On Friday morning he collected the last of his belongings at the office. Everything carefully wrapped; packed and loaded with care into his car.
With just its shell remaining, he gazed back at the empty headmaster's office for a moment – then shut the door behind him for the last time.
For the past 10 years this office had been his sanctuary: A place where he could shed a tear; where he could laugh uproariously at times; where naughty kids were admonished and where long meaningful conversations took place over a cup of coffee.
But Hein Knoetze, former principal of Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijpark, is closing this chapter.
'It's the end of a good season'
In his previous interview with YOU, Hein told us he'd be retiring in six weeks' time, and now the day has come.
"It's the end of a good season," he tells us soon after he's arrived back at his house in the town.
Hein's last season was cruelly interrupted on February 1 when an upstairs walkway bridge at the school collapsed, claiming the young lives of four learners: Roydon Olckers (17), Marlie Currie (14), Marnus Nagel (16), and Jandre Steyn (13). Another 20 learners were injured too.
It was just after 10:00 on Friday when YOU chatted with Hein – and the headmaster found it weird to be home on a Friday morning long before the bell had rung to signal the end of the school day.
'It hasn't sunk in completely yet'
"It's strange. I don't really know how to describe it. It's goodbye but not quite final yet. It's a period that's over, but it hasn't sunk in completely yet," he says.
His last week at the school was one of his most precious times experienced there, the former headmaster says.
"Last night we had my farewell at the school. It was quite emotional. Then today (Friday) we started again like any other morning – first the management meeting and then the staff meeting. Everyone was emotional and there were a few tears, I'm quite an emotional person."
That morning, after learners had written their final tests kicking off the school holidays, they sang the national anthem and school anthem before Pastor Wian Storm led them in prayers.
"[I]t’s important to first first work with the kids' hearts and then with their heads"
"We were coming full circle: The pastor referred to a conversation we had a few years ago. He'd asked me what my dreams for the school were. I told him that it would be a school that put Christianity first; that it’s important to first first work with the kids' hearts and then with their heads.
"And it was so wonderful when he observed that it had now been fulfilled. God has been very good to us."
At the school normal activities have resumed again: The new walkway bridge is nearing completion; the learners are about to move out of the tents on the athletics field and they're feeling positive, Hein says.
Vice principal Ricardo Erasmus is in the chair that was Hein's. He’ll be acting principal until the appointment of new a headmaster later this year.
Hein Knoetze former principal of Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijpark. (Image: Papi Morake)
For Hein it's not the end of the road immediately either, that's why, he admits, he hasn't been able to finally said goodbye to the school.
"When the school starts again on April 2, I"ll be there too. Over the past few months things have happened at an incredible pace. And I won't be at peace if I don't know that everything's running smoothly and things are in order at the school."
But he's confident about the school's future.
"The grace we've experienced over the past few weeks, is indescribable . . . the community has joined hands; God carried us. But I do want to make a last turn there – just to say goodbye, this time finally, and to make sure that everyone's okay," Hein says.
- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter