Treading a Delicate Tightrope. A principal balancing between education and political change during turbulent
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171 pages

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When Mike Burton became the principal of All Saints College in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, little did he know about the journey on which he was embarking.

Very soon after taking up the position, Mike realised that the vision of the founding organisation was becoming irrelevant as education and politics converged, reaching a crisis point in the second half of the 1980s. Mike found himself walking the tightrope between the expectations of the funders on the one hand and those of the students and community on the other.

Matters reached a tipping point and Mike had to make a decision. As 'Comrade Mike' he elected that the interests of the students and the community take precedence. Mike chose education AND liberation.

Mike Burton's Tightrope is a gripping, personal account that transports the reader back to the liberation struggle of the 1980s and the educational issues that informed policy in the nascent democracy. The book will be of particular interest to those involved in education at the time as well anybody who observed or was engaged during that turbulent period of change.



Abbreviations and acronyms









Publié par
Date de parution 29 avril 2022
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9781920033842
Langue English

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A principal balancing between education and political change during turbulent times
Mike Burton
First edition, first impression 2022
Text and the work copyright © Mike Burton 2022
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in South Africa on behalf of the author by
NISC (Pty) Ltd, PO Box 377, Makhanda, 6140, South Africa
ISBN: 978-1-920033-83-5 (softcover)
ISBN: 978-1-920033-84-2 (ePub)
ISBN: 978-1-920033-91-0 (pdf)
Cover design: Advanced Design Group
Photographs: Peter King & Andrew Stevens – pages 1, 6, 16, 31, 49, 91, 96, 102, 103, 104, 115, 130, 153, 161, 173, 174, 191, 198, 219, 222 and cover images; Bisho Private College Trust – pages 40, 45, 50, 53, 55, 59, 78; All Saints College Development Trust from Out of the Fire: Where schooling worked in times of crisis, All Saints College, South Africa 1986 – 1996 – pages 116, 126
ePub conversion by Wouter Reinders
The author and the publisher have made every effort to obtain permission for and acknowledge the use of copyright material. Should an inadvertent infringement of copyright have occurred, please contact the publisher and we will rectify omissions or errors in any subsequent reprint or edition.
Some names in the text have been changed to protect the identity of people involved
I would like to acknowledge the help, encouragement and friendships that I received in producing this book. At the top of my list is Mike Schramm who accepted the responsibility of mentoring me through the process of professional publishing.
Four people helped me in the process. Crispin Sonn produced such an insightful foreword; Russel Bradfield was with me from the start; Dave Muller used the word persevere more than once; and Vrij Harry assisted me in the early stages of preparing the manuscript.
Finally, to my wife Noreen for sticking it out with me when times got really tough and shouldering the burdens that I neglected at home, and then for encouraging me to “write it down”, and my children Andrew, Simon and Debbie for their understanding and loyalty throughout.
A LL SAINTS COLLEGE was a courageous project, undertaken at a time in the history of our country when the risk of failure of such a project was high despite the obvious need for its success.
The events that played out at All Saints during the mid-1980s to early 1990s was a representation of the trauma that the country was about to experience. More lives were lost in the struggle for liberation between 1986 and 1992 than at any other period in the history of South Africa.
In a compelling manner, this book illustrates the complexity of the All Saints project - the noble but politically naive approach to the project by its founders, given the political environment, as well as the courage of the founders to take on a project of this nature during the death throes of apartheid.
All Saints and its story play out as a symbol of a wider society going through a fundamental social, political and economic transition. This was all happening while the majority of the white population was oblivious to the fundamental changes taking place in the country, only emerging to get a glimpse of events through the jaundiced lens of the public news broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
Traditional western private school education, Christian National Education, Apartheid education and radical liberation theory (freedom before education) were clashing as artificial barriers held up by apartheid fences and boundaries were forcibly being broken by angry black youth.
A Eurocentric approach and an Afrocentric approach to authority and education, which was held in place by an effective police state, were set to collide in a most dramatic way.
With the clarity of hindsight, despite the obvious social and political challenges faced by a project of this nature, All Saints was a success by virtue of the students it graduated who went on to make a significant difference in society, the teachers it attracted and the beacon of transformation it turned out to be.
