30 September 2011

Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

I suppose I've reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I'm nevertheless saddened by his passing.

He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.

I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association

It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.

Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 - 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys' College was named the Krige Block in his honour.

Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys' High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.

Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.

Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us - the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.

He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and '80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John's.

Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn's widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys' College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.

His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry

David Knowles
Headmaster: Boys' College

Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences
He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn't his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn't happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster's flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays -- in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn't say as for what it did say.

It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I'm glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it's good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.

The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian's was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.

When I heard of Steyn's death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo's Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:
In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school's Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It 'fobbed off' concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently 'donated' Woodmead's Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn't understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?

An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo's dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.

The Woodmead article goes on to say

When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school's shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.

When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of "Integrated Studies", but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that's where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.

Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.

Steyn Krige's theology was Conservative Evangelical.

St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic "hot gospel" sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an "altar call", and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal "Scripture" classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the "rapture", though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.

So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I'm sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.

And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I'm guessing now -- that's why it would be good to know the real story.

I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can't imagine it.


Arthur Morgan said...

I can explain some of what went on relative to St Stithian's, which I attended 1960-1966. The trouble arose with a school play written by senior boys under their English teacher, David Brindley. It dealt with drugs and heroin addiction, a taboo subject. The school board (as you say, composed of reactionary businessmen like Bradley), demanded that Brindley not mention 'controversial subjects' in class. He said, 'This term I'm teaching Hamlet. Do you expect me not to mention adultery?' Krige supported him and both were fired. Then most of the senior school's best teachers resigned in sympathy. I was told this by several of them.

Arthur Morgan
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, USA

Peter Panther said...

I was among the pupils who left St Stithians in protest when Steyn Krige was fired, and among the pupil founders of Woodmead when he opened it.

My recollection is that David Brindley was first fired by the board at the end of the 1969 school year because as the publisher of the literary magazine written by the boys every term, he had included a piece in which a Std 9 boy agonized over discovering that he was gay.

Krige indeed got the boot because he wanted to keep Brindley, the most inspiring teacher ever to walk the planet. But there was more: this was 1969 in South Africa. A fascist government was in place, and the St Stithians board did not want liberal heads above the parapet. Besides, they had decided that the time had come not to be an alternative model to St Johns, but a competitor.

Wood emad went much further in its liberal approach for two reasons: Krige was a man who was prepared to debate and stretch: and we as the senior pupils made him do so daily. The idea of the students council replacing prefects for the first time in a South African School was ours, he accepted it after debate and discussion. The idea to get rid of school uniforms was ours - reluctantly, and piece by piece, he accepted it. And so on.

He was a good man, and a courageous man in dark times in South Africa.

And St Stithians, in naming a block after him but not giving the context in the notification of his passing is as cowardly as ever. Pity.

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks very much Arthur Morgan and Peter Panther. You've gone a long way to solving a mystery that puzzled me for more than 40 years, and made me wish even more that someone would write a biography of Steyn Krige.

Roy said...

There were also other reasons for his lack of popularity with the school governers - he several times invited leading black South Africans - I recall a black doctor - to come and address us during school assemblies. Some teachers were annoyed by this, as were some governers, and added to the incident already mentioned about the school play etc. he was more nd more seen as unsuitable.

David Dyzenhaus said...

I was in the first Standard Six class at Woodmead and the school changed my life for the better. Woodmead would have been a radical educational experiment in any liberal democracy--in South Africa, it was an amazing anomaly and it took Steyn Krige to put the idea into practice. I was deeply saddened last year by the news of his death.

There are two issues that I think need to be taken into account in trying to fill out the picture.

First, without Roger Petty, who came with Krige from St Stithians, the idea would never have got off the ground. Krige was a visionary but Petty knew how to make an idea work.

Second, and in regard to the issue whether Krige should be regarded as a leftwing radical or as a rightwing religious sort, it is important to keep the following in mind. Brindley resigned from Woodmead dramatically during my standard eight (I think) school year. He did so because Krige would not allow him to mount a play that our class had written because, under Brindley's close direction, the script was an argument for atheism. Krige insisted on inserting lengthy passages into the script to present the case for theism. I had a large part in writing some of that script and a part in the play. I was actually grateful that it never was performed as it was really bad. But it was ironic, as Brindley hammered home, that he left Woodmead over the kind of issue that has sparked his departure, along with Krige and Petty, from St Stithians.

In hindsight, it is clear to me that Brindley meant the play as a deliberate provocation to Krige and that he had no compunctions about enlisting a class of 14 or 15 year olds in his political campaign, nor about leaving us in the lurch by resigning mid year.

But I think it is important to keep in mind that the Christianity in which Krige found the spiritual strength to make a stand against both apartheid and the colonialist mentality of the imitation Etons like St Stithians also led to a somewhat authoritarian blind spot in the man when it came to religion.

David Dyzenhaus


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