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Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 06:29

In a speech given to the Sandton Historical Association in the late 1970s, Councillor Bill Hedding mentioned a very special historical site in the area - a school that managed to survive the onslaught of apartheid legislation and was connected to some of the most influential people in South Africa at the time. It also appears that part of the school is one of the few, if not the only, memorial to US President John F Kennedy in Africa.

No story about the schools in Bryanston would be complete without relating the story of the school which has had the biggest battle to survive. I refer to the Witkoppen School for Blacks [now Witkoppen Primary School], which though it is not in Bryanston, has been the concern of Bryanstonians and others for many years. A Mr Mason, who had started the nucleus of a school in 1927, donated two acres of his farm on which it stood to the African people of Witkoppen. The Anglican Board of Management controlled the new school.


Main Entrance to Witkoppen Primary School (The Heritage Portal)


In 1955 the Bantu Education Act was passed and the then Bishop of Johannesburg, the Rt Rev. Ambrose Reeves, decided to close the school rather than hand it over to the state. The Principal, Mr Jack, called a meeting of parents who unanimously decided to keep the school open at all costs. They petitioned Dr Verwoerd, then Minister of Bantu Affairs, who agreed to save the school by recognising it as a 'farm school'. The Government thereafter paid part of the teachers' salaries. At that date the school consisted of three classrooms and a small cottage of four rooms in which all the teachers lived.

In the early 1960s Mrs Elaine Blakeway, who had been associated with the school since 1946, interested the late Charles W. Engelhard and his wife in the school. He was very generous to the school, and among other things built a separate house for the Headmaster and his family and a cottage for the two male assistant teachers. The Bryanston Round Table, Lions and Rotary, all took an interest in the school and provided additional classrooms.


The library was named after one of the school's main benefactors Elaine Blakeway


The Engelhard family was in South Africa when President John F. Kennedy was assasinated. Mr Engelhard as a memorial to his friend the late President erected a Chapel [see main image], further classrooms and accommodation for the Clinic, which had been operating for many years in temporary accommodation, and of which Dr Louis Smuts has been the Hon. Medical Superintendent for over 25 years.

It is said that this Chapel is the only memorial in the whole of Africa to the late John F. Kennedy.

The school has been blessed with many benefactors; gifts have varied from half a bag of peanuts, a full-scale Christmas party for the pupils, to regular financial grants.

Upon the death of Mr Engelhard the school became the recipient of an annual income of R5000 from the Engelhard Trust.

The motto of the school translated is 'From a small seed we will grow'. How appropriate!


Witkoppen School has received support from prominent South Africans over the years including Mary Slack


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