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During the apartheid era in South Africa, the Waterford School of Swaziland was considered a haven of multiracial education. Its student body included whites, blacks, Asians and others from more than 40 countries. Nelson Mandela’s daughter attended, as did children of many senior anti-apartheid activists. We examine the school’s unique history, and explore what it can teach us about education across cultural and class barriers.
- Laurence Nodder Headmaster, Waterford Kamhlaba School (Swaziland)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt was a school built in defiance of apartheid in 1963. Southern Africa was deeply divided along racial lines when a British educator opened a small school on an old farm in Swaziland. The Waterford Kamhlaba School was built on the idea of non-racial education and a curriculum grounded in social justice and diversity, bringing together black, white and Asian students from South Africa and across the continent at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIts student body included the children of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other African National Congress leaders. Five decades later, Southern Africa is a different place, and Waterford Kamhlaba is evolving in unique ways to address the social justice challenges of the 21st century. Joining us is Laurence Nodder. He is headmaster of Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland. Laurence Nodder, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. LAURENCE NODDERThank you very much, Kojo. And thank you to the listeners here.
NNAMDIThank you all for joining us indeed. In 1953, South Africa passed an infamous piece of legislation called the Bantu Education Act. The law enshrined institutional racism in South African education, but it also got some enlightened people thinking about a different kind of school. Tell us how the Waterford Kamhlaba School came out.
NODDERYes. Kojo, you speak of that Bantu Education Act, and the minister of education in South Africa at that time was a man called Verwoerd. He later became prime minister of South Africa. And introducing that bill, he describes that education should not take people beyond their aspirations in life. And the role of black people, in his view, was to be hewers of wood or drawers of water.
NODDERAnd that was such an anti-educational idea to be promulgated as the basis for black education in Southern Africa that indeed, as you say, enlightened educationists found that this was simply an impossible act to work under. Michael Stern was a British educationist. He came out to South Africa to work in a school in South Africa, St. Peter's school, where Oliver Tambo was a graduate, the former president of the ANC.
NODDERAnd the view was taken to close that school and then to open the school as close as they could Johannesburg, to the hub, the economic hub of South Africa. And the closest place that they could do -- they could find where they could have security in opening a non-racial school was in Swaziland, 250 miles away from Johannesburg.
NNAMDIWhich, at that time, was a British protectorate, correct?
NODDERIt was a British protectorate. What we like to think is, of course, that the British were highly enlightened. The reality was when Waterford opened in 1963, it was the first non-racial school in Southern Africa. So even though there wasn't officially apartheid in Swaziland or in what became Botswana or Lesotho or neighboring Mozambique, the reality of the situation was deeply segregated education.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Laurence Nodder. He is headmaster of the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland, and we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think it's possible to design a school or school curriculum to address social inequalities? Call us, 800-433-8850. If we can fast forward to the present, Laurence Nodder, at the height of the struggle against white minority rule there was a clear, a bright line between was just and what was unjust.
NNAMDIAnd there was consensus among activists anyway about the common enemies, state-sponsored racism. But the idea of social justice is a little more complex now, isn't it?
NODDERIt is a more complex notion, and how Waterford -- what Waterford tries to do is trying -- be trying and identify the tensions within and the challenges to building a just society, particularly in Africa, but around the world in a, you know, in a more generic sense. And one of the legacies of colonialism in Africa is the lack of network within Africa.
NODDERSo even within our telecommunications, we so often find that the way that we can speak with another part of Africa is indeed rooted through Europe. The way we can move to another part of Africa is through Europe, through the old colonial power and then back into another place.
NNAMDIYou got a plane from one African country, you fly to the former colonial power, and they you fly...
NODDERTransfer to the other colonial power.
NNAMDIThat's how you get back to Africa. Yes.
NODDERThat's how you get back. So one of the ideas with Waterford is there's a deliberate attempt at building a network of young people who have come from different national backgrounds and putting them together and fostering that African, that Pan-African network of young bright people, people who have a -- an extraordinary positive view of the role that they can play in the future. That's a small part, of course, of readdressing some of the challenges that Africa plays.
NODDERIf we look at some of the other challenges, HIV and AIDS and a -- almost a collapse in some societies as a result of that pandemic. In my senior class, it's a class of almost 120 people, about a quarter of the students are orphans. These are orphans that have brought, you know, brought into Waterford from as far afield as Burundi stretching down Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe faces an enormous challenge, and of course, Swaziland itself and Lesotho, Botswana.
NODDERAnd we think if there is a young person of extraordinary merits within their own context, that won't be the context of a fabulous school but within the context that they find themselves. We seek out such individuals. We seek partners to seek out such individuals, and we bring them together, put them in a rich environment.
NNAMDIAre most of your students drawn from that southern cone of Africa, so to speak?
