Inkanyezi Waldorf School – a township star

By Eike-Sophia Sondermann, September 2012

Eight years ago, Eike-Sophia Sondermann became familiar with the Inkanyezi Waldorf School in South Africa when she started working in its kindergarten. The school was established in 1986 in the middle of Alexandra township where it has struggled to survive. Its story is just as dramatic as the story of its country.

At the time when school boycotts and the activities of young militant Coloureds in the townships reached a new climax, a small group of Waldorf teachers went out to build bridges between Blacks and Whites in Alexandra. The years from 1987 to 1994 were particularly violent in many townships in the whole of the country. The area around the Inkanyezi Waldorf School was a war zone which was nicknamed “Beirut”. Most people fled or were driven out. But the teachers succeeded in keeping Inkanyezi open during all these years – while all the other schools closed with every boycott call or mass protest. 

The black population in South Africa is still fighting the consequences of apartheid today – there is no equality yet between black and white citizens. The lack of a future, connected with poverty and bad educational opportunities in the townships, leads to illness, addiction and criminality. It is important that people should have a perspective which provides an outlook on new opportunities. Such a perspective is what the Inkanyezi Waldorf School attempts to offer. The school has introduced something completely new to Alexandra with its concept. It is something special in this region – a small, bright star in the darkness of township life. The school has never sent children away for financial reasons or because of disability – Inka­nyezi provides a safety net for them. Here they can experience warmth and security.

Ordinary township life takes place around the school grounds. The children are cooped up in their huts all day – and have been for generations. Some families don’t know where the next meal is coming from. In addition, the inhabitants live in constant fear because people are attacked and shot right in front of their door. Frequently they are plagued by illness and cannot afford to pay a doctor. Children with poor eyesight have to learn to live with it, fail at school and are unable to train for a job. It is a vicious circle. Even if traditional roles are greatly changing, they continue to persist in the townships. Girls are strictly forbidden any contact with boys and sexuality is never discussed. Yet there is no protection for girls in the townships. Rape is a common occurrence.

School starts every morning at eight with main lesson. A “service” is held every Thursday, the act of worship which is part of non-denominational Christian religion lessons. This is one of the mainstays of the school. A hot meal is prepared for the pupils in the first big break because many of the children did not have breakfast in the morning or a meal the previous evening. Then all the classes go to their subject lessons. The involvement of volunteers means that remedial education is available for individual pupils or small groups.

The salaries of the Waldorf teachers are far less than those of state teachers. The Inkanyezi Waldorf School has to count every cent if money is needed, for example, for the national Waldorf teachers’ conference which all teachers should, if possible, attend. The school has to cope with constant price rises for all goods; the state apparatus is incompetent and corrupt. The teachers save wherever they can and have to do so  more and more because they all have families to provide for and children of school age. “Internally” the school has strong foundations as the college of teachers continuously works on its cohesion. Yet the environment from which the children who attend Inka­nyezi come is growing poorer and poorer because unemployment is growing continuously. The new tax laws prevent Inkanyezi Waldorf School from employing volunteers – to whom it wants to pay a contribution for their travel costs – unless they pay tax of 25 percent on that contribution! That is why the financial situation of Inkanyezi Waldorf School is critical.

Since the school ends at class seven, the question arises as to what the pupils will do when they reach that stage. So far they have been abandoned to their fate. Most of the surrounding schools are bad and other schools can only be reached by bus, which most of the families cannot afford. So their chances of leaving school with a qualification and training for a job are falling. It is and remains the great wish of Inkanyezi Waldorf School to establish an upper school and prepare the pupils for working life. But that is prevented by insufficient space and too few teachers – quite apart from the chronic lack of money. We can imagine how good it makes the children feel to spend a week or five days in the wilderness and get to know and respect nature and its inhabitants for the first and probably only time if we know the crowded conditions in which millions of people live in the townships. The children are unaware of the world outside the townships.

Last summer it was possible to organise a class trip for the final class through donations. For the pupils it was the trip of a lifetime. They were able to admire the wonderful landscape of their own country, see animals in their true size or discover new tastes when, for example, we made an excursion to a cheese farm. Many children later wrote in their diaries: “This is the best trip of my life!”

Link: www.freunde-waldorf.de (Search: Inkanyezi)

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