Hope and glory

2010-05-06 00:00

IT was September 1987. Deneys and Else Schreiner’s daughter, Jennifer, had been incarcerated at Pollsmoor Prison at the hands of the Security Police, on suspicion of terrorism.

At the same time, the Bantu Education Act was ensuring that black South Africans received limited and inferior education.

Racial tensions ran high and dissident political groups clashed with police over apartheid policy.

Against this backdrop, Deneys and Else Schreiner, together with a small group of supporters, saw the need for an organisation dedicated to education for all — regardless of skin colour.

The organisation would need a name.

The National Council of Women (NCW) got together in the Schreiners’ home to discuss the possibilities.

“Thembalethu! We will call it Thembalethu, Our Hope,” said NCW member Miriam Gqubule.

“But we will spell it phonetically, so you silly whites don’t pronounce it with European ‘ths’,” she joked.

And while it would be two years before Tembaletu would receive any funding or support, the Tembaletu Trust came into being.

Tembaletu recently celebrated 21 years of undiscriminating service to communities in KwaZulu-Natal.

The organisation, which now runs no fewer than 10 education programmes and five resource and information centres around the province, had humble beginnings.

“We met a solid wall of regret,” said Else Schreiner. “‘We regret to inform you we do not give donations to cover salaries,’ said one company. ‘Sorry, but that’s our rule,’ said another.

“It was a disaster. You simply cannot get a concept organisation up and running without staff. We tried further, embassies, businesses, individuals, but got only understanding and sympathy,” said Schreiner.

Unfortunately, understanding and sympathy could not pay the salaries they needed in order to employ staff and get the organisation off the ground.

“Then at last, after years of frustration, the fates were kind,” said Schreiner.

In 1988, Trevor Manuel was released from prison and had heard of the Schreiner family — most likely through Jennifer’s incarceration. Manuel encouraged members of the Mobil Foundation board in Cape Town to approve funding for Tembaletu.

“The Mobil Foundation asked Deneys to go to see them and soon we had a promise of three years’ salary for a director. Tembaletu was on its way,” said Schreiner.

The organisation would need headquarters, and the old Girls’ Collegiate in Burger Street was ideal.

The building had been used as a school since 1882, which according to Tembaletu’s current director, Richard Rangiah, made it “the perfect place for teaching and education programmes”.

According to Schreiner, Tembaletu’s founders hoped it would be a place of learning and integration for all races.

“We all hoped, deeply, that it would become a truly mixed community and that it would blossom in spite of the rigours of apartheid. To achieve this goal, of all races mixing and working together, was a big hope at that time in the apartheid world,” said Schreiner.

In the years that followed, Tembaletu went on to establish various educational programmes, from literacy skills to computer training and practical skills such as carpentry. “One of Tembaletu’s strengths has been its continuous research to find out what the needs of various communities are,” said Schreiner.

Schreiner said she fondly remembers a group of black women from the Imbali- Edendale area who asked for a course in flower arranging.

By creating the course, the course facilitator unwittingly created a thriving and profitable flower-arranging circle which now caters for weddings, parties, funerals and family functions in the area.

Director of the board Dr Nomasonto Nkosi described the Schreiner family’s commitment to the organisation as a highlight of her involvement in the trust.

She described a recent donation by the family to the Tembaletu Trust as an incident which “highlighted the behind-the-scenes dedication and commitment of a few individuals towards the upliftment of the disadvantaged communities scattered around the KwaZulu-Natal midlands”.

Looking back, Schreiner expressed pride at Tembaletu’s progress from its start in the politically turbulent late eighties. “Remembering the tribulations of the time, it was a remarkable feat,” she said.

She added that Tembaletu’s success needs to be attributed to the group of people who dedicated themselves to the trust’s development. Tembaletu “flourished on the backs of a bunch of men and women who wanted the vision to succeed.

“The people of Tembaletu — from cleaning to directing, planning or executing, counting the pennies, teaching — all these 21 years, they and the board have shared the excitement of success,” she said.

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