by Brian Isaacs
I have always believed that together in education or any field for that matter that one can bring about change together. However, in my experience as a teacher, there are many individuals, who through their sheer guts and determination, have made a difference as an individual to the lives of many.
One such person is the late John Fortuin. I highlight his contribution to education because he was not a teacher but someone who contributed immensely to the well-being of his community.
This article is a tribute to all the unknown John Fortuins in SA and the world.
In 2005, sitting in my office at South Peninsula High School in Diep River, Cape Town, there was a knock on my door. A man introduced himself to me –John Fortuin! He spoke impeccable English, and I thought he was a lawyer. He said that he was a former resident of Steurhof, Diep River, who had been moved out of Steurhof because of the dreaded Group Areas Act in 1969.
He was back in Steurhof and wanted to revive the Steurhof Civic Association (SCA ). He told me that when he left SP he could not study law because only “ whites” were accepted for law. He went into the furniture business and become a top salesman at Bears Furniture in Woodstock.
He became the chairperson of SCA, and together with another stalwart in the area, Desiree de Lange ( also a former SP student ), they worked to make it possible for former residents spread across the Cape Flats to move back to Steurhof.
He worked tirelessly in re-conscientising the former " white " residents to accept the non-racial identity of Steurhof and changed the views of many of these previously advantaged residents. He worked with the unemployed youth in the area. He arranged workshops for them, and many gained useful employment. He was a believer in vacation programmes for the very young in the area and used the small community hall to arrange programmes for them.
He used the SP Main Hall to have meetings for the community. The annual dance held by the SCA was always a success. The funds were used for an outing to Soetwater where young and old could socialise. Once he established a community where harmony reigned between the two communities, he decided to retire from the SCA in 2015, and he started a project to write the history of the Steurhof/ Diep River area called the Diep River/ Steurhof Memorial Committee.
With his usual aplomb, he got residents together, and they met with the District Six Museum committee to learn from its experience in writing its history. John Fortuin marched with the school, with ex-students Dr Taj Hargey, Derek Hanslo, and many others to unlock the gates of learning at the old Central Primary school in Diep River. The school had been used as an army base since its closure in 1969 and had been standing vacant since 2005 when the army left.
John Fortuin died on December 15, 2020, due to ill-health. He will be sorely missed by the Diep River/ Steurhof community. His drive to establish a Diep River/ Steurhof museum at the Old Central Primary School will be pursued with renewed vigour by South Peninsula High School and the Memorial committee.
John Fortuin, you showed us what an individual could accomplish.
We are grateful to you, like so many individuals around the world and in SA, for showing us what can be achieved by an individual. Rest in peace my mentor and friend. Memory is the weapon.
* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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