PfP school celebrates 100 year centenary

Bertrams Junior School, marks its centenary alongside that of former President, the late Nelson Mandela

Bertrams Junior School – whose principal is a participant in the PfP programme – this year celebrates its 100thyear of developing young minds in the Johannesburg suburb of Bertrams.

Located in the Eastern area of Johannesburg, Bertrams Junior is steeped in a rich cultural history. The school opened its doors in 1918 as a Jewish faith-based centre of learning, but this changed in the 1960s as an influx of Portuguese-speaking migrants from Mozambique, Angola, Madeira and Portugal saw the institution evolve to cater for a burgeoning immigrant community.

Although the demographics of the suburb of Bertrams changed rapidly during the 1980s to include both black and white residents, the school itself remained closed to black learners until South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994.

For current Principal, Khanyi Twala, the school’s ongoing progression is one that she’s proud to be part of. Twala was appointed as Principal in 2014, the year after Madiba was honoured at the school ahead of his 95th birthday, and has since committed herself to making Bertrams Junior a hub of learning for its children.

“’When I got here, my staff consisted of eight teachers. The school was small.”

“It was challenging because I had to share the workload with my staff. Every teacher was required to teach more than one subject,” said Twala.

The school initially offered classes ranging from Grades 0 to 4. However, the influx of new residents into the area meant that neither Bertrams nor other schools in the community could satisfy the increased demand for places.

With the assistance of French donor FIDI, and the Thusana Trust, the school was able to expand its size and capacity. Five pre-fabricated classrooms and new ablution facilities were erected by January 2017, and today Bertrams is a fully-fledged primary school that accommodates learners from Grades 0 to 6. In 2019, the school will welcome its first Grade 7 pupils.

Although she concedes that the transition was not easy, Principal Twala feels it was necessary to bring the school to where it is today.

“We now have over 400 learners, most of whom come from impoverished families living in Bertrams and the neighbouring suburb of Judith’s Paarl,” Twala says.

“Despite the challenges we face as a school, we are happy to still be standing. We are excited because we have a lot to celebrate,” she adds.

An integral part of the school’s fascinating story of growth is the successful year-long PfP partnership between Twala and business leader Chris Lister-James, founder of Vantage Capital.

For Lister-James, his leadership journey alongside Twala has provided profound professional and personal insights.

“It was a humbling and rewarding process. I have gained a good sense of the grassroots problems schools experience. I was often plagued by the question as to how I could make a difference in this regard. The PfP programme helped me realise that the sharing of intangible skills is just as important.”

The school’s infrastructural transformation has also motivated Lister-James to continue partnering with Twala.

“Learners have developed a ‘new pride’ in the ‘old school’. This goes back to the vast amount of time, effort and money that has been spent on refurbishing the school.”

The staff at Bertrams Junior are a sterling example of the unyielding determination and passion that is demonstrated by many who are tasked with educating South Africa’s children. The school will undoubtedly continue to forge ahead and flourish.



30 November -1, 00:00