the end of the War) and arranged a thanksgiving service at school. On 12 December, ‘Parents’ Day and Prize Distribution’ was held in the ‘double classroom’ (i.e. two classrooms with a partition between them - the present rooms B1 and B2 and probably the current principals office), because the school did not have a hall yet.

On 16 April 1946, Mr. V.R Atkinson spoke to parents on ‘Some Aspects of the Native Problem’. It was a problem that would never find a solution. In 1947, the King and Queen of England and their daughters visited South Africa, and the pupils and teachers assembled in Langerman Drive on 2 April to watch
them drive by. During the year, anxious parents phoned the school to ask if their children should be kept away because of the ‘prevalent poliomyelitis’. By this time a squatter movement had taken over in urban areas, but it was crushed by the government: in the Johannesburg area, squatters and others
were forced into huge new housing estates to the south-west of the city. The township to be named Soweto had become firmly established. Mr Bollen & Staff 13

In January 1948, work commenced on two new Grades classrooms, the two largest classrooms in the school, the present rooms A1 and A2. In spite of the war, the education department seemed to have had more funds. The classrooms were completed in July. In between, on 26 May, the National Party was elected to power, with Dr. D.F Malan as Prime Minister. Formal Apartheid was about to be implemented.

1948 to 1989
A Seething Country and a Quiet School.

In 1949, there was also a change in leadership in the largest African movement, the African National Congress. The Congress Youth League, amongst whose leaders were Nelson Mandela and Olivo Tambo, supported the nomination of Dr. James Moroko as president of the ANC, with Walter Sisulu as secretary – general. In future, resistance to apartheid would be more militant. At the end of that year, the enrolment at Kensington South School had increased to 371. Towel the school cleaner, was also arrested for being ‘in possession of beer’ and sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour.

In 1950, the strongest comments about some of the school’s facilities were made during an inspection. The need for a new principal’s office were again noted:

“ There is no Principal’s office in any similar school in this circuit which can be compared to this one for its hopeless inadequacy. It has been built to hold one person only, and that one of medium stature”

In December, at an Interschool Swimming Gala, Kensington South came top for the first time. And, finally, in 1952, a new principal’s office, secretary’s office and staff-room were built (these are now, respectively, the finance secretary’s office, the reception secretary’s office and the current staffroom). The principal’s office and the staff-room had fireplaces which are now boarded up.

In 1953, the roll was 377 and of these, 332 children and staff travelled to the city, presumably by tram, to see the film of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Work also commenced on the new boy’s toilet. In November, the principal, Mr. Bollen, died in a climbing accident at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg. The National Government had been returned to power with an increased majority and with Hendrik Verwoerd as Minister of Native Affairs. In that year, a black teacher earned just over £ 2 (four rand) a week, and a black
university graduate £ 4 a week. Dr. Verwoerd said:

“ The Bantu teacher serves his community and his salary must be fixed accordingly.”

The concreting of the quadrangle was done in 1954. The school’s new principal, Mr. J. Mulder, was appointed on 2 July 1955, a position he was to hold for eighteen years. A week earlier, the African National Congress had held a Congress of the people, at which the Freedom Charter was adopted.
Clause 8 of the Charter read:

“ The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened for All”

That year bulldozers moved into Sophiatown to demolish the township. Mr. Mulder showed early initiative, calling a meeting of parents on 7 September, at which 200 parents agreed to form the first Parents’ –
Teachers’ Association (PTA) of Kensington South School. There was a further significant development on 25 February 1957, when the secretary of the School Board visited the school with an architect to discuss the erection of a school hall. Building commenced in November, and a year later, on 15 November, the new school hall was officially opened by Mr. F.H Odendaal, the Administrator of the Transvaal.

