Debbie Schafer, MPP
Western Cape Minister of Education
It is indeed a great honour for me to be here today to celebrate with you the proclamation of this historic school as a Provincial Heritage Site.
In the letter from Heritage Western Cape advising of this school’s recognition as such a site, it says that it was because of its significance in terms of its intrinsic historical, social, environmental, cultural and political value.
That is quite something, and one has to ask, how is it that a school like this can achieve such significance, whilst many other schools are never heard of?
What makes a school worthy of being proclaimed a Heritage site?
There are several reasons, I believe:
- People with a vision:
Mr Harold Cressy was the first and only black student at the South African College, now University of Cape Town. He was an educationist and a teacher who had a vision – an educational vision that was shaped by the politics of racial exclusion.
And he shared that vision with the first principal of this school, Dr Edgar Maurice. Both men shared a quest for all people of colour to be accepted as equal in a society that cast them as inferior on racial grounds. Both of them were dedicated to the idea of upliftment through education and both believed that people should be judged on their merits.
Both saw education as the way to counter racial prejudice and as a means to social acceptance in a society that regarded people of colour as inferior.
They believed, and lived by, the idea that it was through education and the cultivation of knowledge that one could prove oneself to be equal to anybody and stand tall in the world.
- Quality leadership:
It is all good and well having a vision, but to realise that vision takes exceptional leadership and commitment, especially in the circumstances that prevailed during apartheid.
Both Mr Cressy and Dr Maurice were activists as much as educators.
Under their leadership, the school always stood firm in its resistance to the apartheid regime.
Under their leadership, as well as subsequent principals, it never wavered in its belief in freedom and the equal right to education for all.
Dr Victor Richie was the Principal of Harold Cressy High School for 27 years. It was under his leadership that the school along with the teachers, parents and students of the school resisted pressure from the apartheid government to relocate the school to a ‘coloured area’. En kyk hoe lyk julle nou.
I would like to especially acknowledge Dr Ritchie, who is here today. Thank you for your steadfastness, your leadership and your unwavering commitment to quality education and equality in education, and for having the courage to stand up for what was right, not what was easy. In doing so, you have set an example to many people, both inside and outside the school.
- Positive Attitude
I am very pleased to see these lovely buildings now at this school, and I believe that you will be starting with building of your multipurpose hall in November.
However, one thing that amazed me when reading about your school was how, for 41 years, this school had very crude facilities, and despite that, and the oppressive apartheid environment, neither the teachers nor the students ever used that as an excuse not to deliver their very best.
What strikes me as the most important part of our heritage to which you have contributed is the commitment to excellence despite adversity. It really is true that one’s attitude determines ones’ altitude.
And as a result of this proud heritage, this school has contributed some very eminent alumni to our country and the world.
Mohamed Adhikari, who is an Associate Professor in UCT’s History Department, with a research interest in Coloured identity and politics in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Edward Kieswetter who has been the Group Chief Executive of Alexander Forbes Limited and Alexander Forbes Equity Holdings since January 4, 2010. Mr. Kieswetter serves as Deputy Commissioner of SA Revenue Service (SARS). He was a senior executive of Eskom and FirstRand. He has been an Independent Non-Executive Director of Shoprite Holdings Ltd. since 2010. He serves as a Director at Alexander Forbes International Limited. Mr. Kieswetter holds amongst others a Master’s Degree in Science Education (Cognitive Development) from UWC, an Executive MBA (Strategy and Business Transformation) from the Henley University in the UK and a Master in Commerce (cum laude)(SA/ International Tax) obtained through the Northwest University.
Helen Kies, an activist and former teacher of thirty years at the school;
Trevor Jones, a composer and arranger of musical scores for more than a hundred films, including Notting Hill, Mississippi Burning and Excalibur;
And last but certainly not least another Trevor, Trevor Manuel, anti-apartheid activist who rose through the ranks to become South African Finance Minister, and then South African Cabinet Minister in the Presidency, who matriculated from Harold Cressy in 1973 and went on to study Civil and Structural Engineering at the Peninsula Technicon .
What a proud legacy this school has left South Africa.
When we consider all this, it is quite obvious why schools are important as heritage institutions – they shape the attitudes and values of the future leaders of our country, and they are directly responsible for the quality of education that the learners receive. Quite simply, schools and teachers hold the future of their learners in their hands. The quality of the education they receive determines the opportunities that will be available to them later in life, and determines the role they can and will fulfil in our country. This school’s commitment to excellence in adversity has yielded some outstanding South Africans of whom we can all be proud.
And so it is completely appropriate that today we celebrate yet another milestone in the history of Harold Cressy.
Today we gather here to unveil the plaque that commemorates Harold Cressy as a Provincial Heritage Site.
We need to acknowledge the huge contributions, integrity, dedication and commitment of the school leaders – all former principals, current Principal Khalied Isaacs, Alumni, Educators and Learners, who have made today possible.
To the students, you are very privileged to be a part of this heritage, and with this comes a great responsibility. Please continue the proud tradition of Harold Cressy, and I sincerely hope to see many more of you taking up your places in significant positions in society. But most importantly, do not forget the values that this school has stood for over such a long period of time. It is now your turn to create your part of the future legacy for this school.
As we celebrate the unveiling of the plaque here today, let us all take a moment to appreciate the freedoms that we now enjoy, many of which came at a great sacrifice by your families and school leaders.
I must say that your motto is indeed a fitting tribute to all past and present Principals, Educators and Learners – “Volenti Nihil Difficile” – ‘TO THOSE WHO ARE WILLING, NOTHING IS DIFFICULT’
I wish you all the very best as you continue to contribute to this wonderful school and the future of our country.