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Shining out into the world: Inanda Seminary

| March 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Reverend Susan Valiquette

Barbara Masekela,1 formerly South Africa’s ambassador to France and the United States; Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge,2 formerly South Africa’s deputy minister of defence, deputy minister of health and the deputy speaker of the National Assembly; Hixonia Nyasula,3 founder and executive chairperson of Ayavuna Women’s Investments,4 a former Unilever director5 and former Sasol chairperson;6 Thandi Orleyn,7 formerly the first chairperson of the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the current BP Southern Africa (Pty) (Ltd) chairperson; and Baleka Mbete,8 speaker of South Africa’s National Assembly and African National Congress (ANC) chairperson, are all Inanda Seminary alumni.

Situated on the edge of Inanda township, 25 km northwest of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, Inanda Seminary has for more than 145 years produced over 8 000 graduates who ventured into the world exemplifying the school’s motto, ‘Shine where you are’ (Philippians 2:5). Founded on 1 March 1869 by the American Board of Mission (ABM),9 the school continues to instil the same Christian values today of honesty, respect, loyalty, sociability, responsibility and self-discipline.

Tough times

Inanda Seminary was one of few mission schools that managed to retain its independence and withstand the onslaught of Bantu education. However, times were tough and finances stretched, culminating in the apartheid government dismissal of the missionaries and teaching staff in the 1970s, when they refused to renew their residence permits. Dumi Cecil Zondi was then appointed as not only the first South African, but also the first black male, to head the seminary. The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) attempted to uphold quality education at Inanda but, by 1997, Inanda Seminary was on the verge of closure. The property and buildings deteriorated and international support for the school declined.

Enter the alumni

The UCCSA agreed to a request from the alumni to take over the running of the school to prevent its closure and to restore its role in society. Under chairperson and old girl Esther Sangweni, a committee of 10 mobilised themselves to keep the school going. It generated monetary support with the assistance of former president Nelson Mandela, who in 1999 secured corporate sponsorship from the South African Pulp and Paper Industry (SAPPI).10 This resulted in the renovation of several buildings, the establishment of a maintenance trust fund, staff training and development and the appointment of a principal.

Tate a tremendous leader

The school has come a long way. Ask any board member, student or teacher and they will tell you that the rebirth is a direct result of the current principal, Judy Tate, who continues to raise the bar every year. Born in Durban, for 35 years she has worked in formally disadvantaged education institutions. She clearly inspires excellence from her staff, and the best results in the history of Inanda Seminary were achieved in 2012 under her watch. These results enable many of the top maths and sciences students to be recipients of bursaries to fund their university studies.

A wider contribution

The school has a diverse multicultural academic staff of 40 and a support staff of 30. Instructional leadership is of utmost importance in the school, and best international practices are followed and developed through an intensive staff professional development programme. The seminary has also undertaken to contribute to the wider education landscape in the country by offering a fully developed teacher-intern programme. The development of teacher-interns is shared with the ISASA Maths and English (M&E) programme11 and the South African Extraordinary Schools Coalition (SAESC).12

The SAESC is a coalition of 23 schools all offering low-cost quality education to formerly disadvantaged communities. SAESC schools seek to place the child at the centre of teaching and learning and have chosen to focus on maths and sciences because of the dire need for these scarce skills in the country.13 Through the SAESC, schools are offered an arena for sharing resources, funders and best practice. It is an ideal forum for collegiality and collective engagement.

Given Inanda Seminary’s location, its members are encouraged to form relationships with organisations and people in the community. Community engagement extends to daily volunteering at a crèche and soup kitchen, partnering with local schools through the SMILE programme,14 and engaging and supporting an old age home, orphanage and crèche – in addition to partnering in their own home communities during holidays, sharing skills and resources and building relationships.

Inanda Seminary has a well-developed museum and archive that promote its distinctive, rich, historical legacy and that of its founding missionaries. It is on the Inanda Heritage Route15 and receives many tourists and scholars keen to visit and research the institution. There are numerous public schools in the area with which the seminary seeks to work collaboratively, and several teachers from local schools are supported by staff within the seminary. Nedbank BOE funds a Saturday School programme16 for extra tuition in maths and science, and learners from a local school are invited to participate.

Independence all-important

The school firmly believes in a wellrounded education that includes spiritual growth through daily chapel services, physical fitness through sport and extramurals, and life skills for the 21st century through leadership opportunities, technology and social engagement. The school’s enrolment is over 400 full-time boarders – all currently black females. The seminary writes the National Senior Certificate17 and highly regards its independent status and autonomy in upholding its Christian faith base, code of conduct and core values. The membership and support offered by ISASA with policy resources and current education legislation is highly prized, as is its participation in the ISASA M&E learner programme.

A recipe for success

During a recent visit to Inanda Seminary, Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote in TimesLIVE (4 July 2014):18

Here’s the important question: what does Inanda Girls [sic] do for young women that thousands of other schools fail to do? It gives them five critical skills. One, it provides a sense of self-confidence. This is crucial, especially for women in a testosteronedriven society. The call to the stage is to enable the girls to practise public speaking under pressure in front of a crowd that includes strangers. Two, it provides a sense of security. The girls are deeply loved and everyone’s story is known. Physical security combines with nutritional wellbeing and, vitally, spiritual wholeness. Three, it provides a sense of direction. Each girl knows what the present is about – diligence and regard for others – and what the future offers in return. Four, it provides a sense of duty. Hard work is ingrained in the daily lives of members in terms of academic and residence life. And five, it provides a sense of joy. Students laugh freely and leap from their seats to give high-fives to their mates. Long after the girls forget mathematical formulae or the new accounting standards they will remember how the school made them feel as joyful, uninhibited humans. Outside stakeholders and visitors look to Inanda Seminary with interest, and often ask about its success. What makes Inanda Seminary so unique and a place that stands strong more than 145 years later? There are more factors and people and years than can be calculated. However, what is clearly understood is that the current community understands that it has inherited from its forebears, and is continuing to build on their foundation and further their legacy. The current community of Inanda Seminary was bequeathed a beautiful campus and colonial white and green buildings along with the firm foundation of Christianity, an African ethos and strong core values. Old girls continue to return to their alma mater and give back generously in time and resources. Most noteworthy is Ayavuna Trust, which has nominated the seminary as one of its three community school partners that receive generous grants for capital projects. Among those recently established are five classrooms and offices, a dining hall extension, a water treatment plant, an historic boarding house refurbishment, a teacher-intern housing block and a school generator.

A second school on the cards

Inanda’s story is unique; however, the need for excellent teaching and learning and life skills is not. Any school – whether one years old or forty-five years old or one hundred years old – can be an institution of greatness, because it is the passion of the people in the school that make it excellent. In light of this spirit, the passion of the board of governors of the seminary (comprising largely old girls) has culminated in a business plan funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF)19 to open a second school modelled on the academics, ethos and core values of the Inanda Seminary. The board’s aspiration is that a newly secured school building will result in a public-private partnership offering further quality independent education to more girls in the greater Durban area. The board is currently seeking funding for the restoration and refurbishment of this building to open it as a day school for girls in 2016.

A clear understanding of commitment

Inanda Seminary board, staff and members have a clear understanding of the education crisis in the country, and have a calling to leave a legacy for the next generation to build upon – and this they seek to do through quality output of their members, competent development and training of current staff and teacher-interns, meaningful community engagement, and extending their history and practice into new independent school spaces. Their commitment to restoring dignity to communities and equity in education in our country confirms their motto of shining out into the world.

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Category: Autumn 2015, Featured Articles

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