The history behind the name change of Hoërskool Hendrik Verwoerd and why it has taken so long

2019-05-23 05:01
School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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The process of changing the name of Hoërskool Hendrik Verwoerd has been going on for years, the former principal of the school has told News24.

Hennie du Toit, who retired as the principal at the school two years ago, spoke to News24 about its history, its establishment in 1937, and the reasons why the name was not immediately changed after 1994.

"Name changes are not new for Hendrik Verwoerd High School...it had a couple of changes throughout these years," he said.

He said the school started off as Junior Sekondêre Skool but its name was later changed to Michael Brink High School.

Michael Brink was the member of the provincial legislature who was responsible for the area the school is in, said Du Toit.

He said when the National Party came into government in 1948, new names were discussed and the school was renamed Meintjieskop High School.

"Mentjieskop is the little mountain on which the Union Building is built, right behind the school," Du Toit explained.

However, that name did not stay for long because it was not approved by the education department and after further discussion, the school governing body (SGB) decided to name it after then prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd - the architect of apartheid.

Verwoerd, who was leader of the National Party, was prime minister from 1958 to 1966.

Multiracial years were a success

Fast forward to post-apartheid South Africa. Du Toit said the school decided to change its language of instruction in 1995 and became a multi-racial school, offering both English and Afrikaans, as languages of instruction.

"I think we did well [changing the language of instruction] because the school became a really successful multi-cultural school and received awards for excellence in education," he said.

While the process of diverging to become a multi-racial school was under way, the debate about the name change started again, he said. But at that point, the SGB, the parents and the community decided that that a name change was not necessary.

"The school had a nickname which was 'woeries' - a short version of Verwoerd - and that was actually the name that was used by  90% of learners at sports functions and everybody was happy with the name and the culture.

"People felt that at that stage it was not necessary to change the name of the school, mainly because they felt that the testimony that we, as a well-functioning, multi-cultural school under the name of Hendrik Verwoerd, makes a much bigger statement than a new name would make," said Du Toit.

However in 2000, the debate started again. There were also formal processes regarding the name change and progress was made through various debates and consultations. 

"I think in about 2015 or 2016, the department changed regulations regarding the names of schools. That prompted a new discussions and led to the decision that the name of the school would change.

"At that stage, I decided to retire and the SGB took a decision to ask for a postponement [of the name changing] to appoint a new principal and stabilise a little bit before they take a decision," he said.

Pupils debated name during assembly

A former pupil, who wished to remain anonymous, said he remembered vividly how the name changing process was debated by pupils, parents, the SGB and the community.

Nick* who matriculated in 2004, and wanted to remain anonymous, also told News24 how pupils dating back to when he started in the year 2000, were made to be involved in the process.

The former pupil said there was even a day when Du Toit organised a debate during a Monday morning assembly for the name change topic.

"[Du Toit] chose two of the best orators at the school. The one was to argue for changing the name and the other for keeping the name. The young lady who was debating for changing the name did a very good job and she won over the vast majority," he said.

He said he remembered how, on that day, pupils stood up and gave the female debater a standing ovation after she had finished presenting a successful argument in favour of a name change.

"That set the precedent for changing the school's name. It took a long, long time but the school eventually came to the point where they were able to make the change," he said.

On Tuesday, News24 reported that Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi approved the renaming of the school. The school will now be known as Rietondale Secondary School.

Read more on:    panyaza le­sufi  |  johannesburg ­  |  education
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