South Africa

REUNION PLEDGE

Highlands North gets a new classroom after old boy’s open letter to the Class of ’81

The new classroom can house up to 20 learners under normal circumstances, but during Covid-19 restrictions it can take half that number. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa / Daily Maverick)

A pledge of R5,000 by a former student from Highlands North Boys’ High School four months ago, tied to an appeal to others for financial contributions, has led to the acquisition of a new classroom.

Earlier in the year, Daily Maverick published an open letter written by Ben Horowitz, an old boy from Highlands North Boys’ High School in Johannesburg. 

In the letter, which he wrote before the 40th reunion of his 1981 matric class, Horowitz wrote of the toxic culture embedded in the school at the time.

He made a call to all the old boys from that year to make a positive contribution and pledge money to support some of the school’s needs. 

From left, Old boy Mike Berkiser, principal Mike Masinge and a representative from the education district, Anickey Mashaba, officially open the new classroom built with contributions made by old boys of Highlands North High School on 7 May 2021. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa / Daily Maverick)

On 7 May, R180,000 worth of contributions made it possible for the school to receive an additional mobile classroom to help alleviate the shortage of such facilities. 

The classroom is the same size as the other ground-floor classrooms in the old face brick block of the school, said Mike Bersiks, a former old boy who contributed to the purchase. 

Bersiks runs a foundation, still in its infancy, named after the school which manages R100 monthly donations from old boys who contribute to the upkeep of the building. 

“Our fundraising has been from a lot of guys [old boys] who are overseas… whether it be $100 or €100 — it ends up being a fair whack of money,” Bersiks said. 

Highlands North is known as one of the top rugby schools in Johannesburg and was once an all-white school attended by a mix of Jewish, English, Italian, Lebanese and Portuguese boys from working-class communities. Today, it serves learners from Alexandra, Soweto and the Vaal.

Daily Maverick previously reported that because of the school’s location — in the affluent suburb of Highlands North — it is classified as a quintile 5 school, which means it is considered “rich” because of the location. 

A memorial plaque with names of old boys from Highlands North Boys High School who contributed to the purchase and installation of the mobile classroom opened on 7 May 2021. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa / Daily Maverick)

Last year, the school had 756 students, but only 50% could pay the full fees while the other half could either not pay at all or could only afford a fraction of the R13,500 in annual fees.

Friday’s event included a small celebratory lunch preceded by a tour of the school to showcase some of the renovations paid for by old boys, including R40,000 worth of work done on a roof in 2019. 

The opening of the new classroom was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Looking ahead, Bersiks said the foundation would like to get to a point where sustainable amounts of money are donated every month. “There’s a lot more we’d like to do, like refurbishing the wood workshop. The boys should have more learning options… I’m not saying Highlands should become a technical school, but it should at least be a hybrid.” 

Not all donations are financial. Some former pupils donate their time, expertise or resources of their businesses to help complete a project. 

“We need to do more with the little that we have,” said Thabang Sehlare, a former Highlands North old boy. An emotional Sehlare said the initiative was about building a positive legacy for the school. 

“The school has given us so much opportunity. We were taught good values of integrity, honour, brotherhood and respect. I don’t think today I’d be a graduate and a professional engineer without the discipline I learnt at school,” he said. DM

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