From good wives to society leaders - Inanda’s 150-year history
The historic low-fee KZN seminary has been a launchpad to success for a number of its pupils
Almost 150 years ago, those educated at one of the country’s oldest schools for girls were taught to read and write to become good missionary wives.
Today, the girls matriculating from Inanda Seminary want to become doctors, engineers, scientists and lawyers.
Against great odds, the low-fee independent boarding school situated on the edge of Inanda township, north of Durban, is turning 150.
“Celebrating 150 years is not just celebrating the number of years, but how we blazed a trail. We are standing on the shoulders of giants because all these wonderful people have come before us and we are able to look at how we can make things better for South African education, but also for South African women,” principal Kim Simons-Thebe told Times Select.
Founded on March 1 1869 by the American Board of Missions, Inanda Seminary was one of the few mission schools to retain its independence and withstand the onslaught of Bantu education.
“The origins were just to provide good missionary wives to priests that were being trained at Adam’s college but it became more than just that. Part of educating the girls was about giving them some sort of power that they never had before in terms of reading and writing,” Simons-Thebe said.
Among the alumni are National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete, the first chairperson of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and the current BP South African chair Thandi Orleyn, and former deputy health and defence minister and deputy National Assembly speaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.
While the 440-pupil school excels academically – its most recent matric pass rate was 100% – it is “child-centered around what is good for the child”.
“Our job is to teach the girls what Google cannot. I am very wary of what is to come with artificial intelligence. We have to show the computer what it can’t teach itself, which is heart, and leading with your heart.
“That’s our job here. It is about education, getting the best matric results and getting them ready for tertiary education, but it’s also about getting them beyond tertiary and ready for a changing world,” Simons-Thebe said.
One of the academic directors, Peter de Lisle, said the school was “very trauma aware”.
“We take kids from everywhere. Some from Model C schools, some from village schools, some from happy families, some from difficult families. So the thing is to build their confidence academically, emotionally and socially. We try to get them to a point to see themselves as being as good as everyone else,” he said.
On Thursday morning the pupils watched a drama production scripted by Simons-Thebe on the past, present and future of the school.
Excitement is running high as the school prepares for the official celebration in the school chapel on Saturday.
“It is very important to celebrate the school because we are celebrating the people who came here to make this happen for us. We are celebrating history, the determination to make this school work and its legacy,” said student representative council (SRC) chairperson Londeka Shabalala.
SRC vice-chairperson Thando Thabethe said the celebration of 150 years showed how far black SA women “have come, improved and developed”.
Matric pupil Mvelo Mthembu said Inanda Seminary was unique because it “empowered black women”, while her classmate, Sithabile Ngcobo, hoped the school’s legacy of excellence would continue.
“If we are honest, we spend most of our time here. We spend more time here than with your real family so you form bonds, so this is our family,” said pupil Billy Mbuyazi.