Merchiston school bids farewell to beloved 'lollipop man'

2018-03-12 13:45
Merchiston preparatory school pupils gifted longtime 'lollipop man' Siphiwe Mthembu (inset) with a framed drawing of the Merchiston basher with every single boys thumb print from RRR to Grade 7.

Merchiston preparatory school pupils gifted longtime 'lollipop man' Siphiwe Mthembu (inset) with a framed drawing of the Merchiston basher with every single boys thumb print from RRR to Grade 7. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - It's the end of an era at Merchiston Preparatory Primary School where well-known "lollipop man" Siphiwe Mthembu has hung up his fluorescent orange jacket and stop sign board and retired.

After 44 years as a lollipop man and gatekeeper — 42 of which have been spent at the helm of one of Pietermaritzburg's prestigious primary schools, Mthembu had become a friendly and familiar face for pupils and parents.

Mthembu said he was looking forward to farming and spending more time with friends and family. "But I will miss the children," he added, with a small sigh.

Originally from Mkhambathini in Camperdown, Mthembu moved to Pietermaritzburg in 1974, at the age of 21.

His career started at the Education Department in Burger Street where he was employed as a pool cleaner for schools in the province. Within two years at his new job, Mthembu was then transferred to Merchiston where he spent four decades. "When I started the school was not what it is today. It was not properly fenced or tarred. They didn't even have a gate."

"I was very fortunate to even get that gatekeeping job during those hostile political times," he said.


Mthembu has spent years at Merchiston as a gatekeeper, lollipop man, office assistant and pool cleaner.

Of his time spent at the school, Mthembu said a highlight had been his daily interactions with the pupils.

"I really enjoyed the job. It was fulfilling and I looked forward to seeing all the children in the morning and afternoon. We've laughed every day."

Mthembu said the former and current pupils at the school had taught him valuable lessons about respect.

"They taught me that respect is a give and take. I was just a gate man but the children treated me and my position at the school with utmost respect.

"I was often touched when they took off their school bashers to greet me in the morning or whenever I would bump into them in the school corridors. As a Zulu man that is a big sign of respect for me."

Mthembu said although he is happy that he will now be spending more time with his family, the Merchiston family will forever be etched in his heart.

"My mornings will never be the same again. I will miss everyone very much," he said.

Meanwhile, Merchiston's Facebook page has been flooded with farewell messages for Mthembu.

Cherise Hartshorne said: "My husband is an old boy and the first day my son started at Merchiston, he saw Mr Mthembu and said he was one of the best parts of his Merchiston career, 25 years later and he still remembers the memories of sitting with him after school."

Tim Jackson described Mthembu as a loyal, hardworking, wise and humble gentleman. "I remember Mr Mthembu so well. He was one of a kind and a wonderful example to us all. I wish him a happy and well-deserved retirement."

Gillian Davids said: "I drive past this school every morning and afternoon. I've seen this mkhulu in action."

Zands Mkh said: "A good man indeed! You always greeted us without fail every morning when we drive past the school. Uhambe kahle Mvelase [Go well Mvelase]."

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  education  |  good news

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