Tonteldoos farm had no schools in the 1960s. It was only in the 1970s, when a white samaritan family, the O’Gradys, who were considerate of the black children who sat at home and did nothing, made a plan. They offered their farm to the Department of Education to build a school. In the late 1970s, two classrooms were built and named Houtenbek Primary School. It opened in 1978 as the only school in Tonteldoos, with only three educators, including the principal. All children who were born before the 1970s, including my parents, did not attend school. They became helpers on farms or in the Gauteng Province. 

Even those who attended the Primary School dropped out of school and joined others in Gauteng to hustle.  

In 1992 when I started with my primary school, Houtenbek still had lack of resources but it was much better. However, a lot of learners still dropped out of school after completing Standard 5 (Grade 7) and became helpers because there was no Secondary School in the area. In 1997, the Department of Education built a secondary school named Tonteldoos Secondary School. The building was completed in 1998, when I was in Grade 7, meaning we would be the first learners at the new school. The excitement on Tonteldoos farm was overwhelming. 

Tonteldoos Secondary consisted of only three classrooms, built next to what used to be the Post Office. Tonteldoos’ Post Office closed before I was a teenager and the building was never occupied again. In 1999, Standard 6 (Grade 8) and Standard 7 (Grade 9) started with three teachers, including the principal. As the years progressed more Grades were added but teachers and the building remained the same. In 2002 Tonteldoos Secondary School had a Grade 12 class for the first time. I was in grade 11. When the first matric results came out in December that year, our school was in the newspaper with a 0% pass rate. Even though the lack of resources was a huge disadvantage, the background of Tonteldoos area and education had a negative impact. Learners still dropped out of school before completing Grade 12 and became helpers. Education was not important in the area. In 2003, we were the second batch of matriculants. We were all demotivated, however, we became the first Grade 12 class to pass. We changed Tonteldoos Secondary School’s status from bad to good. In January 2003, we started as 23 learners but, by November, only 18 learners were left. Only six passed matric. I was there. The rest gave up on education. 

I always ask myself whether my parents would be helpers had Tonteldoos have schools in their times, or whether my peers would be helpers today had they be born in areas where education was prioritized. As they always say, “it’s the survival of the fittest”.

NM Mahlangu