Headmaster’s Induction Assembly Speech – 16 April 2018

Good morning honoured guests, past Jeppe headmasters Mr David Quail, Mr Kevin Tait and Mr Anton Dempsey, members of the Gauteng Department of Education (Mr Mncube and Mrs Manchu), Governing Body Chairman, Mr Berger, and his fellow governing body members, Mr Katzen, the Chairman of the JBA, representatives of both Jeppe Prep and Jeppe Girls, Old Boys, family (including my wife and four children), friends of Jeppe, fellow educators and boys.

Knowing where to start my induction speech as headmaster, given that this is the first time, to my knowledge, in the school’s history that we have had a Headmaster’s Induction Assembly, has been a difficult one.

I needed a punchy, impactful and attention grabbing opening – something which would get the crowd excited, motivated and on my side from the beginning …….

24 – 21.

Thank you to Mr Spilhaus and the 1st XV for beating KES, away from home, on Saturday and giving me the crowd pleasing, attention grabbing, wildly popular opening to my speech that I had been searching for. I am tempted to resign as headmaster right now and to go out on a high !!

The reason for the assembly this morning is twofold – firstly, as per the pledge I have just read out and committed to, I wanted to acknowledge publically my responsibilities in leading this school. Secondly, I wanted to both thank and honour those who have gone before me – past headmasters, pupils, Old Boys and educators – and acknowledge those who have been a part of both my personal journey and that of this amazing school – whilst also articulating and charting a desired course for Jeppe under my leadership going forward.

Perhaps the best place to begin when delivering an induction speech is one’s own personal story – without it, the achievement rings hollow and lacks context.

Being named the 16th headmaster in the 128 year history of Jeppe High School for Boys, the oldest government school in Johannesburg, is indeed a huge honour and privilege for both me and my family.

In fact, one could almost call it the realisation of a lifelong ambition and a testimony to the power of a dream. My family’s history at Jeppe can be traced back to at least 1924 when my grandfather enrolled at Jeppe. Personally, I have been associated with Jeppe ever since I can remember – I spent many weekends watching my father playing sport at the Old Boys club, started playing hockey at Quondam at the age of 6 and watched a number of rugby matches at Jeppe even before entering Grade 8 in 1986 and going on to become head boy in 1990, the centenary year of the School.

My father, whom virtually everyone knows by now, was an orphan. He was adopted after being found alone and in a train station and Jeppe literally became his family – he would be a very proud man today.

Although I initially did not study towards becoming a teacher, Jeppe was never far from my mind and I remained actively involved in the Old Boys Association upon leaving school. Ever since the death of my father at the relatively young age of 48, I have harboured a strong desire to “Make a Difference” and to live a life of meaning, rather than just a life of “means” – my wife reminded me yesterday that when we initially met, although I was a C.A. and involved in business at the time, that I had said to her that “one day, my dream is to become a teacher at Jeppe” ……. At the time she thought …. “Aaahh, everyone says that but no-one has the courage to follow through with it” and thus determined that she’d be safe marrying a high earning C.A and would be able to live a life of leisure supported by my income ……  the past 11 years has certainly been a rude awakening for her!

It is amazing how one’s life path can change as a result of one or two seemingly innocuous meetings or events – I remember meeting Mr Tait in his office in 2004 and asking him to identify a pupil to whom my brother and I could allocate our inheritance from the death of my father in order to allow that one pupil to obtain an education at Jeppe. From that one boy (Kedem Goldschtein), and initial discussion, the Theo Jackson Scholarship Fund, which has supported over 140 boys to date, has grown to become an integral part of Jeppe, and my involvement in the school has grown with it. It is fitting that Thando Mjiyako, a recipient of a Theo Jackson Scholarship, read “The Principal” poem this morning and fitting too that Mr Tait, who first ignited my spark of re-interest in Jeppe is our Master of Ceremonies this morning.

Having the courage to follow through on my convictions to become a teacher was a long term process but speaking at the annual valediction in 2005, meeting with and being encouraged by Mr Dempsey and Rob Katzen, seeing the phenomenal dedication and quality of educators on the staff and experiencing the growth in the Theo Jackson Scholarship led me to offer to volunteer at the School for 3 months in 2009. This initial 3 months grew into two years and thanks to men like Fabio Matteucci, the SGB Chairman at the time, and in particular Mr Dempsey, I was eventually encouraged to embark on a full-time career in teaching in 2011 for which I am deeply and eternally grateful and appreciative.

I would like to play tribute to Mr Dempsey in particular whose selfless leadership style, lack of ego and genuine desire to empower those around him to succeed has, in no small part, allowed me to be in this position standing before you today. Apart from Mr Dempsey’s immense contribution to Jeppe in his 10 years as headmaster, I am personally also deeply indebted and grateful to him for all that I learnt under his leadership and the friendship which developed between us.

