By Tshireletso Mahuma
At the foot of the historic Tshufi Hill, adjacent to the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve,1 is Lebone II – College of the Royal Bafokeng.
Situated in Phokeng, this is the flagship school of 50 Royal Bafokeng schools in North West province, South Africa, and consists of a lower school (primary) and upper school (secondary). Its contoured landscape fits into the Setswana culture and heritage, built around an eco- friendly philosophy integrated into the broader community, which the college serves. It is the manifestation of the wish of Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi, the monarch of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, who stated: “The college, situated on its present campus in Phokeng, is an expression of our belief that spaces can support value systems and that architectural design, at its best, can uplift, inspire and empower.”
In 2013, former headmaster of the school, George Harris, determined that all upper school students would be dropped off at the main entrance every morning and walk the remaining 600 metres to school. This is an egalitarian strategy that encourages students to appreciate the natural environment of the campus while reflecting on their learning as they approach the school. Furthermore, vehicle use is reduced and the benefits of walking are promoted.
Some students may be fearful of the long grass and the creatures it could house, but others revel in the seasonal changes observed – such as the coral tree’s bright flowers heralding the spring, or the appearance of grass aloes. Flowering plants have been selected according to the seasons, and provide almost year- round colour and attract local birds and insect life.
Nature the foundation
Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi declared that “…our natural environment is the foundation of our sustainability as a community”. With this value in mind, the grounds of Lebone II have been filled with indigenous gardens designed to blend in with the surrounding savannah bushveld, use less water than exotic plant species and inspire children through close contact with nature. The campus has over 200 plant species, ranging from semi-parasitic mistletoes, bulbs, grasses and herbs to woody trees and shrubs. Unusual and spectacular flowers include the blue squill and red hot pokers growing in a small wetland area near the library. All garden refuse, such as pruned branches or leaves, is composted on site to be used on the gardens.
The college planted hardy Cynodon grass on the field, for its drought-tolerant reputation. Rough local rock and boulders bearing drilling marks have been used to create texture and interest in the garden and remind the school of its mining roots. This is also confirmed by the views of mines from various parts of the school. Spacious classrooms in the lower school are designed in an L-shape around a courtyard, each holding an indigenous tree. Some teachers have created mini-gardens of herbs or flowers as an experiential learning lesson. Blinds in front of sliding doors and large windows can be lowered or closed to ward off the heat of the sun.
Flora and fauna
Bird sightings range from black eagles and spotted eagle-owls, to a variety of smaller birds such as red bishops and blue waxbills. The regular appearance of several species of frog and butterfly provide students and staff with a biology lesson on their doorstep.
At Lebone II, snake awareness talks are often held with students and staff. The school has been designed to encourage wildlife, which could pose threats if not handled correctly. African rock pythons, puff adders, Mozambique spitting cobras, red-lipped heralds, an olive grass snake and a very large black mamba (for which a professional handler was called) have all been observed at Lebone II. “I mostly just remove the snakes with a snake catcher and take them out into the surrounding bush,” comments operations manager, Sean Lindsay. He adds: “While I am catching a snake, I try to educate by getting people to give the snake space. Children are always fascinated… and where appropriate, I let them get a good look. We have come across a few red-lipped heralds in the process of swallowing frogs. This provides a good opportunity to talk about the importance of snakes in the ecosystem. I try to educate grounds staff and security staff to call us before they kill a snake.”
On Tshufi Hill, behind Lebone II, one can find the mooka tree (Acacia karroo). Its seed pods provide food and nesting for birds, while meerkats have made a burrow
underneath. Traditionally, in the Setswana culture, community members meet under a large tree, like the
mooka, to discuss important matters. Similarly, at
Lebone II, the whole school often gathers in the open-air amphitheatre, which has a metal covering reminiscent of the shady leaf canopy of a tree. The amphitheatre descends stepwise in contoured grass layers that provide seating. These look down on the circular, tiled stage, which has resounded to marimba bands, choirs, orchestras, Zumba dances and other diverse entertainment.
