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Yellowwoods Preparatory School

| September 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

An educational oasis

By Patricia Grobler

In the Eastern Cape, nestled at the foot of Mount Pleasant and surrounded by the exquisite Hogsback and Katberg mountain ranges, lies an oasis – Yellowwoods Preparatory School, comprising old buildings, plenty of gorgeous children and spacious green pastures. It intersects the diverse communities of Katberg, Hogsback, Alice, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide and Bedford – generally an uncertain, poverty-stricken environment carrying a legacy of a violent South African struggle for freedom and democracy. Wounding and often racist relationships that prevailed during the apartheid regime are slowly healing, developing into a vibrant community in which all people can experience an increasing rapport.

As you approach Yellowwoods, you are greeted by seven tall palms, growing gloriously from plentiful underground springs. These palms seem to guard a spirit of hope and truth – always reminding us of the gifts of nature and the promise of growth and renewal.

A start as a school for farming communities

In early 1995, a small group of white farmers met with educators in the area and decided to found a school primarily for the children of the farming communities. After accommodating a small building in the town of Fort Beaufort, the Yellowwoods Hotel, 17 km away, came onto the market and was purchased. The facilities were conveniently restored to serve a much wider community, where the privileges of a country school environment could be enjoyed.

By mid-1996, this small, private preparatory school had come to life with 45 children, a group of dedicated teachers and committed farming families. Today, a quarter of our 120 pupils – we cater for Grade 0 to Grade 7 – are from white farming backgrounds, the rest being children of lecturers from the University of Fort Hare in nearby Alice and families involved in thriving local business enterprises. Presently our teaching staff forms a total of nine well-qualified men and women, most of whom travel long distances to school every day.

Bullet holes in the wall – but why?

The old Yellowwoods Hotel pub, which is now our computer centre, still holds in its walls memories of farmers, families and friends from near and far – gathering to share tales of the droughts, the floods, citrus pickings, the shearing of sheep, the hunting season and other stories of the land they hold so dear. Yet these walls hold something else as well: bullet holes. What was the cause?

In the early 1990s, the Yellowwoods Hotel became very popular – the regular watering hole for young farmers, their friends and families. These predominantly white gatherings became a target for understandably angry militants of the time, and in 1993 – the year before freedom came – the hotel was the scene of a violent shooting. Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) leader Sabelo Phama had allegedly stated, “We will aim our guns at the children (the youth) – where it hurts most.”1

The struggle and the fight for freedom had by now reached a point of no return, and 1993 became known as the ‘Year of the Great Storm’.

A new era

After the first free elections in 1994, and after witnessing Nelson Mandela’s victory and wise words of forgiveness and hope, South Africans of all races and creeds took comfort in the prospect of a new era. With excitement, enthusiasm and optimistic aspirations, commitments were made to establishing Yellowwoods as a sustainable, diverse, democratic place of learning; a school for the future.

Dedicated parents, teachers and local businesses saw to it that extra classrooms were built, the hotel rooms converted into a cosy boarding house and the existing grounds upgraded to provide offices, sports fields and facilities conducive to an efficient and practical primary school campus.

Following our school’s evaluation by the Independent Quality Assurance Association (IQAA)2 in 2007, its representative referred to Yellowwoods as an ‘educational oasis’. We treasured this reference and made it our school motto. It reminds us that we are accountable: we must provide quality education in an area where educational aridity still predominates.

The happy sounds of play and learning

Yellowwoods now rings with those satisfying and mesmerising murmurs of song, reading, delightful calls of play and the diverse conversations of children, staff and teachers alike. It is as if our school family revels in the daily dramas of teaching and learning.

The school groups children into three houses for all our competitive activities. These have been named after philosophies that matter to us – Cedar House (our strong connection to Christianity), Acacia House (reminding us of our African roots and wealth of wildlife) and, of course, Palm House (a landmark of any oasis).

Yellowwoods, a low-fee paying school, continues to attract the sons and daughters of both the settler and tribal ancestry unique to the Eastern Cape. This flourishing mix of white and black is living proof of a thriving school community that represents the very essence, mission and values of the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA), to which we belong.

The community members connected to the school know about water, fences, money and maintenance – all critical issues in our rural region. Regular fund raising, labours of love and a united commitment guarantee positive growth and the maintenance of a safe and beautiful learning environment. Even winter roses bloom here, defying the bitter cold.

The outdoors is an integral part of education in this area. In addition to more common extramural activities like drama and ballet, our children adore horse riding, for example. Itinerant teachers give the students great opportunities in these fields, and it is a privilege to see the children enjoying out-rides and dressage. We value all our teachers, who take on multiple roles. The sports department, for instance, includes three coaches who have represented South Africa in national teams. They also form part of our boarding house staff. Their expertise and love for sport have enabled our young school to compete successfully in the local community, in spite of our isolated position and often challenging demographics.

In the classroom, small classes ensure academic success, with our average pupil/teacher ratio being 12:1. But the key to our thriving community is the commitment of all our parents – not forgetting those guardians and grandparents who, in spite of sometimes difficult and very challenging circumstances, ensure after-school quality time and persist with reliable and safe transport to get their children to school every day.

Those tall palms, blowing in the winds of change, continue to safeguard our humble enterprise – a school characterised by grace, truth and opportunity; a place of plenty.


1. Sabelo Victor Gqwetha, better known as Sabelo Phama, was the commander of the Pan Africanist Congress’s army wing, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla). See, for example, 4lv02264/05lv02335/06lv02357/07lv02372/08lv02376.htm.

2. The Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA) was formed to provide quality assurance through the evaluation of independent schools. See

Category: Spring 2012

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