In 1959, the school’s enrolment reached 400 for the first time. It was also the year that Robert Sobukwe initiated the formation of the Pan African Congress whose resistance would soon have momentous consequences. An inspection report in June 1960 pointed out that the classrooms were heated by combustion stoves, which are ‘somewhat ineffective’. It also mentioned that, in addition to the hall, a library, a stockroom and a strong-room had been built. It observed that the school had two tennis courts, one tenisette court, two netball fields and two cricket nets, but for other sporting activities use has to be made of a neighbouring school’s grounds. The current main field, top field, car-park and driveway had not been laid out, the ground being occupied by houses. Two months prior to the report, on 6 April, in an anti-pass campaign organised by the PAC, the police opened fire on protesters at Sharpeville, killing 69 people and injuring 189.

Five classrooms were enlarged in 1963. In June 1964, Nelson Mandela and 8 co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, and sent to Robbern Island. In August 1966, the log book highlights the next major physical development:

“Clearing and leveling of Sports Ground. The contractor moved onto the site and commenced operation – wonderful news – after waiting for seven years”.

The leveling was completed the same month. The following month, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was stabbed to death by a parliamentary messenger. In 1968, new toilets for the girls were built, but when the second term reopened they were not ready for use, although the original toilets had been demolished. The girls had to use the hall toilets in a relay system for about a month. In February 1969, the ‘final plan for the lay-out of the sports – ground were signed’. It is not clear what is meant by this, but perhaps there had been a delay in completing the full layout which included the fields, the car-park and the driveway. There is no record when the current classrooms A3, A4, A5, C2, C3 and C4 were built but it must have been at about this
time too. At the end of the year, just before school closed the principal reported that “ due to very heavy storms, the water from sports field flooded the area adjacent to the hall and then poured into the hall cellar. Tables and chairs and many other items are under water or floating on the water.” This problem continued intermittently into the 1990’s. Mr. Mulder retired in June 1973, after serving as principal of Kensington South for 18 years.
Mr. R. Daniel assumed duty as principal in July 1974. The following year the Transvaal Education Department

gave permission to establish an Aid Class at the school, which opened in May. At the same time two special
classes at Sir Edmund Hillary were transferred to Kensington South School. Mr. Daniel had a particular interest in children with learning difficulties, and that focus has continued to the present. He was the first chairman of the Special Education Association founded in 1976.

That year, pupils and some education officials in townships began to resist the compulsory use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools. The resistance culminated in a protest march on 16 June. The police responded with teargas and bullets and Soweto erupted. Resistance spread rapidly throughout the country. The log book makes no mention of these disturbing events.

Kensington South School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1980 and the vehicle entrance in Cumberland Road was built to commemorate the occasion. Zimbabwe gained independence the same year. In 1981, the
enrolment was 330 with a teaching staff complement of 17 teachers, including the principal; class sizes had become noticeably smaller. It snowed in September of that year, causing the tennis court fence to collapse.

The name of the school was changed to Eastgate Primary in August 1982, following the development of the Eastgate Shopping Centre. A competition was announced for the design of a new school badge. The winners were Mr. Frank Early, and Shaun Cleaver, a Standard 5 pupil. Mr. Daniels resigned at the end of the year. The new principal, Mr. P. du Plessis, commenced duty in July 1983, but served for a year and a half only. Nevertheless he did establish an After-Care Centre and the school’s first computer centre (using
Atari micro-computers).

April 1985 - July 2002

Mr. D.P Robertson assumed duty as acting principal in January 1985 and was appointed permanently in April. The enrolment was 270 children, and there were 16 teachers, including the principal. The school retained its Aid and two Special classes. The PTA budget for that year was R7500. The Transvaal Education Department changed the name of the School Committee to Management Council. On 16 June 1986, the principal made this entry in the log book:

“There was some concern today that the trouble affecting the country might also affect white schools”

Throughout 1984 and 1985, there had been clashes and violence in the country, as well as boycotting of classes. In March of 1985, a state of emergency was declared, but violent resistance continued across South
Africa. In May 1986 a second state of emergency was declared, but resistance continued. The first black children, of Transkei Consular Staff parents, were admitted to Grade 1 at Eastgate Primary in January 1987.
School fees were voluntary at this time and were raised from R75 to R90 per annum. The school choir was selected to take part in the Johannesburg Choir Festival. On 27 August 1989, the following entry was made in the logbook:

“There has been speculation in a Sunday newspaper about the closure of this school (along with many others in Johannesburg) due to declining enrolment. I wrote a letter to the editor stating that there were no plans to close the school.”