Adjacent to the amphitheatre is the double-storey library, housing over 10 000 books and enormous, colourful, locally made mosaics depicting a variety of subjects. The library surrounds a double-volume glass courtyard, in which nestles an exceptionally beautiful mural of birds. Sun screens and large glass sliding windows complete the contemporary design of nearby staffrooms, studies and most classrooms. The glass allows for maximum natural light and reflect the school’s name ‘Lebone’, which means light. Both screens and windows were incorporated into the architecture as a strategy to save on the use of electricity. The boarding houses have flowing creepers on exterior trellises to provide privacy, shade and keep the buildings cool. Staff accommodation has either solar-heated or heat-pumped geysers to make use of the best available eco-technology.
On the college premises, there is a series of dams that work in tandem with a sewage treatment plant, in an endeavour to be as ecologically friendly and self-sufficient as possible. The lower dam is a picturesque feature close to the entrance, reminding one and all that the college’s water is supplied through stormwater harvesting and the recycling of grey and black water.2 The stormwater system is designed to collect and offset a 1:100 yearly rainfall event. Water falling onto roofs and other hard surfaces is collected and gravity-fed into one of four attenuation ponds via subterranean concrete pipes. This provides another learning opportunity for students to become conscious of the college’s resources and responsible management. The harvested water is reused for irrigation, which is an advantage to the environment as a whole and an efficient way to water the fresh food garden that the college is growing.
Keeping it fresh
Lebone II has a food garden and a tiered herb garden. Fresh vegetables are often supplied to the kitchen and to staff members. Beth Burrel, the grounds supervisor, has explored income generation for the college by making bottled salads, gherkins and pickled onions. School gardens give students a wonderful outdoor botany laboratory, as well as a chance to learn about sustainable environments, local growing seasons and the nutritional value of locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs. This plays a pivotal role in representing the values embedded in the Setswana culture and is a memory of the Bafokeng heritage. Hence, the majority of community members in the Royal Bafokeng Nation plant and grow agricultural crops in their backyards and/or traditionally inherited land. A food garden makes sure that each Bafokeng individual at the college feels at home.
Lebone II has widespread placement of labelled recycling bins, which gives its students the opportunity to become everyday environmentalists by separating waste at source. The waste is removed to an outdoor sorting area and then transported to a central recycling depot. Within the school curriculum, there is opportunity to explore making items out of the waste – either to turn them into sought-after artworks or as items to sell on Entrepreneur’s Day.
Bread bag tags and biking
The college’s Wellness Centre, directed by occupational health nurse Sherry Dwyer, is currently collecting the high impact polystyrene tags that secure bagged bread loaves to earn a wheelchair for someone in need.3 In 2013 and 2015, Shirley Mosete, an information technology (IT) technician, arranged an e-waste collection with a Boksburg-based company. This drive was happily supported by parents to dispose of washing machines and other appliances. Recently, the Grade R groups (nicknamed the Guinea Fowls and Hornbills) were encouraged to research what people do with recycled plastic, and further collected about 700 plastic water bottles, which they each used to build a boat to sail on the college’s dam. Through such experiences, the college’s students acquire knowledge, skills, values and practices that can enable them to act individually and collectively.
Some of the staff members move around the campus on bicycles. One of the cyclists is deputy principal Thebe Morake,
who in his address at a recent Green Flag ceremony4 summarised much of the eco-code of the college, by challenging fellow educators “to find moral courage” within themselves to go against callous everyday attitudes, some of which include killing snakes and frogs or littering. Taking care of our environment shows how we view our surroundings.
A passionate approach
Headmaster, David du Toit, is passionate about the introduction of technology into the learning environment to reduce the need for paper. To achieve this goal, learners in Grade 7–10 now all use tablets, and
teachers are encouraged to set and submit homework electronically via the Moodle system.5 In addition, an electronic software school communicator is used to communicate with parents.
Every week, the upper school holds a cultural period. The Environmental Club meets with the operations manager during this time to discuss environmental issues, ideas, studies and concepts pertaining to the college.
All our students are constantly taught to care for the environment and its resources. This attitude is for their own benefit, and we hope they will employ it in the spaces they create in their future adult lives.
2. See, for example: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-
4. See,forexample:http://www.conservation.org/global/ci_south_africa/our initiatives/building-resilience-climate-change/climate-action- partnership/Pages/eco-schools.aspx.
5. See: https://moodle.com/. Deputy headmaster Thebe Morake on his bicycle
Category: Summer 2015