My story, therefore, is essentially a testament to the power of a dream, the importance of finding your purpose and the beauty that comes in giving back once you do.

Once I dedicated my career to education, and to Jeppe, the beauty, complexity and richness of the history of our school, a history which informs us and guides us to this day, began to reveal itself to me. It is this history on which the foundations of the future of our School will be built.

As John Webb, the well known Carte Blanche presenter, journalist and fellow Jeppe Old Boy from the Class of 1990 narrated in his highly popular Jeppe video produced a few years ago:

For more than a century our school, and these buildings, have stood, a proud and noble presence atop a hill on the outskirts of an ever changing city. Its imposing façade, hewn from stone, recalls a time long since past. Its corridors amplify the voices of the presence, yet echo those of the past. “In this place of 100 years of accumulated history, even silence speaks …. “

And it spoke loudly to me yesterday as I took a walk around our campus on an Autumn Sunday afternoon as the sun set and the shadows lengthened.

It spoke to me of the 15 headmasters who have gone before me – in the past 100 years there have been only 9 of them – Payne, Manduell, Childe, Grant, Beckwith, Hofmeyer, Quail, Tait and Dempsey. The corridors spoke to me of the sacrifices they made, their hard work, leadership and courage and the immense responsibility that rests with me as I stand now on the shoulders of these giants.

The honours boards spoke of the great staff in the past – men and woman who dedicated their lives to this school and the education of our boys. Jones, Silburn, Ledwaba, Candy, Dashwood, Boden, Collard, von Lingsingen, Hanky, Thomas, Brodrick, Senekal, Grace (x2), Wallendorf and Rattray.

The photos spoke to me, particularly as I looked through past magazines, the Centenary History of the School and the 125th Year Anniversary book, of the pupils of the past – of Herbert Cecil Pugh, whose citation stands in the foyer of this very hall and who was the only chaplain ever awarded the Georges Cross for bravery when he chose to descend into the bowels of a sinking ship to minister to his men…… of Cuckoo Melville, who played 1st team soccer and cricket from the age of 12 and 13 respectively, of LBB Betts who ran in the Olympics games whilst still a schoolboy, of Alisdair Stuart who won both the national Maths and Sciences Olympiads (a feat never again achieved)… of Jake White who won the Rugby World Cup and Darryl Impey, the first African rider to wear yellow in the Tour de France.

The mystique of this school spoke to me of all the thousands of pupils and educators who have walked these halls over the past 128 years – of their achievements, their dreams, their hopes and their fears – and the huge responsibility I and my fellow educators have towards pupils of the present and those of the future.

As I looked upon the faces of educators and boys in photos taken over a 100 years ago in corridors that I had walked, stairs on which I’d stood, fields on which I’d played and halls, offices and classrooms in which I’d sat, the immense privilege of leading an organisation which is the oldest of its kind in our city, and which has been a beacon of light throughout the turbulent growth of our country, sunk in.

The weight of history is a responsibility which I carry with pride as we look to “create a future worthy of our past”

And so to the future …… for what is history if one of its most profound lessons eludes us. What have we learnt from the passages of time if not that change is inevitable and, having acknowledged that, how do we as the custodians of history, yet the products of change, pay tribute to what has gone before. Perhaps in recognising that to best honour yesterday, the focus must surely be tomorrow.

Every school, and each headmaster, faces challenges during their time – from wars such as the Anglo Boer War and the 1st and 2nd World Wars and the impact thereof on staff and pupils, to co-educational education at Jeppe from 1902 to 1918, to the construction of these beautiful buildings out of a rough veld over a century ago, to the Great Depression, to the challenges of an apartheid regime and the successful negotiation of a transition to democracy.

Every school, every society, every headmaster faces challenges.

We live in interesting times, with the world changing at an ever increasing rate and education in general, and in South Africa particularly, struggling to keep pace with these demands.

As many in the Jeppe community know, I believe Academic Improvement, and changing the academic culture at Jeppe, is vital if we are to remain at the forefront of public, monastic education in South Africa. Academic performance and a focus thereon should be the “core” of any school. It is important that we strive to prepare our boys for the fast changing, global 21st century society and the different skills necessary to thrive and survive therein and that we continue to evolve and develop teaching methods and embrace new technology.

Education and schooling are industries ripe for “disruption”. In the same way that Uber, AirBnB and low cost airlines changed their industries, so too will education be forever changed in the next generation and recognising this risk, adjusting our methodology of teaching and successfully predicting the future direction education will take are key to Jeppe’s long term sustainability.

Sustainable transformation, of both learners and staff, is not only morally right, it is also a strategic imperative. Very few public boys’ schools, or sectors of society, in South Africa have sustainably transformed and if Jeppe is able to successfully negotiate this challenge in the coming years, the benefits thereof would place us at the forefront of public boys’ school education for the next generation.