The declining enrolment was due mainly to smaller families, the sedentary local community, and the number of schools in Kensington. The school’s enrolment was 223. That year the school purchased its first photo – copying machine for R12 000.

“The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened for all”

In 1990, the school celebrated it’s 60th anniversary. Some photographs in the hall record the occasion. That year saw the first tentative steps in a process of eventual transformation. The log-book records the first moves:

“1990-05-02: The Management Council met on Monday 30 April to consider the possible opening of the school to other racial groups, in the light of the of the Minister of Education’s two proposals for the possible opening of schools”

The Council decided to recommend Model B to the parents, that a maximum of 5 ‘non-white’ children were to be admitted to each standard, that competence in English was essential for admission and that the maximum class size was to be 30 pupils. In March 1991, 85% of the parents voted for Model B. On 6 May the Management Council gave permission for the first black children to be admitted. That year saw Eastgate Primary School also purchase its first computer system for the office.

In January 1992, the enrolment had risen to 287. Then the government allowed white schools to choose Model C status. This meant that schools could make school fees compulsory and would become responsible for all day-to-day expenses. A general meeting of parents agreed to apply for Model C status and the annual school fee was set at R1 200. The new regulations changed the name of Management Council to Governing Body.
From 1990 to 1994, the pace of political change in South Africa was rapid. On 2 February 1990,
President de Klerk announced in Parliament the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC and the Communist Party. On 11
February, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison. The changes created uncertainty, and there was serious and widespread turbulence, with conflict between many groupings.

Existing parents at Eastgate Primary School were nervous about the rapid changes in education, as the log-book notes:

“30 March 1993: It is worth recording that the changes experienced at school have
caused uneasiness. Parents are more sensitive and unsure…”

The turning point came in 1994, and Eastgate Primary School played its part.
The log-book notes:

“26-30 April: School closed for the General Election. It was a momentous week for the country.”

The school was a polling station and eventually took over the functions of two nearby polling stations which were ineffective. The electoral staff was mostly teachers at the school.

In 1995 there was a single education department for the PWV region and schools became open, although initially admission tests were still administered. The enrolment increased to 370. In 1995, the first black
teacher to Eastgate Primary School was appointed. The school’s enrolment increased each year and
in 2000 it reached 542.
The increase meant that, in addition to the principal, the school was entitled to have a deputy
principal for the first time, and three heads of department. During the same year the hall was renovated at a cost of R165 000 and Outcomes – Based Education was implemented up to Grade 3. In November there was a production of ‘Bugsy Malone’, and on 5 December, the South African Vice – President, Mr. Jacob Zuma, and the Johannesburg mayor – elect, Mr. Amos Masondo, visited the school to see how the local elections were
proceeding. Mr. Robertson retired as principal on 31 July 2002.

Mrs. C.N. Notununu was appointed acting – principal, and appointed Principal in October 2003. After a succession of principals who were all men, Mrs. Notununu is the first woman principal of Eastgate Primary. The last two years have seen a number of improvements and developments: these include the repainting of the roof, the upgrading of the tennis courts, the opening of a permanent computer centre, and the building of an additional classroom. The most important continuing focus is on implementing the curriculum. After nearly 75 years, Eastgate Primary School is a developing but transformed school. Mrs. Notununu was seconded to the G.D.E. in September 2007 and has been appointed as IDSO in February 2008.

November 2004

1. Eastgate Primary School log books: 1930 – 2004
2. Reader’s Digest Illustrated History of South Africa

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