‘Education liberated us’

Cape Town - Education has liberated people from the mindset of slavery, said Pniel Primary’s headmaster Ruben November.

“It is definitely a story of hope,” November said.

Ruben November has been the head of Pniel Primary for 20 years. His father was the previous headmaster. Credit: SUPPLIED

“We have been liberated through education and we stand back for nothing because we are well-educated and well-spoken and we can argue sensibly about things.”

November has been the headmaster for 20 years, following in the footsteps of his father, the previous headmaster.

Pniel’s history is deeply embedded in slavery.

“Pniel was part of a farm called Papiermolen that was given to the slaves who were freed in 1834,” November said.

“They were actually released in 1838 and this piece of land was given to them by some farmers.”

The land was bestowed upon the slaves with the idea they would establish a homestead there.

“The original idea was for them to get their own piece of land and a home to build on, and that a church and school be built.

The school and the church were established at the same time; that’s why there’s a lot of emphasis in this town about education.

“People are very strong on being educated. I think it’s a way of getting away from the slavery mentality.

“My dad was a teacher, so were his elder brother and sister. In our household we are seven kids and four are teachers.”

November’s heritage can be traced to slaves who were brought to the Cape from Madagascar in the 1800s.

He said not enough has been done to tell the stories of slaves and teach the current generation about their families’ past.

“I don’t think justice has been done,” he said. “Too many things have been swept under the carpet. The real stories aren’t brought forward.”

He suggested nobody talked about the history of slavery because people did not want to be associated with that suffering.

“I think it’s because of a way of living. People don’t want to be connected to slavery. There are all kinds of myths going around about slavery, so I think not too much has been done.

“From my side, I’ve never been affected by being a November. I’ve never been degraded. I don’t feel less than you.”

November said his uncle was affected, though, and altered his surname so it was no longer recognisable as a calendar month.

“One of my father’s brothers changed his surname to Nober; he took out the vem”. He lived in Somerset East in the Eastern Cape. He was a teacher there. Maybe he was affected in that part of the country.”

November said one legacy of slavery he can feel in his community is that people support one another and help other families where they can.

“When I grew up, a lot of our mothers were housewives and they were the guardians of all the kids who played in the streets. They corrected you, helped you, and motivated you. There’s a lot of support for families and I think that’s what people can learn from.

“I think it came from slavery, from not having everything. You have to rely on the next (person).”