School for the blind turns 60

2014-09-29 00:00

ARTHUR Blaxall School for the Blind in Mountain Rise, Pietermaritzburg, will celebrate its Diamond Jubilee this October.

Acting principal Jay Maharaj said its 60 years in existence is a tribute to what can be achieved through community support and commitment.

According to Maharaj, the School was opened in October 1954 by the then Indian Blind Society, with the support of Reverend Arthur Blaxall who was the president of the South African National Council for the Blind.

The school was housed in a wood and iron cottage in Lorne Street, Durban, and had eight pupils with two voluntary teachers.

It was named after its founder, Blaxall. However, by the early 1960s he was convicted of aiding the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The Nationalist Party did not want the school named after an anti-apartheid activist. It was changed to the New Horizon School for the Blind. Shortly after SA became a democracy the name changed back to Arthur Blaxall School.

Blaxall died in Britain in the seventies. His autobiography, Suspended Sentence, was published in 1965. In that same year retired Constitutional Judge Zak Yacoob, a pupil at the school, won the prestigious Jan Hofmeyer Memorial Speech Contest.

Yacoob was among the first group of seven pupils who in 1966 wrote their matric or Senior Certificate examination. He passed with distinction.

The following year the school moved to its current premises in Pietermaritzburg, to the building that housed the former Cowan House boys’ school, which moved as a result of the Group Areas Act.

Maharaj said that besides Yacoob, other pupils have gone on to distinguish themselves in various fields. They include Dr Praveena Sukhraj-Ely, a senior state advocate at the national Department of Justice, Teresa Qhu, an HR practitioner at Barloworld, Dr Siva Moodley, who heads the disability unit at Unisa, Bheki Tembe, a lawyer at the KZN Department of Basic Education and Elashbai Mistry, who is two subjects away from 15 courses to be completed in the board exams. After this Mistry will become the first blind actuary in the country.

According to Maharaj, although the school was funded by the government, there was not enough fundraising and community involvement played a large part in maintaining the school and keeping it going.

“The fact that Arthur Blaxall is still going strong 60 years later is testimony to the visionary men and woman who not only started the school, but who worked hard at building it up to become a leading educational institution.”

• nalini@witness.co.za

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