‘Do basics properly’ says new acting principal of Tafelsig High

Acting principal at Tafelsig High School, William Swartz, has been part of the Tafelsig community for 43 years.

New acting principal at Tafelsig High School, William Swartz, who grew up in Tafelsig and who has been a teacher at the school for 33 years, wants to do the basics properly.

Mr Swartz, 58, described himself as a “grassroots person, who is on the ground”.

Mr Swartz, whose family and whose in-laws are well known in the Tafelsig and broader community for their community activism, was hospitalised around the time of the passing of his mother-in-law, Tafelsig community stalwart Margaret “Aunty Makkie” Kolbe in July last year (“Aunty Makkie remembered for her passion for people”, Plainsman, July 12, 2023).

He survived a heart attack and spent two months in hospital where he had open-heart surgery done.

With a sick body, he came back in September last year and offered to get his Grade 11s on par with the curriculum and returned from sick leave this month when school started.

Mr Swartz has been involved in community activism since 1981. He was 17 and attended Modderdam High School in Bonteheuwel when he joined the Tafelsig branch of the Cape Youth Congress.

He started organising student representative councils (SRCs), the precursor to today’s representative councils of learners (RCLs) and became a member of the Bonteheuwel School Committee.

Mr Swartz worked closely with struggle activist Ashley Kriel, who was killed by the apartheid police in Cape Town on July 9 1987 and whose sacrifice for the anti-apartheid struggle was acknowledged by former president Nelson Mandela in his speech on his release from prison in February 1990 in Paarl.

He was very involved in the community’s struggles. “We would open the electrical boxes to put the lights on for those who couldn’t afford it.”

In 1987 Mr Swartz was detained for being involved in riots to fight the country’s apartheid education system.

While in prison, students called for Mr Swartz’ release, refusing to attend school until he and other detained activists were freed.

Mr Swartz was chairperson and secretary of the Tafelsig branch of the South African Youth Congress. He was also active in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and part of the organisation’s inauguration in Rocklands in 1983. Every week he would pamphleteer. He served on the executive committee as well, he said.

He completed his BA teaching degree in 1990 at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

He was a teacher in geography and life orientation. At a later stage he became the head of geography in 2014. Around this year he did his Advance Certificate Leadership and Management at UCT which allowed him to practise as deputy principal.

From 2019 to 2022 he was acting deputy principal at Tafelsig High. In 2022 he applied for the position and was only appointed as deputy principal last year, he said. Mr Swartz is teaching second-generation pupils

“I enjoy teaching. We previously had 60 teachers to 1 300 pupils in the 1980s. The ratio later changed to 34 teachers,” he said.

Mr Swartz said there are many challenges faced by pupils, the community and the school. They were challenged with pupils bunking school, jumping the fence and not doing their homework while the community is also challenged with single parenthood and gangsterism, among others.

“How we can overcome this is by extending extra help to our pupils to help improve their marks and their mental fortitude. Our teachers would also have to sacrifice their time to help pupils in a holistic way,” he said.

“I’ve one philosophy and that’s to do the basics properly. We need to have pupils and teachers in class. Teaching and learning must happen. It’s better now and we’ll keep the momentum. We have a clear plan to up our matric results too,” he said.

Mr Swartz and his wife Joslyn Swartz devote their lives to help the community, especially Tafelsig.

“If we can make it they can make it. We are not kings and queens but we are residents of Tafelsig and we went through the same struggles,” he said.

Ms Swartz said: “I’m immensely proud of my husband for this great achievement and we give God all the glory, honour and praise. He’s a born teacher who still loves education and also loves the community of Tafelsig where he spent most of his life living for over 43 years.”

“Mum and Willy had a special bond as they were activists in the ANC health committee and so many other committees in the area. He was very sad when he couldn’t say his final goodbyes to her,” she said.

“I believe God has great plans for him in this new acting position and I wish him well on this new journey,” she said.

Mr Swartz also coached the school’s girls soccer team for the past 10 years, where Zoe Booysen was part of her school’s team and the South African under-16 team. She is currently playing in Namibia.

Secretary at Tafelsig High, Melonie Cedras, said Mr Swartz taught her life skills in 1992. “He taught us things we could use in our lives today. Working alongside him today comes full circle, he’s a great boss.”

Tafelsig High teacher Selvin Lewis, teaching at the school since 1988, said Mr Swartz has taken the lead in quite a few things. He’s proven himself to do certain things and see it gets done.

“He has an open-door policy. He’s involved in the community, still an activist and we appreciate all he does,” he said.