St Paul’s Primary School stood as a beacon of hope through the dark days of Apartheid and forced removals under the Group Areas Act, while other schools were forced to close as pupils and parents were moved to the Cape Flats and other parts of the city.
Now St Paul’s, in the Bo-Kaap, the second oldest school in the country, has been given a Blue Plaque heritage award. The Blue Plaque awards are handed out by the Centre for Conservation Education and the Simon van der Stel Foundation.
Sigi Howes, co-ordinator of the Blue Plaque project, said the school was located in a special space in the city.
“The wonderful sight for me was seeing you all here this morning. We are celebrating your Founder’s Day with an award for all that St Paul’s has survived and come through over the last 159 years.
“It is very interesting that the two oldest schools in the city centre are both in the Bo-Kaap.”
She said the oldest school in the city was Vista High School.
“You have survived a long time. That is why we are awarding a Blue Heritage Plaque. It will show that (the school) has a long history within its community.”
Ms Howes, who works at the Centre for Conservation Education – which had formerly been known as the Cape Education Museum – said that by profession she was a teacher and had done a lot of research into the history of schools.
“We looked right back into the primary sources and in 1859 St Paul’s was already in existence, with 157 pupils,” she said.
She said St Paul’s Church opened its doors in 1858, with the school starting to operate a year later. “There are not many schools in South Africa that are that old. That is something to be proud of. I hope that you will wear it proudly on the front of your school. It is a special and prestigious thing to have,” she said of the award.
Walter Mecuur, of the Anglican Board of Education, said he was proud to be a part of the celebration.
“St Paul’s has proved to be a good and faithful servant and still will serve the community of Greater Cape Town for many years.
“I want to say thank you and that we appreciate what we have had here this morning,” he said.
He thanked the Centre for Conservation Education for considering St Paul’s for the award. “It is a great honour to receive it. Over the years, it has navigated very difficult waters, through the Apartheid years and years of forced removals, where parents and pupils who lived in this area were forcibly removed kilometers from here.”
Mr Mecuur said that because of this, a number of schools that had operated successfully over the years had been forced to close their doors.
However, St Paul’s remained “a beacon of hope to the parents and pupils. St Paul’s was the candle in the dark that kept burning over the years.”
He said a major recent achievement was the improvement of the school’s mathematics and literacy results and he encouraged the pupils to maintain their high standards.
Ian Pretorius, of the Simon van der Stel Foundation, said the pupils could carry the Blue Plaque with pride and tell the everyone about the school.
“There are a number of Blue Plaques in the city that commemorate a number of a important sites,” he added.
St Paul’s Primary School principal, Yeye Mgudlwa, thanked all the guests for attending the ceremony, which was held at the school last week. “For us, today’s celebration has made a mark in our minds that St Paul’s is not an ordinary school.”
She said they were looking forward to their 160th anniversary celebration next year. “I want to assure you that the legacy will remain alive. Teachers have been coming and going but the legacy will stay. We will make sure that our results improve,” she added.
Ward councillor for the area, Brandon Golding, who was also at last week’s ceremony, congratulated the school and thanked it for its contribution to the community. He added that thousands of pupils had passed through the school and gone on to contribute to society during the school’s 159 years. “The plaque is a birthday card that has been given to you and it is a very big one because it is a very old school.”