NODDERYeah. Two thirds of our students come from what would be described the SADC countries. There's a customs union and an old anti-apartheid block, so southern and east of Africa -- when we -- if we had to look more closely, probably 80 percent of the students come from different parts of Africa, and the remaining 20 percent of students would represent what I might describe as a normal type of community within an international school.
NODDERSo unlike most international schools, we -- most of our students come from their own home environments to Waterford. They aren't simply at Waterford because their parents happen to be living somewhere near the school.
NNAMDIIn 1963, when the school when the school was first started, most of those countries were either on the minority-wide domination or under colonial rule. All of that has changed since then. How has that affected the diversity conversation in Southern Africa since that time and since the end of apartheid?
NODDERYes. I think the diversity conversation is now far more than simply race or nationality. The real diversity question that needs to be addressed is socio-economic. There is a new apartheid. There's a new apartheid through so many different parts of Africa and in my own home country, South Africa. It's between those who can afford to buy their services, afford to go private, afford to have and enjoy a good life and those who cannot afford.
NODDERAnd again, a school that can bring together the children of -- very few children of multi-millionaires but together with children who simply arrive in the clothes that they are wearing. That is what they have. And to put them into one classroom, one residence, bringing them together as neighbors, putting them on projects together. That is where real social justice issues emerge, and it's not simply a theoretical response then. People have to grapple with their brothers, standing next to them who might be...
NNAMDII was worried about that because that is the challenge that you now face. Because here in the U.S. and, I guess, around the world, we have this idea of education is the great equalizer.
NNAMDIIt's one thing to say that and another thing entirely to try to implement an education curriculum that that seeks to serve their purpose. How is the school designed, because it's my understanding that you not only addressing issues of race and class, you're also addressing issues of life experience. You have orphans there so all of these people have to gather in the same environment.
NODDERYes. Yes. And what one does is one tries to honor the histories of people. There's nobody who I wish to feel ashamed from the background from which they come. They need to honor what is home. And if the school gives a body language of honoring people for the backgrounds, that is the first step. If a school honors and builds on conversation, if a school says, how we learn about society is not simply through a textbook but through discussion between people from such different lived experience, that is a transformative thing
NODDERIf a school says, how we learn about society is through service learning -- one of the things that's happened in my 14 years so far at Waterford is we have a range of almost 40 projects that particularly the senior students are engaged in a weekly basis. We don't put that late on a Thursday afternoon or on a Saturday morning. That happens at eleven o'clock in the morning, in prime curriculum time.
NODDERStudents go out. They go into other schools. They go on various -- Waterford provides a whole host of services that the Swaziland government either chooses not to or cannot afford to offer. That's how we learn about society and our role in it and how we can motivate ourselves to make a difference.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. We're talking with Laurence Nodder. He is the headmaster of the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850. Did you attend well an international school? What did your cross-cultural education do well? How do you think it served you? How did you it did not? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Laurence Nodder. He's the headmaster of the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland. The implicit model of a private school for scholarship kids is so that they tend to emulate the tuition-paying kids. These schools hold up the idea that a typical student, I guess, is this kind of upper-class tuition-paying student. But Waterford, it's my understanding, inverts that dynamic and expects the tuition-paying kids to learn and to emulate the scholarship kids. Is that correct?
NODDERThat is correct, Kojo, and it has its roots in honoring the backgrounds of people. It has its roots as the children of the well-to-do. And I'll give you an example. My own children attended Waterford Kamhlaba. And while we are not wealthy wealthy, we are comfortable, and my children have not lacked a meal, and they haven't lacked clothing and they haven't lacked access to medical care.
NODDERThey haven't lacked access to a home that is warm in winter and cool in summer. And yet as they discover the journeys that other people have had to take in their lives to get to the point where they are now, that becomes an inspiration. That becomes an inspiration for what -- out of our more fortunate circumstances, we also have a role to play in transforming our society not simply in preserving our privilege.
NODDERIt's building that motion of human solidarity, the concern for the other as the ethic by which we live. And if there's anything that I think typifies the Waterford Kamhlaba graduate, it is having embraced that ethic that was articulated so well by Nelson Mandela.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones because a lot of people would like to join this conversation. Here is Benjamin in Greenbelt, Md. Benjamin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENJAMINGood afternoon, Kojo. Yes. I want to congratulate the headmaster of Waterford for taking such an initiative. I think it is a very difficult task -- with the present war we live in, with new colonialism, new apartheid -- for the issue of social justice to be addressed without a lot of teachers from the West. I don't know how he intends to balance it. He was just talking about going to Africa and passing through the colonial masters.
BENJAMINAnd the treatment you get from the colonial headquarter to the colonial territory is different from when you move from one developed area to another. How can his institution think they can develop the curriculum to force the people to pick up their right and stand up to such challenges in the modern day?
NNAMDIThat seems to be the whole purpose of the curriculum, Laurence Nodder.
