How a principal beat the blackboard jungle - and taught SA a lesson

2016-01-13 14:07
Principal of Amangwane High School in Bergville, Nhlanhla Dube (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Principal of Amangwane High School in Bergville, Nhlanhla Dube (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – Principal Nhlanhla Dube has a lesson for the rest of South Africa: how to beat a serial rapist, overcome a tiny government subsidy, a scarcity of textbooks and no laboratory at his rural KwaZulu-Natal school. And in doing this, he has produced a matric class that beat the odds, including one pupil with nine distinctions.

To do this everyone works hard. They also start early, including Dube whose Monday begins at 03:30 when he embarks on a two-and-a-half hour drive from Pinetown to his Amangwane High School in Bergville in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains to get to school before the school bell rings.

As principal for the last 20 years, he leads by example by making sure he is never late.

His 1 000 pupils at the quintile two no-fee school are not far behind. Their school day starts at 06:00 and ends at 18:00 for matriculants.

Despite the enormous challenges he is faced with, Dube managed to get a 92% matric pass rate in 2015.

Out of 134 pupils that wrote the exams, 123 passed, including their shining star Lindokuhle Mazibuko, 18, who achieved nine distinctions and has been accepted to study medicine at the University of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.

“I am really proud of him because this was the first time in the history of the school that we had a child get straight As.”

He was equally proud of another pupil, Samukelo Nxumalo, 17, who obtained seven distinctions.


Lindokuhle Mazibuko and Samukelo Nxumalo (Amanda Khoza, News24)

Dube's approach to running the school is a simple one.

“When something is broken, fix it. We are allocated R864 000 and children come empty handed, expecting us to give them everything because we are a no-fee school.

“We need to buy books, stationery, pay for the electricity and send teachers to workshops with that money.

“The money is not enough and that is why we have three pupils sharing a textbook. It is frustrating but we do our best with the little that we have.”

Dube often dips into his own salary to fix what is broken.

“We do not have a lab and the science and the physics pupils are always competing to use the equipment.”

Turnaround strategy

In a bid to produce quality matriculants Dube came up with a programme called the 6-4-6 turnaround strategy.

This means that pupils have to be at school at 06:00 until 14:00. They have a two hour break to go home and wash their uniforms and grab something to eat. They are expected back at the school at 16:00 to resume class until 18:00.

“We wanted not only to improve the quality of our learners but to increase the number of university entrants.”

In 2012 the programme suffered a blow when a serial rapist started targeting young girls in the community.

“Initially the programme ended at 21:00 but we had to adjust it to end at 18:00 after three of our pupils were raped in a shack next to the school. I had to adjust the programme because of the safety concerns.”

Dube said despite the setback the children continued to work diligently and never missed a class.

“Sometimes I have to drive in every direction to make sure that they get home safely.

“On December 24, I received a call that the school had been vandalised and I had to drive all the way and replace some of the things that were broken and then rush back to my family for Christmas.”


Amangwane High School (Amanda Khoza, News24)

He said his dream is to uplift the rural community.

“I have spent my life with this community and I believe that the only way to make a difference in their lives is to educate the children,” said Dube.

He said over the years his wife, who had always complained, now understood her husband’s passion.

The father of three children said being born in a poor family in Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal inspired him to work harder.

“Both my parents were uneducated. My father only went up to Grade 7 and my mother, Grade 3. There were eight of us and it was tough growing up in Melmoth.”

While growing up Dube wanted to become a doctor but his grades were not up to standard, he said.

“I was the best student in my matric year and I was recruited to teach in Mhlabuyalingana in 1984. I was 20 years old and only earned R276.”

Dube taught for two years and managed to save up enough money to study at the University of Zululand.

“After getting my qualification in 1990, I was recruited to a place I had never heard of before called Bergville.”

He said he was happy to have found the school in good shape with electricity, water and eight classes for its 460 pupils.

Now, 26 years later, Dube was still at the school. 

“I love the school and I have worked very hard to get it to where it is today.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  education  |  matric 2015  |  good news

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