I cried on my first day of school. My Sub A teacher at Aliwal Road Primary School (ARPS), Mrs Blomerus took me by the hand and led me to the Sub A classroom where she sat me down, gave me a little wooden board and big dollop of green clay and in her kindly voice soothed away my sadness and helped me to make a little clay figure. She was amazing. The years that followed were the happiest of times.
I have the fondest memories of Mr Haupt the headmaster, or ‘Hooftie’, as we called him and of Mrs Blomerus who were firm but kindly in their manner. The vice-principal, Mr Naude was a bit intimidating and no-one intentionally got on the wrong side of him and although corporal punishment was not used at ARPS, Mr Naude had his own way of dealing with naughty pupils. He had the “Look”! I shudder to think of what would happen to some of the kids today if they ever had to experience the ‘look’ from Mr Naude. He could wither a child on the spot with one of his stares and, especially the boys, would feel the effect of one of his controlled but scathing tongue lashings if they stepped out of line. He did not brook any bad manners or bad form when it came to the classroom or playground.
Hooftie on the other hand was like a kindly grandfather. If you were ever summoned to his office for a misdemeanour you felt so bad about it for disappointing him that you made sure you never did it again. He would talk softly and make you understand why you should not do things like that. We all loved him. Assembly was held every morning when Hooftie would read from a children’s Bible and we would sing things like “Jesus loves me this I know” and “All things Bright and Beautiful”. Then Mr Haupt would give us a little talk. He retired in 1970 after many many years as principal of the school. On his last day the school presented him with a cheque for R400.00 which he was going to use to spend time caravaning around the country. Sounds such a little now but back then it was a small fortune.
The school itself was founded as a School of Industry for Girls in 1836 by Lady D’Urban, wife of the Governor of the Cape. In 1909 it became co-ed and changed its name to Aliwal Road Primary School and continued as such until 1988 when it was forced to close due to dwindling numbers. I remember hearing of its closure with great sadness.
Because of its great historical value, the building has been preserved and it is now an education museum as well as a Centre for Conservation Education currently under the curatorship of Ms Sigi Howes. Part of the museum’s function is to collect as much archival material as possible on schools all over the country. They have for instance the most amazing collection of school brass bells and very old classroom desks and equipment. Some schools are very well represented and have box files full of photographs and even items of uniform dating back years and years. The first time I visited the museum I eagerly looked for the box file on Aliwal Road school and to my great disappointment found only a handful of items in the box. For one of the oldest schools in the country it saddens me that all that history is ‘missing’. I immediately went home and looked through all my photos and old report cards and made copies which I gave to Sigi the next time I was there. I even have my old Prefect’s badge and house badge (blue for D’Urban – the other house was Van Riebeeck which was yellow…more orange really) which I am a bit loathe to give up just yet.
Please please….if there is any body who went to ARPS please contact me. I will co-ordinate any material and hand it over to Sigi who I am sure will be thrilled. She is planning to write a comprehensive history of the school and is busy collecting information. Without your input a valuable part of Cape history could be lost forever.