NODDERYes, yes. Benjamin, one of the ways that I see things so easily being caught up in old patterns is partly through the former curriculum that you -- that a school might embrace, but also who then delivers that curriculum. And so many schools, so many international schools take the view that the only good teachers that one can find are teachers who've been trained in the U.S. or teachers who've been trained in Britain or France or basically white teachers.
NODDERAnd even within my own parent body, when I got there, I found an anxiety when we would employ people from Africa, people who were, yes, sometimes from the elite, from within their own society, but also teachers who themselves have been orphaned, people who were in political exile.
NODDERAnd just as a school has to, I think, give body language to valuing the backgrounds and the diversity of the students within its midst, it has to also give the body language through the people, the adults who inhabits -- who inhabit that community as well. They need to replicate, in a way, the backgrounds that you're trying to bring together in the student body.
NNAMDIBenjamin, thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Molly in Washington, D.C. Molly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOLLYHi. Good afternoon. How y'all doing today?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
NODDERDoing well, finally.
MOLLYExcellent. I just wanted to comment. I'm a -- basically a pretty privileged, affluent person, but I went to college. And then for my junior semester abroad, I went to Kenya through the School for International Living, and it pretty much just transformed my own sense of being a minority and in another culture and what that might be for other people. And having sort of a cultural classroom just really to enhance my sense of learning and broaden my horizon, and I -- it basically transformed my outlook. I'm a social worker, and I just recommend it for anybody and everybody.
NNAMDIWell, Molly, you should know that Waterford Kamhlaba is part of an association called the United World Colleges, whose stated mission is to make education a force for peace and sustainability by changing attitudes. What can public schools, apart from those involved in this UWC program, to foster peace and sustainability among their students, in your view?
NODDERYeah, in my...
NODDERYeah. Molly, if I could just say -- thank you for phoning in. And one of the things that I always have to say to students is there's nothing wrong to come from a reasonably privileged background. That's -- there's no error in that, nothing that we have to feel guilty about or ashamed about. But what we have to do is say, how can we leverage our position to work for a better world?
NODDERAnd it seems as though your experience in Kenya achieved, put you on a path or kept you on a path to that and informed your subsequent decisions and your professional practice, and that is what we're looking for people -- from many people. How can a school foster these ideals? And it is the deep question.
NODDERAnd part of the answer is to take in attitudes towards education that doesn't simply address the advancement of the individual within the school but constantly holds in front of students a question as to what type of world would they like to live in and how can they make a contribution to that type of world. When I look at many independent and international schools, the focus is on empowering the individual, but it's very seldom asked for what. And one has to hold a vision of society.
NODDERWhat is the vision of society in the school to which you're -- in the school in which your child attends? That, I think, is an interesting question, and that's where, I think, we need to embrace our school leadership throughout which ever system we are in.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Anthony in Burtonsville, Md. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANTHONYGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, Headmaster, I just like to -- I would just like to ask, first -- two questions. Number one, have you -- and, Kojo, have you -- read Moeletsi Mbeki's "Architects of Poverty"? That's the first question. If not, I highly recommend it. And I would slip it into the curriculum, if you could, at Waterford.
NODDERYes. Yeah. Yup.
ANTHONYAnd secondly, I would then ask the question, what can the school do to help to limit the pervasive post-colonial apartheid, which is the class structure, for instance, in the (word?) culture in Swaziland? I've worked there extensively. And there is one group of last names, literally, that whether they are rich or poor, it's not an economic segregation but more of a historic hereditary segregation, and attacking that in places like Swaziland, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania is gonna be very difficult.
NNAMDIAnd the book you referenced, Moeletsi Mbneki's "Architects of Poverty," right?
NODDERYes, and I have read sections of that. And, as you say, it is strong reading and important reading for the students within our school.
NNAMDIThat's for addressing the hereditary factors.
NODDERYes, hereditary, yes. Anthony, somehow, humans have managed to create all sorts of excuses and barriers to viewing ourselves as fellow human beings and that hereditary factor that you describe is one of them. We are simplistic maybe, but our simple technique is to try and bring people from these different tensions, from these different types of backgrounds, people where there are man-made barriers and put them in the same space, put them on the same programs and, by God, try and put them in the same service programs.
NODDERIt is through realizing together as young people that they have a responsibility, that they need to work as a team, that they can address challenges that they see in front of them, that these bonds are forged. It is simplistic, but in our experience, there's nothing else that's much better.
NNAMDII was about to say but it seems to work.
NODDERIt certainly works in our context, and we are fortunate that we do have highly motivated young people, people who are, in that gradual sense, outliers. They have shown their enormous ability, but I think it can be replicated in different context.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're out of time. Laurence Nodder, thank you so much for joining us.
NODDERThank you. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDILaurence Nodder is headmaster of the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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