Notes from underground

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Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

I suppose I’ve reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I’m nevertheless saddened by his passing.

He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.

I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association

It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.

Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 – 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys’ College was named the Krige Block in his honour.

Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys’ High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.

Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.

Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us – the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.

He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and ’80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John’s.

Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn’s widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys’ College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.

His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry

David Knowles
Headmaster: Boys’ College

Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences

He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn’t his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn’t happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster’s flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays — in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn’t say as for what it did say.

It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I’m glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it’s good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.

The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian’s was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.

When I heard of Steyn’s death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo’s Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:

In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school’s Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It ‘fobbed off’ concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently ‘donated’ Woodmead’s Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn’t understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?

An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo’s dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.

The Woodmead article goes on to say

When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school’s shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.

When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of “Integrated Studies”, but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that’s where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.

Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.

Steyn Krige’s theology was Conservative Evangelical.

St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic “hot gospel” sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an “altar call”, and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal “Scripture” classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the “rapture”, though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.

So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I’m sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.

And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I’m guessing now — that’s why it would be good to know the real story.

I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can’t imagine it.



BorderlinersBorderliners by Peter Høeg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Borderliners is the second book about “abnormal” children I’ve read this week, the first one being The outcast, so I can’t help comparing them.

The Outcast is about a privileged child from an upper middle-class background, and the action takes place at home, in the school holidays. Borderliners is about an orphan, a ward of the state, with a legal guardian who had more than 200 other children to care for. He has no home to spend holidays in, and the action takes place at the school.

The Outcast (my review here) was about my contemporaries, those who were at school in the 1950s. We had or rebellions, too. I was at Mountain Lodge Preparatory School in Magaliesberg, and when I was 11 the whole school went on strike to protest against an unjust and authoritarian teacher. When the strike ended the headmaster lined us all up outside the classroom and made each of us bend over at the door for two cuts with his cane (I think more for the ringleaders), and once we were all inside he made a little sexist speech about the teacher, saying women were sometimes like that. Even at that age I thought it was sexist. I’d known other female teachers who weren’t authoritarian. But she did not return to the school the following term, so the stiike achieved its purpose.

Borderliners, however, is about those at school in the 1970s, and I remember the 1970s quite well. What do I remember about the 1970s? I saw the film If, which was also about a rebellion in a boarding school. I was on the board of governors of St George’s School in Windhoek. I was manager of several farm schools in Northern Natal. But never did I come across a school that was anything like the one in this book.

Borderliners is set in Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? When I was at school our geography teacher Steyn Krige told us the story of a South African visitor to Denmark who threw an empty packet out of a car window. After driving several miles a traffic cop stopped him and gave him the packet and said “You dropped this.” “Oh I don’t want it,” said the South African. “Denmark doesn’t want it either,” said the traffic cop.

In the 1960s I was a fan of Kierkegaard, and was impressed by the bourgeois morality and dull conformity of people in Denmark that he described. But that was in the 19th century. In the 1970s my impression of Denmark was that it was free. It was the model of the “permissive society”. But Borderliners gives an entirely different impression. Both books reminded me of my own schooldays, but Borderliners impressed me by how regimented it was, far more than any school I attended in the 1950s — especially the lengths they went to to stop pupils talking to each other or having friends, with never-ending surveillance. It was 1984. Could a Danish school in the permissive society really have been like that? No social interaction permitted. Pupils forbidden to talk to each other or even be seen together?

This is never explained in the book. Perhaps for a child at school, it needs no explanation or interpretation, but the book is written from the point of view of an adult looking back and an adult would try to make sense of childhood from the point of view of the wider world. So I’m left wondering why a school in Denmark in the 1970s should be worse, far worse, than a concentration camp. In a concentration camp people are locked away and for the most part forgotten about. The aim is to isolate them so that they can’t influence others. The perimeter is guarded to prevent them from escaping, but there is not, as in this school this constant surveillance, this prohibition on talking to other pupils, a kind of solitary confinement in the company of others.

In the book Peter Høeg links it all to a perception of time. I suppose in any school one becomes aware of time. There is a timetable for classes and other activities, so one’s life is regulated by bells ringing to mark the end of one activity and the commencement of another. But no theory of time can explain the concentration camp character of this school.

So it seemed a very strange book. It also seems to be at least semi-autobiographical, with a good measure of teenage solipsism. That I could identify with. It seems that many people toy with solipsism in their teenage years. Perhaps all do, or perhaps only those who go to boarding schools where time is strictly regulated.

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St Stithians College after 60 years

My old school, St Stithians College, is celebrating its jubilee this year, 60 years after its founding. Yesterday they arranged a reunion of sorts, of those who had been at the school from 1953-1957. Our recent holiday in Namibia took me back 40 years into the past, this took me back 60 years. Only one of my classmates was there, Chris Aitken, who had been in the same class from 1953-1956. But there was no one there from my matric class of 1958. What a bunch of old fogeys we were! I didn’t recognise anyone, and I don’t think anyone recognised me, without looking at the name tags.

