File photo: David Ritchie / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Former alumni of St Columba’s High School have come out in support of the historic 146 Lawrence Road building in Athlone being declared a heritage site.

The initial application by the Save the Athlone Cultural Hub campaign was tabled before Heritage Western Cape’s Inventories, Grading and Interpretation committee for consideration last week.

This site remains the last remnants of the Catholic high school for coloured boys from the working-class community and has a garden built in tribute to Struggle icons Coline Williams and Robert Waterwitch.

Waterwitch attended the school as a pupil and his mother, Hettie Coetzee-Waterwich’s ashes were scattered in the tribute garden.

Save the Athlone Cultural Hub campaign spokesperson Shaheed Mahomed said the site was under serious threat and urgent intervention was requested to mediate a resolution.

“The committee found there was merit in our application and just wanted it redrafted. The ex-students of St Columba’s are helping with the redrafted statement of significance for Heritage Western Cape to consider. We plan a public meeting of alumni and activists on September7 at the premises, if the church agrees,” Mahomed said.

He said that former St Columba’s High School alumni Mario Fernandez had been nominated to prepare the new statement of significance to be submitted to Heritage Western Cape (HWC).

The school’s alumni boast prominent figures such as former UWC rector Brian O’Connell, Peter John Pearson from the Roman Catholic clergy, and Rhodes and Wits academic and activist Robert van Niekerk.

Fernandez, who was also a teacher at the school for more than 13 years, said they were familiarising themselves with the matter and were determined to preserve the rich and treasured legacy of the high school.

Fernandez has researched and written a version of the school’s history, for a Master’s degree at UWC.

The building has been used for community outreach programmes focusing on the arts, social outreach and the environment, by Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD).

Mounting debts, believed to total almost R18million due to mismanagement, resulted in the CWD issuing retrenchment letters to all 49 members of its staff, and prohibiting the use of the building for cultural and arts programmes.

The Save the Athlone Cultural Hub campaign was initiated to appeal to the Catholic Archdiocese to reconsider, in fear the building would be sold.

CWD board member Graham Wilson said: “The CWD is involved in the process and was taking legal advice in terms of the process for heritage status. Those who initiated the process must continue, but the outcome will not change the welfare projects for the wider community, the CWD will be running from the building,” he said.

Wilson said the CWD was the welfare arm of the Catholic Archdiocese and the owner of the property; neither had any intention of selling the property.

HWC chief executive Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka said: “The Lawrence Road application was received and tabled to the committee. The committee found that there was insufficient information and requested the applicant to provide additional information so it can make a decision. If the committee found a site had heritage significance, the process of grading it would then commence.”

Dlamuka added that the committee might also find that despite the application, there might not be sufficient heritage resources that require protection.