The Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria has been hailed as a pioneer of democracy by Former President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Pic: Supplied
The Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria has been hailed as a pioneer of democracy by Former President Kgalema Motlanthe. Pic: Supplied
German Ambassador to South Africa Dr Martin Schäfer.
Pic: Supplied
German Ambassador to South Africa Dr Martin Schäfer. Pic: Supplied

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe has paid tribute to the Deutsche Internationale Schule Pretoria (DSP) for playing a pivotal role in helping to bring about a new South Africa 30 years ago, addressing a special gathering on the eve of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989. 

The evening also highlighted the subsequent changes in the global order that led to the reunification of Germany and the ending of apartheid in South Africa.
Motlanthe was addressing a ceremony that concluded the celebration of “30 years of encounter” itinerary at the school, which hosted a roster of activities to commemorate the milestone for the duration of the year beginning in April. 

These included a public discussion, science workshops, a robotics outreach challenge, a film project, an outreach sport tournament, an art exhibition and a marimba band which brought together learners from the DSP and its partner schools and whose performance was well-received and applauded on an evening on which the DSP showcased its “unity in diversity”. A gumboot dance ensemble from one of its partner institutions, Fred Magardie School, was another entertainment highlight as was the integrated school orchestra. The evening ended with an alumni party attended by invited former learners of the school.

“The year programme ‘30 years – School of Encounter’ recalls the ‘years of change’, 1989/1990, when the Berlin Wall fell, Nelson Mandela was released and the New Secondary School (NSek-branch) was implemented at the school,” said the DSP in a statement, adding, “These three remarkable events became symbols of unity and reconciliation to overcome segregation.”

The DSP’s integration programme started in 1989 with the inauguration of its New Secondary School (NSek) attended by learners from Mamelodi and Eesterust. Motlanthe described the DSP’s resolution back then as “courageous” especially as it had been taken in defiance of the segregationist precepts of apartheid rule.

“The decision of the German School was courageous and added momentum to the process of bringing about democracy in South Africa,” said Motlanthe, noting: “[The years] 1989-90 were in a sense a turning point in the history of South Africa on one hand and the history of Germany on the other and of course, the history of the world.”

Hailing the DSP for ending decades of the inferior education that was prescribed for black South Africans in terms of the Bantu Education Act of 1953, Motlanthe said the DSP “occupies a special place in our hearts” because it had shaped the minds, attitudes and outlook of young people.
It was thus noteworthy that 1989 represented change for those “who were excluded from the body politic of the country”, he argued, while describing the period 1989-90 as a “knot of time and unity” for creating “expectation” in both South Africa and Germany.

In Germany, the expectation was that families who had been divided by the Berlin Wall in its 28-year existence would be reunited and as many commentators have pointed out, there continued to be misgivings about integration among some people in Germany, many of whom were in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The same had happened in South Africa where the release of political prisoners in 1989 and that of Nelson Mandela in 1990 had been followed by political violence in the townships, said Motlanthe, contrary to what many people had anticipated, with some people expressing disgruntlement  in the 25 years since democracy.

Motlanthe also reminded guests that meaningful nation-building required addressing the material conditions of those that change was meant to benefit and the creation of enabling conditions to ensure a better tomorrow for every child. He expressed hope that the DSP would continue with its good work. “May you live for another 300 years,” he said, to applause.

German Ambassador to South Africa Dr Martin Schäfer echoed  Motlanthe’s remarks, saying diversity was “not easy”, in that it challenged us to reconsider our long-held positions and to emphathise with those different from us. He had earlier praised the former president, saying: “Your name, life and work stand for courage against the cruelty of apartheid”.

Dr Schäfer also praised the DSP for “sending a clear message to the apartheid regime” and noted that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a symbol of freedom and unity as well as a triumph for democracy.

For its role in fostering integration, the DSP had been exemplary in offering support to children of various backgrounds irrespective of gender, nationality or background, Dr Schäfer said.

In an interview with Pretoria News, Head of the DSP’s New Secondary School (NSek), Matthias Leeflang, said: “During apartheid, we had scores of invisible walls that we are to this day still trying to break down.”
He added: “We think it is complicated to change the world. Change comes little by little. Nothing worthwhile can happen in one generation.”

The school’s admission of learners from Mamelodi and Eesterust via its outreach programme had signalled the formal beginnings of its enduring “Building Bridges through Education” project and made social integration a lived reality for learners, said Leeflang. At a time when segregated facilities were the norm, the DSP had showed the way by dispensing with the practice while embarking on a methodology that centred around cultural exchange.

Chantal Fischat, an alumnus who was an early beneficiary of the integration programme, spoke of how she had been welcomed into an environment very conducive to learning and treated as an ordinary childe despite being different. She lauded the school for giving her confidence and a head start in life. She’s currently employed as an IT project manager.

Over the last 30 years, more than 800 children have participated in the DSP’s outreach programme with a subsidy from the German government, said Leeflang, who explained that beginning in the 1970s, the then West Germany government had designated German schools outside of Germany as ambassadors of German culture and education.

The school has also been building bridges in various ways to highlight the seminal events that shaped it as well as South Africa and Germany, given the strong bilateral relations between South Africa and Germany. German companies in South Africa account for about 90 000 jobs, according to Leeflang.
“It is more beneficial if you know the language and culture of one of the top economic partners of South Africa,” he said.

Message from Beate Kiehn, School Principal, DSP:

When I first encountered the DSP and its people in 2017, I was fascinated by the friendliness and warmth but especially by the NSek programme. A German School Abroad which does not only pass education on to the privileged, a school that integrates and allows for so much diversity. This is where I wanted to work!

For almost two years, I have been enjoying every lesson with the 9c learners. During our interactions, we have already learned so much about one another and we continue to learn more not only academically but above all socially and culturally.

I would like to thank the DSP and the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany for introducing this concept of “School of Encounter” such a long time ago and for still making it possible through great financial efforts.

Message from Andreas Wagner, Chairman of the Governing Body of the DSP:

Thirty years School of Encounter – who would have thought that back in the beginning. Probably none of those that was part of the discussions and conversations is still at the school today.

It was in all probability not easy. It was pioneering. But the contribution this made to the changes in our country is not easily measured.

We can however be sure that it changed the lives of individuals. That we can be proud today of what we have achieved also seems self-evident.

May we have the power and wisdom to make such difficult decisions now for our future generations. I wish the school and the school community a further growing together. May the message from the South African Rugby World Championship title 2019 – “We achieved our goal together” – wash over on to our country!