St Stithians jubilee reunion, 7 June 2013

St Stithians jubilee reunion, 7 June 2013

It started with a service in the chapel, and with the usual Gauteng traffic jams I arrived 10 minutes late — it still takes more than an hour and a half coming from Pretoria. The chapel was packed — they obviously can’t fit the whole school, with more than 2000 pupils, in there now, so it was just the senior boys, grade 8 and over. The next day there was to be a celebration involving the whole school, which was to be held on the playing fields, because there was no indoor space big enough to hold them all.

Jubilee service in St Stithians College chapel, 7 June 2013

Jubilee service in St Stithians College chapel, 7 June 2013

The school chaplain, the Revd Dan Nkomo, spoke, and Alastair Stewart showed something of how the school had developed in the last 60 years. A choir called “The Dukes” sang a couple of things, and once again I was impressed by their musical prowess, which was way ahead of anything that we had had back then.

Then we went on a walkabout, touring the school under the guidance of the head of the boys’ college, Dave Knowles. When St Stithians started in 1953 the school was one, but now it is divided into four — a boys’ college, a girls’ college, a boys’ prep and a girls’ prep, each with its own head, and a Rector in charge of the whole lot. So the biggest change was the sheer size of the place, and the facilities, like WiFi everywhere, that were beyond our wildest dreams in 1953.

One of the things that sold me on St Stithians when I first went there was that it seemed to be on the technological cutting edge compared with other schools that I had been to. The boarding houses were wired, not for the Internet, in 1953, but for radio. Each bedside was equipped with earphone sockets and a volume control, and the idea was that the housemaster would switch on the radio at lightsout at 9:30, and we could listen to it before going to sleep. It never worked properly, however, at least not in the first couple of  years. And then demand for boarding accommodation exceeded the space available, so they put four beds in a dorm room designed for three, so the fourth bed did not have an earphone jack. But by my final year it was working after a fashion, and every Monday night we listened avidly to Strangers from space. It started rather scarily with a news item about global warming, and the polar ice caps melting, and the sea levels rising, and scientists trying to discover the cause. It sounded quite real. That got us hooked. After a few episodes it became apparent that the author was running out of ideas, and after about a year it fizzled out, but it was quite exciting when it started.

When I first went to St Stithians in 1953 I was in one of those three-bed rooms, with Chris Aitken and Edward Reeves. Then Edward Reeves broke his arm and moved to a single room, and we were joined by Peter Wallis, a new boy who arrived halfway through the year, and mysteriously disappeared at the end of it. In 1954 we were joined by Billy Glass, and he too was at the reunion.

Biully Glass, Steve Hayes and Chris Aitken -- 60 years later

Billy Glass, Steve Hayes and Chris Aitken — 60 years later

I think back then I was 12 years old, Chris Aitken was 13, and Billy Glass 14, and we looked a lot different from what we do today. There’s a picture here showing two of us back then — can you guess who we are without looking at the caption?

But going round the school was also a somewhat fractured experience. A housemaster told us how the boarding houses are divided into “family” units, each with a master in charge. He said that there was not much fagging, as there had been in boarding schools in the old days. And I felt as if I was in a time warp. Harking back to 1953 seemed to be taking a trip into the future, because there had never been fagging at St Stithians in our day. It may have existed in other privatre schools in South Africa, but it was known mainly as a throwback to English public schools of 60 years earlier. It was the kind of thing that in the 1950s we read about in books like Biggles goes to school, which was set in the pre-First World War period, which seemed to be in a remote past almost impossible to imagine. And yet we were stepping out of a past that must seem just as remote to the present pupils of St Stithians. Apartheid? What’s that? Something you learn about in history lessons, perhaps.

And yet the present St Stithians seemed in some ways to belong to that remote past. All my fellow old boys were wearing suits and ties, or at the very least, blazers and ties. And the pupils all addressed us as “Sir”. I thought that had disappeared from schools long ago. It felt, in some ways, like the “Stepford wives”.

We were taken to some of the old classrooms, the ones that had been built when we were at the school. And we were told that the first headmaster, Wally Mears, had incorporated his philosophy of educzation into bricks and mortar. He believed in small classes, and the classrooms were built small, with load-bearing walls between them, which made it rather difficult to knock two of them into three, which had been done. And Wally Mears had brought in Steyn Krige, whose progressive ideas about education and discipline had got him thrown out of the school in 1969. His name has returned to the school, as one of the new blocks is named after him, but evidently his ideas have not.

So in some ways St Stithians seems a bit further back in the past than it was in 1953. In the first couple of years there were no fags and no prefects, and on the first day, there were no rules. Wally Mears said, to the first pupils who had just arrived, and didn’t know each other at all, “You will make the rules by your own behaviour.” Even the talk of fags seemed odd. The word has changed its meaning since 1893.

But I suppose that back in the 1950s we didn’t look all that much different from the present-day pupils. Here’s a picture of some of my friends from my matric year, 1958.

