Farewell to great son of the soil

2016-05-26 06:00
 Highly respected academic, educator and community builder Mr Mtoba and his wife Nyameka Wilheminna Mtoba. PHOTO: family album

Highly respected academic, educator and community builder Mr Mtoba and his wife Nyameka Wilheminna Mtoba. PHOTO: family album

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Former Fezeka High School principal Mr Mtoba is no more. He passed away two weeks ago on May 3. And on the 7th and after his cremation, his ashes were laid to rest in Mount Coke, in the Eastern Cape, where he spent his childhood.

Mr Mtoba, as he was called by all and sundry, will be remembered by generations of students and colleagues as a man of honour, who oozed confidence and imbued his charges with such qualities.

Sports, education, religion and choral music were part of the daily grind to him and no hobby.

“These were all part of the vocation to greater humanity,” According to him.

Having lost his parents at a very young age, many believe this setback was what reinforced his determination to make a success of his life and inspire generations of others who came behind him.

Accordingly, to those who were lucky to share in his quips during an illustrious career, Mtoba ranks amongst the most distinguished luminaries who made Gugulethu their canvas for a work that spanned decades.

Many Black children that attended his classes during his time as a teacher at Roma, Vukukhanye and Intshinga Primary Schools and ultimately as a principal at Fezeka High School, respectively, will recall this juncture in their young lives during quests for knowledge.

According to his children, the benevolence and Ubuntu of the Kwebulana family and other relatives who adopted him, also sustained him over the years, and instilled in him the qualities which he displayed in his adult working life.

The son of a domestic worker, and the grandson of an educator, Mtoba initially trained as an agriculturist, before taking up teaching as a career of choice.

His resilience and thick-skinned determination was proved even as he failed matric in his first attempt.

He went on to do a Primary Teacher’s Diploma at the Blythswood Institution, determined to follow in the footsteps of Holford Mtoba, his grandfather, who was also a principal of the schools around Mount Coke.

Mtoba also trained at the Frank De Villiers Agricultural Training College in Flagstaff to complement his teacher diploma.

Having worked variously as an equipment store clerk and dry cleaner’s agent in the hiatus, in 1962 he obtained a teaching job, and took on the challenge of swotting towards a matric certificate, which he passed in 1970.

This opened the doors for him to further his education, registering for a BA degree with Unisa in 1974, doubling this up superbly with an honours degree at Fort Hare University in 1977. He further obtained an MA degree from the University of Stellenbosch.

This no doubt astounded many in his circles, especially so for a man who started life from humble beginnings.

After his move from Roma in Langa under the guiding light of principal Galo, he moved to Vukukhanye Primary School in Gugulethu where he worked under another formidable and an uncompromising educationist, Mr Mgijima.

This is where he demonstrated his passion for choral music and sport which he led outside the classroom. He was later appointed as a school principal at Intshinga Primary School where he remained for a number of years serving the people of Gugulethu at a time when parents demonstrated keen interest in the education of their children.

Proof of this keen interest was that come year end, parents would move from school to school, just to listen to the academic results of learners, regardless of whether their own children studied at the school, at the same curious to know how the school fared in the sports field and their choral achievements.

Schools of choice for these achievements were Luzuko, Vuyani, Zingisa and Intshinga higher primary schools at the time, solely based on the quality of teachers they had.

In 1978 Mtoba was appointed principal of Fezeka High School before becoming inspector of schools in the region.

It is a fact that some of the leaders in academia, business and government today are as a result of the inspired teachings of this giant, and to some extent, his cane.

He will be remembered as a disciplinarian who set very high standards for his students and teachers alike. He helped some students from destitute families with their school fees during times of need and never made public pronouncements about the personal sacrifices he made for the black child.

After his retirement in 1995, he left the Cape to settle in the East London, where he continued with his legacy of being a community builder.

Herbert Pumelele Mtoba was born on June 18 1932, in Mt Coke Mission. He was the third child born of Gecelo and Lillian N. Mtoba (nee Tsoyi).

He started school at the Mt Coke Mission Primary School, and did both his post primary education at Welsh High School in East London and later at Langa High School. Life was not easy in Cape Town, but this period is viewed as the beginning of a colourful and self-made legacy.

As part of the journey chronicled above, he also obtained a certificate in Public Management from the University of Pretoria. In 1991, and after two decades in the education arena, he was awarded a long service certificate.

Running township schools during the turbulent 70s was no easy feat, as principals had to contend with state repression on one side and the political activities of highly intellectualised students.

According to Dr Zola Jonas, a colleague who also went to great lengths to achieve academic qualifications, the arrival of principal Mtoba at Fezeka somehow brought order to the proceedings.

“In the short period that he was principal, Mr Mtoba managed to stabilise the school to focus on its business of ensuring learning and teaching.

He was a man of principle and discipline, with a quiet resolve to get things done despite the difficult circumstances at the time. However, before he could build on the stability he helped create, Mr Mtoba was appointed to serve as school inspector at the local office of the Department of Education and Training.”

In 1987 he was promoted to lead school inspectors in the Border area of the Eastern Cape. He retired in 1995, having left a legacy of service, discipline, and success against all odds.

His legacy lives on through his products that are now graduates and professionals, some leaders in their fields of expertise.

During his retirement in the Eastern Cape, Mr Mtoba also devoted his time to church related matters, becoming a respected elder of the congregation.

He was a well respected elder within the community, and always willing to help and provide support to extended family and the community, as and when needed.

He lives behind his wife of 56 years, Nyameka Wilhelmina (Nee Ntlama), and five children, Cebani, Gcobani, Luncedo, Mgcini and Gciniwe Gcinani and a clutch of grandchildren.

His children said they will always remember him for his unblemished track record in life and for a few adages: He always said “There is no such thing as a mistake in life, it is you who decides to make one.”, “It is all about making a decision and sticking to it.”

In life, he stuck to this age-old wisdom.

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