South Africa: The History Behind the Name Change of Hoërskool Hendrik Verwoerd, and Why It Has Taken So Long

The process of changing the name of Hoërskool Hendrik Verwoerd has been ongoing for years, the former principal of the school has told News24.

Hennie du Toit, who retired as principal at the school two years ago, spoke to News24 about the history of the school, which was established in 1937, and reasons why the name was not immediately changed after 1994.

"Name changes are not new for Hendrik Verwoerd High School. The history of the school goes back and it had a couple of changes throughout these years," he said.

He said the school started off as Junior Sekondere Skool but was later changed to Michael Brink High School.

Michael Brink was the member of the provincial legislature responsible for the area where the school is in, said Du Toit.

He said when the National Party came into government in 1948, new names were discussed and the school was then renamed to Meintjieskop High School.

"Mentjieskop is the little mountain on which the Union Building is built, right behind the school," Du Toit explained.

However that name did not stay for long as it was not approved by the Education Department and after further discussions it was decided by the School Governing Body to name it after the then Prime Minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Verwoerd, who was leader of the National Party, was prime minister from 1958 to 1961.

Multiracial years were a success

Fast forward to post-apartheid South Africa - Du Toit said the school decided to change its language of instruction in 1995 and became a multi-racial school offering both English and Afrikaans as languages of instruction.

"I think we did well [changing the language of instruction] because the school became a really successful multi-cultural school and received awards for excellence in education," he said.

While that process of diverging to being a multi-racial school was underway, he said the debate about the name change started again but at that point, the SGB, the parents and the community decided that that a name change was not necessary at that stage.

"The school had a nickname which was 'woeries', a short version of Verwoerd and that was actually the name that was used by 90% of learners at sport functions and everybody was happy with the name and the culture.

"People felt that at that stage it was not necessary to change the name of the school mainly because they felt that the testimony that we as a well-functioning multi-cultural school under the name of Hendrik Verwoerd, makes a much bigger statement, than a new name would make," said Du Toit.

However in 2000 the debate then started again, where they were also formal processes regarding the name change and progress was then made through various debates and consultations.

"I think about 2015 or 2016 the department changed regulations regarding the name of schools. That prompted a new discussion and led to the decision that the name of the school would change.

"At that stage I decided to retire and the SGB took a decision to ask for a postponement [in the name changing] to appoint a new principal and stablise a little bit before they take a decision," he said.

Pupils debated name during assembly

A former pupil, who wished to remain anonymous, said he remembered vividly how the process of the name changing was debated by pupils, parents, the SGB and the community.

Nick* who matriculated in 2004, and wanted to remain anonymous also told News24 how the pupils dating back from when he started in the year 2000, were made to be involved in the process.

The former pupil said there was even a day where Du Toit organised a debate during a Monday morning assembly for the name change topic.

"He [Du Toit] chose two of the best orators at the school. The one was to argue for changing the name and the other for keeping the name. The young lady who was debating for changing the name did a very good job and she won over the vast majority," he said.

He said he remembered how, on that day, pupils stood up and gave the female debater a standing ovation after she had finished making a successful case for the name change.

"That set the precedent for changing the school's name. It took a long long time but the school eventually came to the point where they were able to make the change," he said.

On Tuesday News24 reported that Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi approved the renaming of the school. The school will now become known as Rietondale Secondary School.

Source: News24

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