One of Jeppe’s greatest educational strengths is the rich racial, socio-economic, cultural and religious diversity to which our boys are already exposed. If we are able to win the hearts and minds of the expanding middle class whilst transforming our staffroom through the internship programme and intentional, strategic recruitment of previously disadvantaged staff, this gift of diversity will be further enhanced.

Transformation is a sensitive and emotive topic and a huge challenge, not only for our school but also for our country. Just as previous headmasters faced challenges which, at the time must have seen insurmountable and daunting, so too must we confront the challenge of sustainable transformation so that Jeppe can become a true home for all:

Umlando osazobhawa gesikole iJeppe kuzomele nakanjani ungabashi abafundi abafana noMaseko, oNdimande noMolefe. Akumele sikhulume ngoBosman, oImpey, oCooper noWhite kuphela. Bonke abafundi bakuzozonke izinhlanga, izinkolo namasiko kumele bazi ukuthi iJeppe ikhayalabo, futhi banelungelo lokuvela ezindabeni zakuleli khaya.

Kumele sithole izindlela zokuhlonipha amasiko nemikhuba yamaZulu namaXhosa njengoba sihlonipha amaNgisi namaBhunu. Phelaleli-lizwe nalesis-kole, kwa-khelwe phezu komQebo wezinhlanga zonke. Lomthombo siphuza gu ukuze sikhule si-sizwe esibumbene.

[English Translation: “The yet to be written future history of Jeppe needs to rich with the stories of Maseko’s, Ndimande’s and Molefe’s and not just of Bosman’s, Impey’s, Cooper’s and Whites. Each boy, of every culture, religion, race and tribe needs to know that Jeppe is his home, and that our story is his story. We need to find ways to honour the heritage and traditions of the Zulus and the Xhosa’s as much as we honour that of the British and Afrikaans for it is on the shoulders of all of these nations and cultures that our great school is built and only by embracing the richness which they ALL offer will we will continue to grow stronger and get better”]

We need the support of Old Boys and members of the Jeppe community, represented here by the men and ladies sitting in front of me this morning if I, and the School, are going to continue creating a future worthy of our past.

Every successful educational institution, both nationally and internationally, from the University of the Witwatersrand to St Johns, from Oxford to Harvard, are underpinned by the emotional, intellectual and financial support of their alumni and greater community.

Without financial stability, educational excellence cannot flourish. Jeppe is now a multi-million annual “business” and the skills, tasks and responsibilities of the headmaster are, in many ways, more closely aligned to a CEO than an educator.

Whilst macroeconomic forces in the economy are a factor and cannot be controlled, we are able to influence financial performance by appreciating the key levers affecting both income and expenses in a public school environment and maximising third party revenues from donations, the corporate and, critically, the old boy community.

There has never been a more crucial and more opportune time for Old Boys and members of the Jeppe family to support our School – hopefully this invitation will be gratefully accepted.

It is not the absence of challenge and hardship, but the ability to successfully negotiate such challenges when they inevitably arise, that sets the successful schools and headmasters apart and ensures their continued survival and advancement.

Jeppe High School for Boys has always been a remarkable school – This is a special place, with special people – it always has been. From its humble beginnings with 26 young boys in 1890, it has continued to shape, shift, mould and influence the young men of our City and our Country – perhaps (as the book, “Historic Schools of South Africa” states) more than any other Johannesburg school, it reflects the history and changing character of the city.

It is a school that has changed lives, from as far back as Justice Leslie Blackwell, our first judge and one of Jeppe’s first pupils who was enrolled as far back as 1897 and who wrote:

I shall always feel a deep debt of gratitude to the community of Jeppe High School for Boys. The time I spent at the School was the turning point in my career, and in my life”

I pledge to continue to positively impact and change lives whilst headmaster of this School, and in so doing, I know that it will continue to impact and change mine.




St Michael’s College

1              Rev Henry Sidwell 1890-91

2              Rev George Perry 1892-1895

3              Mr J Rossouw – 1896

Jeppestown Grammer School

4              Mr JH Hardwick 1897-98

5              Mr A Muller 1899 till close of school for the war

Jeppestown High School for Boys and Girls and Preparatory Dept.

5              Mr C Hope 1902 – 1905

6              Mr JHA Payne 1905 – 1917

Jeppe High School for Boys

7              Mr M Manduell 1919 to 1936

8              Mr A. Childe 1937 – 1943

9              Mr AJ Grant 1943 – 1962

10           Mr HN Beckwith 1963 – 1966

11           Mr H Hofmeyer 1967 – 1978

12           Mr David Quail 1978 – 1997

13           Mr Kevin Tait 1997 – 2007

14           Mr A Dempsey 2007 – 20017

15           Mr DJ Jackson 2018 –