The Grand Old Lady of the Common
Originally known as Rondebosch Girls’ School and situated on the site of the current Rustenburg Girls Junior School, Rustenburg Girls’ High School officially opened its doors on 29 January 1894 with the intrepid Miss Bleby as its first principal. In her chronicle of the school’s history entitled White stoep on the highway, Josephine McIntyre describes Miss Bleby as “a woman of some initiative” who, undeterred by the School Board’s denial of her request to have a cow, bought one herself, so that her girls could have adequate milk supplies. She guided the school through its formative years and was much loved and respected. She had the ability to draw the best out of staff and girls alike, and her tragic death in 1911 was a great loss.
Two principals led the school through the years of the First World War: Miss Jean Donaldson-Wright (1912 – 1916) was instrumental in the appointment of the school’s first House Mistress to supervise the Boarders, while Miss Kemp (1916 – 1936) would be responsible for the establishment of the High School and the Boarding House, Erinville, as they are today, overlooking the Rondebosch Common. Miss Kemp was a woman of foresight and educational vision, who managed her staff and pupils with strength and grace. Her considerable contribution to the school was acknowledged by the renaming of the Gym Hall to the Kemp Hall.
A Capetonion by birth, Miss Gwen Hazell took over the reigns from Miss Kemp. There were 394 pupils in nearly brand-new buildings when she arrived, and one of her first projects was to request a further four classrooms as a matter of urgency. King George’s coronation was marked by the gift of 20 red gum trees from the City Council and a major fund-raising effort focused on a swimming pool for the school.
With the Second World War came various related activites, such as knitting socks for Polish soldiers, making patchwork quilts for refugee children, and, in 1942, a visit by the Rondebosch boys to help dig slit trenches in the grounds, to accommodate the boarders in case of possible air raids. Miss Hazell was honoured to receive a personal Christmas card from Queen Mary, in appreciation of the school’s contribution to the war effort and the 1947 visit to South Africa by the Royal Family had the girls lining Main Road to watch the royal party’s procession.
Miss Margaret Thomson’s tenure as Headmistress spanned three decades, and was characterised by significant developments to the campus. While the façade of the school remained unchanged over the years, the existing buildings were significantly extended, with new classrooms, a dedicated Music Block attached to the hostel, and 1971, the building of the new school hall, incorporating the old Kemp Hall and a brand new foyer. The original Charlie’s Hope facility (a recreational hall) was also demolished and replaced by a new and much-improved venue.
Innovations in those years ranged from the holding of a “Morning Market”, to replace the numerous small fund-raising efforts for charities, to the welcoming of boys(!!) to Rustenburg functions, particularly the “socials”, held under the eagle eye of the House Mistresses. The school also received a new wing on the South side and a refurbished kitchen in the hostel because of a rather dramatic explosion which had rendered the original kitchen unusable.
Rustenburg turned 75 in 1969, a year of special celebration marked by cakes, candles and ceremonies … and an earthquake in the latter part of the year which though unmistakeably felt in Cape Town and somewhat alarming, did no damage.
The 1980’s were years of transition and change for Rustenburg: from its humble opening numbers of 76 girls and 11 boys, the school had grown substantially, and in January 1980, registered 588 girls and 35 members of staff. A Groundsman’s cottage was built, the Library was renamed the Media centre, and increasing tension in the political landscape meant the upgrading of security, especially for the boarders. Security lights were mounted at all strategic points around the school and hostel buildings, and fire-escapes were high on the list of priorities.
This turbulent decade was also marked by some significant educational moves at Rustenburg, not least of all the plans for a fully-equipped Computer Room as well as the upgrading of the Science laboratories in an age when it was still relatively unfashionable for young ladies to be competent in these spheres. The stage was now set for further exciting developments at the school and a period aptly entitled New Horizons.
Mrs Mary van Blerk was officially welcomed as the school’s seventh Headmistress in August 1991. She continued to develop Rustenburg as a place of superior education for young ladies, encouraging high academic standards and ensuring that the school kept abreast of modern trends. Computer Education lessons forged ahead, an AIDS Awareness Programme was established and Rustenburg decided to become a Model C school. The campus was continually busy with sporting and cultural programmes growing all the time, and for the first time, Standard Six pupils received Xhosa lessons as part of the curriculum.
Rustenburg was steered into the new millennium by Dr Elizabeth Fullard, whose natural warmth and generous personality earned her the nickname, “Queen of Hearts”. She endeared herself to the school community in so many ways and left numerous legacies. These included further beautification of the grounds, the building of proper driveways, and the erection of a fence around the property. Pupils and staff were sad when she retired but were left in the capable hands of Acting Principal Mrs Susan Schnetler and the current Headmistress, Miss Laura Bekker.
Today, Rustenburg is ranked highly among the top ten schools in the Western Province, and there is no doubt that the foundations laid at the start have been key to its success.