The words that follow are written as witness to just one thing: the extraordinary impact of wonderful primary schools, and their teachers, says Murray Williams.
I was fortunate to have many, and so was my son, at the same primary school, 30 years later.
Sometimes, the value of those years can last a lifetime, as these words explain:
One day, a Xhosa man stood up in Parliament, and said softly: “I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land…”
I thought of this speech, late last year, as my son prepared to leave his primary school.
Ten years ago, he and his friends, only just older than toddlers, climbed down from their car seats and galloped into their first day of Grade 000, as excited as the squirrels which scampered beside them.
Now 13, they were asked to reflect on their primary school years.
I wondered what I would write, and remembered Thabo Mbeki’s speech, delivered as deputy president, to Parliament on May 8, 1996, at the passing of the new constitution.
Because, as in Mbeki’s words, my son’s school is now a physical part of him, as a simple fact of nature, like everything else to which the school has given life.
So, with apologies to the former president, I would perhaps have written: “I am an African schoolboy.
“I stand here today on this little patch of land, in the heart of this green valley, on this the southern tip of Africa, alongside the rest of God’s creations – the birds, the flowers, the trees and my young fellow-children.
“It is here, since I was a very little boy, that we have shared the same sunshine and the same fresh water from the mountains which surround us.
“It is here that I have taken my first steps exploring, from the adventure playground, to the classroom and inquisitively into the world beyond.
“It is here, from the moment I clutched my first paintbrush, that I learnt the joy of colour, the technicoloured richness of life on earth around us.
“It is here, from my teachers’ readings that I first learnt the world of imagination, of wonder. It is here, on our playgrounds and sports fields, that I have discovered the treasures of camaraderie and friendship.
“It is here, at this school which is filled with music, that I have learnt humility – from the delightful chords and concertos I know I will never master.
“It is here, as I’ve looked up at our towering oak trees, that I have learnt respect – for those who have earned the right to stand tall, who now caringly bless us with their protection and shade.
“It is here, watching everyone from headmasters to gardeners, at their equally valuable tasks, that I have learnt the power of dignity – the gift given to every human being, that can never, ever be taken away, regardless of our circumstance, as our history has taught us.
“And from watching our gardeners delicately tending their saplings, today I can finally see clearly how carefully I, too, have been nurtured, as I’ve tentatively discovered myself, and confidently been allowed to become me.
“Today, I see very gratefully how blessed I have been.
“As I pack my bags for high school, I know, as a simple fact of nature, that this place is indeed inextricably a part of me.
“And so, little school, let me be clear: I am not, in fact, leaving. I’m taking you with me.”