Tributes from across the world are pouring in for a Portland primary school principal who died ahead of the new academic year.
Hazeldene Primary School principal Matthew David Blaauw, 52, from Athlone – hailed as a giant in promoting school sports and supporting opportunities for pupils – died after a short stint in hospital on Monday January 16.
He never married but cared for his pupils like they were his children.
Deputy principal Shereen Firth said: “We don’t know the impact Mr Blaauw had on just about everyone. We’ve received messages from Europe, Brazil and from a lady who lives in Yemen.
“To us Mr Blaauw was our principal but he had an impact on the whole community, not just Mitchell’s Plain. He leaves big shoes to fill.”
He was very involved in Western Province Athletics and school sports.
She said that they were traumatised by his death and that they would host a programme for everyone, including the pupils, to say goodbye.
Ms Firth did not have much time to speak to the Plainsman as former teachers and pupils visited the school to pay their respects yesterday, Tuesday January 17.
School governing body (SGB) chairman, Pastor Franklin Williams, said his heart was broken.
“We have come a long way. I’ve known Matthew for the past 35 years, if not more, when my eldest daughter attended Hazeldene, he was one of her teachers,” he said.
Mr Blaauw started teaching at the Portland school in 1994 before becoming principal 13 years later.
“He was really a great icon and a strong pillar of strength for Hazeldene.
“Many loved Mr Blaauw not just for his position but for his fantastic and beautiful nature. Very helpful. He would always give a second thought to those in need – parents who were struggling and pupils he had seen grow up,” he said.
Mr Williams, who has held various positions on the SGB over the years, said Mr Blaauw’s heart “was for his children”.
“He loved his sport. Always involved in the education of his pupils. He was a fantastic leader, especially as a principal to the children and manager to the teachers,” he said.
He said that Mr Blaauw raised the standard of education at the school where parents, within and beyond Mitchell’s Plain, wanted their children to be placed.
Mr Williams lives across the field, next to the school, which was given to them by the departments of Public Works and Education.
“Matthew had a vision and and we need to work on his vision for this field.
“He wanted a school hall and I am trusting that the education department will make good on their promise to build a hall.
“Let’s do it in honour of Matthew Blaauw. I am going to miss him. I lost a good friend. He will always be a part of our lives. From the SGB thank you Mr Blaauw for whatever and everything that you’ve done and the way you worked with us,” he said.
Former pupil Jericho Foster, who completed Grade 7 last year, wrote in an email to the Plainsman: “Mr Blaauw was an amazing sir and principal. He was a great example to many of us. A great leader and motivational speaker.
“Today I am broken. Filled with sadness because a star has fallen from the sky.”
Jericho said that pupils, teachers and community members should mourn the loss of Mr Blaauw with hope. “Never forget Mr Blaauw but live in his legacy.
“He has left so many things behind and we must remember the good times we had together.
“Fly high Mr Blaauw we are going to miss you,” he wrote.
Mr Blaauw, with about 30 years of teaching experience, was a founding member of the Progressive Principals’ Association (PPA) in 2012, having worked mainly in the sports portfolio, because of his belief in founding a doctrine and to use skills he had developed as a sports manager to assist fellow schools.
He became vice president nine years later. He was known for running school sport, ensuring programmes were rolled out to marginalised schools.
According to the PPA’s website, he wrote that he believed that a “child in sport is a child out of court” and that sport was a positive outlet for pupils and could aid their self-confidence and self-worth, which was lacking in pupils coming from difficult circumstances.
He had been active in school sports in Mitchell’s Plain, Nyanga, Gugulethu, Philippi, Crossroads and Southern District.
PPA spokesperson, Anthea Adriaanse, said tributes had been pouring in from member schools. “He was a founding member and stalwart in the education fraternity,” she said.
Ms Adriaanse said he dedicated his life to his pupils, the school and the broader Mitchell’s Plain community.
“His passion was the development of sport and creating opportunities for all learners. A giant in education, who dedicated his life to serving, has fallen,” she wrote in a tribute from the association.
“We salute you Mr Blaauw and are thankful for the privilege of working beside you. Education is poorer without your presence,” she said.
Ruschda O’Shea, former principal of Tafelsig High School and a dear friend of Mr Blaauw, said he had been her friend for 13 years.
“Matthew Blaauw was a true friend, servant leader and the brother I wish I had. We shared a passion for education, sport, community upliftment, good food and comedy. You will be missed my dearest Matthew,” she said.
Keith Meyer, founder of the Making an Impact Through Sport (MITS) programme, wrote in a Facebook post that on hearing about the death of Mr Blaauw “it felt like someone threw me off a skyscraper without a parachute”.
Mr Blaauw was the chairman and a founding member of MITS which was started in 2009.
“With his guidance we trained hundreds of local and international young people as sport coaches and they worked at partner schools in Mitchell’s Plain and the surrounding communities,” Mr Meyer said.
He said that many of the comments to his post about Mr Blaauw were from previous international volunteers who worked and stayed in Mitchell’s Plain for months.
Mr Blaauw had been his friend, mentor, confidant and go-to-guy for more than 20 years, during which they provided sporting opportunities for their communities.
“The Blaauw family, Western Cape school sport, Mitchell’s Plain schools and community sport and indeed the #MITS_SA programme, has lost a remarkable gentleman.
“Boss you leave behind an amazing legacy and we will continue to strive to honour and be worthy of your vision,” wrote Mr Meyer.