The pride of Umlazi

2010-12-03 00:00

ON Sunday, November 28, we woke up to the news that Dr Isaac Sibusiso Kubeka had died.

To the thousands of us who were privileged to have passed through his exceptional hands, mere death will not rob us of the memory of the educator we affectionately called Insimbi Ayigobi (steel that cannot be bent).

Dr Kubeka was born on March 3, 1933, on a farm in the district of Ladysmith, KwaZulu-­Natal. He matriculated at Pholela High School and went on to obtain a BA in Zulu and history from the University of Fort Hare. In 1961, he obtained a BA (honours) from the then University of Natal, which was followed in 1981 by an MA degree from the same university.

Dr Kubeka began his teaching career in 1956 as an assistant teacher at the now-defunct Loram Secondary School. He spent the years from 1961 as a principal of Isibonelo, KwaShaka, Menzi and Vukuzakhe high schools. He also lectured on a part-time basis at the University of Natal.

He distinguished himself as one of those exceptional teachers who not only pour their souls into ensuring high academic standards among their pupils, but always concern themselves with developing and nurturing balanced and responsible citizens and leaders.

He was extensively involved in community matters that served to promote education. His leadership role in the Umlazi Township Education Committee contributed significantly towards the establishment of Zululand University’s Umlazi Extramural Division, Ophikweni — later known as the Durban-Umlazi Campus of the University of Zululand. Many black professionals working and residing in the greater Durban area benefited from the ability to attend classes at this facility.

Committed to the meaningful education of the African child, Dr Kubeka implemented a policy of keeping pupils at school from 6.30 am until 5 pm. Critics had a field day ridiculing this policy without analysing the rationale behind it: the begrudging acknowledgement that the home environment of most township children was, and still is, not conducive to any home learning. It is virtually impossible for a child who shares a four-roomed house with 10 other people to find a quiet space at home in which to study. Today, all the successful schools at Umlazi have a similar policy in place.

It was this ability to instil a sense of responsibility towards education in pupils that resulted in Vukuzakhe High School, which is located deep in the sprawling Umlazi Township, consistently achieving a 100% matric pass rate even during the dark days of apartheid. Because of him, Umlazi Township now prides itself on having, among others, engineers and scientists, doctors and physicians, chartered accountants and statisticians, and musicians and playwrights.

Dr Kubeka led Vukuzakhe with such distinction that it was recognised by the Foundation for Research and Development as one of the top three schools in the country. In 1987, the University of Zululand conferred Dr Kubeka with an honorary coctorate of education.

In 1995, Vukuzakhe High School was given the rare honour of being visited by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.

In 2004, former pupils of Vukuzakhe High School founded the Abambo Tribute to IS Kubeka Lecture Series, through which the school was able to attract the unprecedented visits of eminent South Africans such as Russell Loubser of the JSE, Wendy Luhabe, Jonathan Oppenheimer, Premier Zweli Mkhize, and Tito Mboweni, the then governor of the South African Reserve Bank.

All these and other accolades were in recognition of Dr Kubeka’s exceptional leadership and sterling contribution to the education fraternity in South Africa.

Dr Kubeka was an outstanding patriot who dedicated himself to the service of the young of his land. He saw the disappointment and betrayal of the expectations of their parents and the black nation as simply unforgivable. There is no greater testimony of this than his consistent refusal to be lured by the prospects of promotion to higher office with its better rewards, because to him that would have removed him “from the coalface of education — the classroom”.

Dr Kubeka was also an eminent author in indigenous languages. He wrote three Zulu novels, which all share the common themes of the quest for education and self-improvement while retaining one’s sense of humility and responsibility to one’s family and community.

Dr Kubeka fought the good fight. He may not have been the recipient of any national orders but he will not be forgotten.

• Sandile Donald Zungu is the executive chairperson of Zungu Investments Company, alumnus of Vukuzakhe High School (1982-1983), and protégé of Dr I. S. Kubeka.

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