Teaching used to be one of the most respected and dignified professions but these days it seems to be a thankless job where teachers fear for their lives in the classroom and battle to discipline pupils.
But on Friday October 5, various organisations held festivities to honour teachers during International Teachers’ Day and the Gugulethu 60th anniversary celebrations organising team took the opportunity to honour one of the community’s stalwarts, Robert Qengwa.
Mr Qengwa was among the first group of people who moved into Gugulethu when it was established.
The area was first called Nyanga West.
Mr Qengwa’s former pupils, relatives and friends all gathered at his home in NY1 to reminisce about the life lessons they had learned from him and to relate how much he meant to them.
They attributed their success and everything they had achieved in their lives to Mr Qengwa’s teachings and guidance.
There were tears of joy and excitement as each former pupil recalled their memories of his teaching days.
Mr Qengwa started teaching in 1958, the same year that Gugulethu township came into existence.
The 86-year-old father of four started teaching in Retreat Community School before he moved to Gugulethu in 1961 due to apartheid’s evictions.
He was among the first teachers that started the Vuyani Primary school in 1961. He said he worked as a teacher at the school for 35 years and was eventually promoted to principal before he retired in 1996.
Mr Qengwa said during the apartheid days there were four professions available to black people: teaching, nursing, joining the police force and becoming a pastor.
He said he chose teaching because he was passionate about changing and shaping the lives of black people.
He said teaching afforded him an opportunity to serve his community and be among the people who were making a difference.
Mr Qengwa said in the old days teachers were among the most respected people in the community. They conducted themselves in a disciplined manner and dressed smartly.
He said there were teachers who would consume alcohol, but they would never be seen in public drunk.
However, he said these days teachers were drinking alcohol with pupils and some were dating the pupils.
“Teachers must respect their profession. I call on parents to play their part in disciplining their children. My teaching motto was spare the rod and spoil the child. But I only punished a child when he or she has done something wrong and didn’t kill the child. I believe that teachers’ children should attend the same school where they teach. All my children attended Vuyani. Why are you sending your children to schools in town? That means you are not providing the right education to these children that you are teaching.”
Mr Qengwa said all four of his children had attained tertiary education and were all qualified teachers even though they had chosen different careers.
His second born son, Papama Qengwa said he has learnt a lot from his father. He said his father has been the pillar of strength for the entire family.
He said he studied teaching but now works as an inspector for correctional services.
He attributed his leadership abilities to his father.
Committee member of the Gugulethu 60th anniversary celebrations organising team, Phumzile Nteyi, said as a former pupil of Vuyani himself he felt that it was important to honour Mr Qengwa.
He said Mr Qengwa has made an indelible mark on their lives and it was important that they honoured him while he was still alive.