Johannesburg - After 38 years of teaching at Madibane High School, the same school she had attended in her youth, Nelly Matabane still felt an unshakeable sense of attachment to the institution.
Shortly after retiring in 2014, Matabane realised she could not sit at home and enjoy her free time while her skills were still desperately needed, even if it meant she would not get a salary.
"I love teaching the learners and I realised that staying at home while Madibane is having problems with teachers who are teaching more than two subjects, I said let me go and help, and help fully and be committed," she told News24.
"I have a passion for teaching and I want to see the school going back to its roots."
Madibane High School in Diepkloof was regarded as one of Soweto's best schools during the apartheid era. Its alumni include Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Judge Nkola Motata, ANC stalwart and activist Motlalepula Chabaku, and current Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane.
Nkosi-Malobane was at the school on Wednesday to reward the teachers for helping to pull the matric pass rate up from 62% in 2014 to 94% in 2015.
Matabane had helped spark a fire in Nkosi-Malobane that would eventually lead her to her career in politics, she said at the awards ceremony.
"The reason why I'm in politics is because of this woman. She didn't know that. We used to use her library and we started a group and on Fridays we would always have days where we debated. We always looked forward to Fridays."
She said Matabane, who taught English, Setswana, and helped out with netball as an extra-curricular activity, instilled discipline and a love of learning.
Currently, the school’s pupils came from very poor backgrounds. Some had failed multiple times and were no longer being accepted by other schools. It also had pupils older than the average age for their grade.
Parents in the area no longer took their children there. It currently only had 217 pupils, although it had the capacity for up to 1600.
Matabane said it was sad to see the school drop to such a low.
"It makes me so sad. These schools were the schools of the time, it frustrates me, it kills your morale, but God is there. We want to come back, and do something good for the school and try to get the school to go back to its high."
She said commitment from parents, pupils and teachers would go a long way in turning the school around.
One of the key ingredients to top performance at schools was helping children build confidence in themselves, she said.
She said Madibane’s teachers were overworked, but put a great deal of effort into each child.
"If teachers can treat learners as their children, boost their egos, advise them and encourage them in all respects, on the home front, in speaking English, that will make their work easier."