At a personal and human level, recollecting some of the events I am familiar with, is exciting and heart racing stuff. At a more academic and somewhat impersonal level, it presents learnings and insights that serve as a, “must read” for the many who claim “We did not know what was going on!”
This book is a necessary and cathartic experience for Mike Burton and the Burton family. In as much as this book is Mike’s story, I can well imagine the impact the All Saints experience must have had on the Burton nuclear family. So, for them and successive generations of Burtons, this is a necessary bit of work.
For the All Saints alumni and family this book is equally necessary. Like the story told of many other private schools, this is a unique one that will serve as a reminder that there were brave men and women, white and black, who were willing to take risks when risks were often rewarded with death, detention or rejection. Mike Burton, Noreen Burton, Peter King, Ben Tengimfene, Quentin Hogge, Raj Kurup and Andrew Stevens are examples of such people.
There were learners who were transported from multi-generational township neighbourhoods to a school with facilities many had not considered accessible to them.
Yet, access to great facilities was actually the least of many students’ concerns. The bigger challenge was believing that white people actually cared that they got a good education, that they be prepared for the new SA that awaited them and were vested in their success.
For me All Saints was an adventure. It was located in a part of the country I had never travelled to prior to enrolling at All Saints. I had been very active in the anti-apartheid movement as a student and learner and came from a political and ANC-aligned home. I suspect the same applied to many students who came from Gauteng and other parts of the country.
Upon reflection, All Saints’ complexity was hidden in the diverse lives and experiences of learners who came to the college.
In most cases, learners were politically aware, in some cases politically trained and coached, and in other cases politically naive and even reactionary. The latter group were enrolled at the college to complete their secondary education and pursue a life out of poverty for themselves and their families. Politics was marginally interesting and, in many cases, just an inconvenience.
The politically aware and active students fell into different groups.
Group one was the group whose identity and history was closely linked to the struggle. Some of them lost siblings in armed conflict with apartheid forces. These learners would wear their political badges with pride and would distinguish themselves from other learners politically. Politics to a large extent defined them and how they wished to be seen in the world. At the time South Africa was caught in the political cauldron and it was hard to escape it.
A second group of learners felt tremendous guilt at being at All Saints and betraying the call for Liberation before Education . This guilt would play out in unpredictable ways which these students themselves could often not understand as they navigated their own emotions, consciences and youthful ambitions.
A third group of students wished to build a reputation at All Saints as politically savvy, future leaders. Their engagements were often self-serving and dangerous for the institution. They would often not survive the scrutiny of honest and considered political discourse and interrogation, and resorted to the threat of violence and populist rhetoric.
Putting these students in plaid pants and on a golf course where they and their families were previously only allowed as caddies, on squash courts or cricket pitches, and teaching them classic Latin, would only serve to raise their suspicion about the white teachers’ attempts to resocialise them into being an ‘acceptable’ citizen and a betrayal of what they wished to be known for. If the founders were guilty of one thing, it was the extent to which they underestimated the maturity, pent-up anger and confidence of the learners they were seeking to attract to the college.
The only white person many students had had contact with was someone who represented a form or authority in South Africa, a policeman, a rude civil servant, a lawyer or a doctor. The expected re-socialisation of learners in relation to race and hierarchy was meant to be quick and intense.
Bringing black learners into contact with white people who cared about their success and well being was as big a surprise for learners. It was often met with suspicion and distrust, fuelled by the self-serving nature of some students, and teachers who had little training and experience in environments like this was, in hind sight, an opportunity waiting to be exploited.
Richard Todd’s vision was noble and an idea whose time had come. The paradigm he chose to move from in executing his ideals was fundamentally flawed and the book deals with this well and exhaustively.
It calls to mind the warning, “ go to people where they are, and respect them for who they are, don’t assume they want to find happiness in who you are ”.
I had the good fortune of knowing Richard Todd and knew him as a confident capable person who was willing to take on a challenge head on. However, the paradigm he chose to approach this project from was founded in old colonial traditions whose time in Africa had expired. His stubborn tenacity was the basis of his success but also turned out to be his greatest challenge.
Bringing all these students together under one roof with the assumption that the incredible

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