Pupils pay tribute to two inspirational teachers ‘huge loss to community’

2016-02-16 12:15
Susan Rautenbach and Vassie Rajah

Susan Rautenbach and Vassie Rajah (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - The deaths of two beloved city teachers have resulted in an outpouring of tributes from their former pupils and the colleagues they worked with.

Pupils of Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School were saddened over the weekend to hear of the death of Susan Rautenbach (69), a Latin and History teacher at the school for some 34 years.

And, having retired only two weeks ago, Allandale School principal Vassie Rajah died yesterday morning. (See text box)

Speaking to The Witness yesterday, Rautenbach’s husband Leon said she had experienced heart problems and had died during surgery on Friday.

“It was very unexpected.”

Since her retirement from the school as deputy principal, she had taught at a pre-school with Child Welfare, volunteered at Msunduzi Hospice and been the secretary of the St Vincent de Paul Society at St Mary’s Catholic church.

Leon said she had also enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren.

He said Rautenbach had generally been fit and well, taking aquacise classes and going for walks.

“She also loved reading, doing the crossword and Soduku puzzles, and birdwatching.”

School principal Valerie Fowler said, “She was a very influential teacher who read widely, interspersing her lessons with so much more than just the facts. Her pupils respected her and still talk of her with fond memories, tinged with some awe.

“In charge of Grade 8 for a number of years, Rautenbach nurtured and cared for each successive group of girls as if they were part of an extended family.

“Central to her character were the values of honesty, fairness, respect for others, an amazing work ethic, a wicked sense of humour, and a love and passion for Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High,” said Fowler.

Many pupils took to the school’s Facebook page to post touching tributes to Rautenbach, who was also known to some of them as Mrs Harvey.

Aalia Ismail wrote, “The embodiment of strength of character, altruism, grace and class, Mrs Rautenbach left too soon. Her legacy is in the lives of those she shaped unwavering in spirit, indiscriminate in identification, altrusitic and noble, loyal until her very last breath. God bless you, Mrs Rautenbach, warrior stalwart xx.”

Her funeral will be held at 2.30 pm on Thursday at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Jabu Ndlovu (Loop) Street. Rautenbach, who taught at Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School from 1977 to 2011, is survived by her husband, a daughter and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.

Allandale School principal Vassie Rajah (60) had become a well-known figure in Pietermaritzburg over 38 years of teaching. He had battled cancer for many years.

“It is a sad day in the history of Allandale Primary. This is a huge loss to us and the community. All we can do is try and follow in his giant footsteps,” said acting Allandale principal Aysha Cassimjee.

She broke the news to the school pupils at yesterday morning’s assembly.

“The teachers are all very down and there is a sombre mood at school. Rajah touched many lives and he remembered every child he ever taught. He will be sorely missed,” said Cassimjee.

Close friend and colleague Siva Gounden said Rajah was greatly respected in the education fraternity for his commitment and selfless contribution.

“He was an outstanding leader who was highly principled and a true servant of the community. This is a huge loss to education and the community,” he said.

Rajah was one of the longest-serving principals in the northern suburbs and a well-known city sportsman. He served on the Pietermaritzburg Schools Sports Association, Primary Schools Sports Association, Maritzburg Volleyball Association and the United Sports Social Club.

Rajah had commemorated his retirement by walking with retired principals, teachers and former pupils from the spot the Baijoo and Maharaj School was situated at to Allandale Primary two weeks ago.

In an interview with The Witness then, Rajah said the Baijoo and Maharaj School held significance for him as it was the first school he taught at, commencing in 1978.

Rajah’s funeral will be held at 12 pm today (Tuesday) at the Mahatma Gandhi Hall in Royston Road.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  teachers

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