40-year-old Highlands Primary awaits hall

Gavin Burgess, principal of Highlands Primary School, standing outside the hall which is being built.

Highlands Primary School was the first school in Mitchell’s Plain to open its doors ahead of the start of the fourth term in 1976.

Now the school is waiting for the construction of its own hall to be completed so it can celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Gavin Burgess, principal of the school since 2008, told the Plainsman the building of the school hall had always been a dream of his.

“I’ve always wanted the school to be a place where children can learn and be safe,” he said.

Mr Burgess said they wanted to launch the school’s hall and celebrate its anniversary in the building, which should have been completed in September.

After school, Highlands Primary is host to the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport’s Mass participation, Opportunity and access, Development and growth (MOD) Programme; as well as the Department of Social Development’s YearBeyond or YeBo initiative, for pupils from Grades 1 to 4 to improve literacy and numeracy and to prevent school dropouts.

There are also school sports, including soccer for girls and boys, cross country, chess, table tennis and cricket.

Every alternate year the school has a concert, food fair or market day, all of which could soon be taking place in the hall.

The school will have its biennial concert next year. Mr Burgess hopes that additional activities can soon be hosted at the school, including ballet, and arts and crafts.

Ezekiel Williams, first principal at the school, shared Mr Burgess’s sentiments about keeping children occupied and off the streets.

He opened the school doors on September 13, 1976, while Mitchell’s Plain Primary School opened three weeks later, when the fourth school term started on October 5. “I did not want the kids to run around in Mitchell’s Plain.”

The children and their parents came from various communities.

“The goal was that the school would be used as a community centre because the people came from so many areas,” he said.

Mr Williams told the Plainsman that residents met at the school to watch films, attend exercise classes, for games evenings and to share food.

While he lived in Grassy Park, he was the first ratepayers’ association chairman for Woodlands, because the residents did not know each other.

He said classrooms were also used for worship by residents of four denominations of Christianity, including Apostolic new and old, Catholic and Anglican. The school started with 23 pupils, including Nawaal Daniels, who was first to be enrolled in 1976.

The following year, 880 pupils were enrolled and bussed in from areas such as Lotus River and Grassy Park. They were also picked up from Joburg Stores in Philippi and from the Klipfontein Methodist Mission.

Mr Williams led the school until 1977, followed by Neville Phifer until 1978. George Willenberg was school head from 1978 until 1995, followed by George Engle until July 2008.

Through the years, the school has had many ups and downs, with some pupils from the neighbouring suburb Colorado Park choosing to attend schools outside Mitchell’s Plain.

Mr Burgess said the school is open to all pupils, irrespective of their academic standard.

He said he is proud that some of their pupils are being enrolled at Mondale and Spine Road high schools, which are mathematics and science focus schools.

The school took a knock in numbers in 2006, when Heinz Park Primary opened as the majority of their Afrikaans-speaking pupils chose to go there. Highlands Primary only offers English on the request of their parents.