Adrian Callard, John Bolton, David Curtis, Stephen Hayes: St Stithians, 1958

Adrian Callard, John Bolton, David Curtis, Stephen Hayes: St Stithians, 1958

And two of those who appear in the following picture were at the reunion event yesterday — Iain Thornton and Owen Walton.

Iain Thornton, John Bolton, Owen Walton: St Stithians, 1958

Iain Thornton, John Bolton, Owen Walton: St Stithians, 1958

Those are just a few of the memories and reflections evoked by the gathering, and it was a very pleasant and well-organised affair, and ended with an excellent lunch kindly provided by the St Stithians Alumni Association.

Five influences

I’ve been tagged by The Skylding to list five people, living or dead, who influenced my spiritual path in a positive way. For The Skylding (as a Lutheran), this had to exclude Jesus Christ and Martin Luther, and so assume that for me, as an Orthodox Christian it excludes Jesus Christ and the canonised saints of the church, or it could just become an exercise in listing one’s favourite saints.

So here goes.

1. Steyn Krige — high school teacher

He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn’t his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn’t happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster’s flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays — in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

2. Brother Roger, CR – Anglican monk

When I left school, I encountered the Community of the Resurrection (CR), an Anglican religious order whose members often came to preach in our parish church, St Augustine’s, Orange Grove, Johannesburg. Most of them were priests, but Brother Roger was one of the few lay brothers, and he spoke at the first conference of the Anglican Students Federation, held at at Modderpoort in the Free State in mid-winter, which is the coldest place I’ve ever been to.

He spoke on Pilgrims of the Absolute, and introduced us to people like Leon Bloy, and Beat Generation authors like Jack Kerouac, and presented the Christian faith as quite countercultural. Over the next few years I was a regular visitor to the CR priory in Rosettenville, and Brother Roger kept me supplied with books from their library. I was taking English literature courses at university, but he opened my eyes to a far wider variety of English literature than the English departments of South African universities — Samuel Beckett, the Beat Generation authors, Charles Williams and many more.

Brother Roger took great joy in the world and life and living. He once opened an art exhibition for a Jewish artist friend of his, Harold Rubin, whose works were seized by the police a couple of days later, and he was charged with blasphemy. Brother Roger was hauled off a train to Durban to give evidence at his trial, and eventually he was acquitted. There is more about Brother Roger, and the paper he read at the student conference, at my Pilgrims of the Absolute web page.

3. Revd John Davies – Anglican priest

John Davies was invited to speak at another Anglican students conference, on Religion versus God. I wasn’t there to hear it, but listened to it on tape afterwards, and published and distributed the hard copy as a kind of tract. When I was a student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg he led a parish mission at St Alphege’s Church, which was near the university, and shared a vision of the parish as a Christian community and didn’t just talk about it, but demonstrated it. Some of the things he introduced then, like house churches, have since become quite commonplace in Western Christianity, but then they were new and quite radical.

I got to know John Davies and his family quite well in the 1960s, and he and his wife Shirley, and children Mary, Mark and Elizabeth, became very close friends, and helped me more than they will ever know. In 1970 they returned to the UK for a visit, and were told on leaving South Africa that they would not be allowed to return, and have never been back since. I was glad to be able to travel to the UK in 2005 and see them again.

4. C.S. Lewis – Anglican author

The first three are people I met in person, but the last two are ones I only knew from their writings. But their writings have influenced me a great deal.

In the case of Lewis, it was his fiction that influenced me most; first his science fiction stories, and later his Narnia stories. I also read those of his fellow-Inkling Charles Williams, though I did not realise that they knew and influenced each other until much later, when a friend introduced me to Tolkien’s works.

I read a few of his non-fiction works, but was never very impressed with them. There is quite a bit of talk nowadays about narrative theology, and I think Lewis excelled at that, rather than at propositional theology. He was also aware of the difference in outlook between premodern and modern people, and wrote in such a way as to make it possible for the modern mind to appreciate premodern ideas.

5. Fr. Alexander Schmemann – Orthodox priest

One of the things that troubled me about Western theology was that it seemed to be divided into two camps. I called them Pietists and Social Activists, though others may have different labels for them. The activists were always wanting to do something, to change the world and make it a better place. The pietists, on the other hand, kept saying that this was too “political” and that Christianity should be more “spiritual”. I felt uncomfortable among both camps. It seemed to me that each was proclaiming a one-eyed vision of the Christian faith, and that we needed to see with two eyes to see it in all its depth.

And then I read Fr Alexander Schmemann’s The world as sacrament (an expanded edition was called For the life of the world), and he said, much more clearly and succinctly, what I had been trying to say on the subject. And eventually it became clear to me that things were not going to get better in the Western Church — that the two tendencies were getting into more pronounced conflict, and so, about fifteen years after first reading Schmemann’s book, I joined the Orthodox Church.


And now I’m supposed to tag some people.

The Elizaphanian
Fr John d’Alton
Roger Saner
Reggie Nel

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