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Kempton Park

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Early days - 1903 to 1935

In these early days the community in and around Kempton Park was dominated by the Marais, Buitendag and Duvenhage families. Although these families were not townspeople at the outset, they and their descendants have nevertheless exerted a great influence on the lives of the local community.

The development of the town in its first 30 years was very slow. In the period 1903 to 1935 only 108 township stands were sold. The community was an impecunious one, derived largely from workers at the dynamite factory, the railway or the few small peripheral businesses which developed in and around the township. The dynamite factory had attracted settlers from Italy, Germany, Holland, England, Australia and Scotland and the beginnings of Kempton Park's cosmopolitan population derive from this point. Many of the descendants of these early dynamite factory workers are residents of Kempton Park today.

There was, at the time, very little else to attract people to the area and so while its wealthy neighbours Germiston, Pretoria and Johannesburg all flourished in the flood-tide of a gold boom, Kempton Park languished in relative obscurity. Another 40 years were to pass before the next important occurrence affecting the town's progress took place but in the intervening period the tiny community established its roots and began to shape its character.


Miss O'Connor - first school principal of Zuurfontein school

Willem Kamp, principal of the old C.N.O. school in 1903 and his bride

One of the few well-documented sources of information about the town of Kempton Park in the earliest days was its school records. The first known official school in the area was a C.N.O. (Christelik Nasionale Onderwys) school, in an old coach house on the Zuurfontein farm of Jan Duvenhage. In 1903 Mr Willem Kamp of Cyferfontein was appointed headmaster. C.N.O. schools were established as a direct result of the Anglo-Boer war during which the children had been instructed only in English during their internment in the wartime concentration camps. As English remained the official educational language after the war the C.N.O. schools were founded as a natural protest. They were financed by churches, individuals and donations from Holland. The Zuurfontein C.N.O. school catered for some 30 children until 1906 when the school closed after the death of Willem Kamp.

At the same time, however, a government school had been established under the principal Miss O'Connor. The first record of its activity was in January 1904 when Miss O'Connor observed in the Zuurfontein government school's journal that the new school building had been opened by the inspector of schools for the Pretoria District.

Original building which housed the C.N.O. school at the Duvenhage farm

"During the afternoon prizes were distributed for higher marks at examinations, regular attendance, good conduct and punctuality."

A curiosity is that although the school building was erected on stand 159, Kempton Park prior to January 1904, it was only on September 7th 1904 that this land was expropriated for educational purposes. The building was of brick, containing 3 classrooms, with space for 75 children.

"Language is a great problem at Zuurfontein and every allowance must be made. There are English, Dutch, Russian, German and Italians" - wrote the school inspector on 2nd March 1906. Added to this was a continuous migration as family units came and went. Harvest time was sure to deplete the attendance while some children could expect a maximum education of two years before going to work.

The train service was a further source of frustration. The passenger timetable had not been instituted with the school in mind and the afternoon train arrived at Zuurfontein shortly after 13h00. School, however, closed at 13h30 which obliged the school principal to make a special arrangement with the stationmaster to permit school children to travel in the 14h30 goods train. This alternative was, unfortunately, only a part solution because two or three times a week the goods-train carried a consignment of dynamite and passengers were forbidden by regulation. Thus was born the oddity that on "dynamite days" the school closed early to enable children to catch the passenger train.

By 1908 the school's difficulties had increased and a quick turnover of 6 teachers in 6 months brought matters to a head. A private school was re-established on Jan Duvenhage's farm and dissatisfied parents enrolled their children there.

Then, on 14 April 1909, Mr. S. Schoeman was appointed headmaster of the government school, heralding a bright new era. Mr. Schoeman appears to have tackled his appointment with energy and zeal because under his leadership there were 30 pupils. By the end of the first week he could claim and attendance of 54. "Ek het maar skouer aan die wiel gesit en enkele namiddae per fiets die mense gaan besoek op die plase in die omgewing sover as Birchleigh en Kaalfontein." Here indeed was a man of stature, not deterred by distance or prejudice, who was prepared to cycle to the furthermost reaches of his area to win back pupils to his school. His work was not wasted for he enrolled nine brand new pupils in the first week.

By September of the same year the school attendance had increased to 71 pupils and the school now qualified for a third teacher.

This was an auspicious start - and it was only the beginning. Mr. Schoeman devoted his life to the school for a further 34 years during which time it went from strength to strength.



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