Apartheid experiences

By Annabel Smith, Head of Global Awareness

Last Thursday Lele Jones visited 6.1 historians to talk to them about her experience of growing up in South Africa under apartheid. It was an extraordinary privilege to hear first-hand about her family’s history in Sophiatown, and then, after their forced removal, in Soweto. Witness to both the outrages of daily life and such turning points as the uprising of Soweto school children in 1976 and the death of Steve Biko, Lele’s memories brought home the reality of a situation that’s often very hard for outsiders to understand.

Lele brought her pass with her for us to see – one of the hated passes that triggered the Sharpeville massacre and tyrannised the lives of millions of black South Africans. She also showed us her ‘Homelands’ travel document which was issued by the apartheid government in place of a South African passport, but this was not recognised by the international community, thus making foreign travel very difficult.

Perhaps the most important journey she ever made was to Botswana, to marry Bedales Maths teacher, Martin Jones. Because their marriage was illegal in South Africa, and different races were segregated into separate urban areas, they soon moved to England. Lele told of her panic on finding herself on the same bus as white people, forgetting momentarily that this was not illegal here. Because of stories such as this – powerfully bringing to life the words of the A level text books – and Lele’s quietly fierce appeal to never be bystanders in the face of injustice, we are already looking forward to her coming back to visit us again. Next time she is going to sing!

Click on the image below to read a news article published in The News, 1990:


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Bedales meets Swaziland


By Lindsey Lithgow, Teacher of Chemistry

Swaziland is currently suffering from a wide spread drought and the lack of availability of water in rural areas is having a major effect on the people who live there. Over October half term, 25 6.2s went to Swaziland to work with the rural Ngwenyameni School to install a water system which allows the school to access the more reliable underground supplies of water.

dsc_0079The school was introduced to us by SKRUM, a local charity that works in sport and HIV education in over 800 schools in Swaziland. Bedales students raised money over ten months before the trip and saw this money being used to provide a solar powered water pump. Alongside pupils from Ngwenyameni School, Bedales students dug out the trenches for the new pipes and improved the environment in which the children learn by painting the classrooms and upcycling over 80 desks which were found in storage in an unusable state.

The new water supply will aid in the teaching of agriculture at the school, and a new field was ploughed and fruit trees planted – which the school was very keen to have. The Bedalians on the trip also spent time playing with and getting to know the children at Ngwneyameni. On our final day at the school, all of the pupils and teachers gathered outside to watch the Ngwenyameni vs Bedales football match. It was an intense game, ending with a 3-1 victory to Ngwneyameni. Football is very popular at the school and we paid for some new sports equipment from the monies raised. It was a very busy ten days in which the 6.2s enjoyed time in the beautiful country of Swaziland and were able to see the difference the money they had raised will make to Ngwenyameni School.

Global Awareness Lecture held at Bedales


Bedales School’s annual Global Awareness Lecture was held last week and focused on the role of journalism in promoting in-depth engagement with global issues through innovative reporting and education.

Jon Sawyer, veteran foreign correspondent and director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington DC, US, spoke passionately to the audience of students and parents about falling standards and freedom of speech.

After decades in the field, reporting from around 60 countries, he founded the non-profit Pulitzer Center to support independent reporting from around the world and to work with schools

His work has been honoured by investigative reporters and editors, the Overseas Press Club, the Inter-American Press Association, and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Jon was selected three years in a row for the National Press Club’s prize for best foreign reporting.

Head of Global Awareness at Bedales, Annabel Smith said: “Before the lecture, Jon met with five groups of students of all ages and talked about a range of global issues from the Middle East to water rights, the upcoming US election and the future of journalism. He also spoke at length to a number of students with a special interest in print, video and photo-journalism and it was a real benefit for our students to have such one-to-one expert guidance.”

Annabel added: “Jon represents the very best traditions of reporting from the darkest corners of the world. He not only spent decades in the field, but through creating the Pulitzer Centre also ensured that a new global generation of journalists can continue this work.”

How a global adventure can refresh your school’s thinking – a case study on Bedales

Exchanges are a good way of understanding more about America too says Keith Budge, Headmaster of Bedales Schools in Hampshire. One of many international links is with The Putney School in Vermont, a progressive secondary boarding and day school on a 500-acre dairy farm. “Children benefit from being in an environment with colourful and interesting people,” he says. “One of the favourite words in New England is frugal, and Putney is warm, earthy and utterly authentic. If the duty team of students doesn’t get up and light the cooker, there will be no porridge. In our school, many students are entranced by the digital world and swept off in the supposed glamour of celebrity, but in this situation you have to make human contact with people who are very different: it’s very grounding.”

Bedales sends a student group for a 12-day visit to the school each year, and takes several Putney students for a term. The link helped further inspire the school’s outdoor work programme in the UK, including animal husbandry, blacksmithing and weaving. Michael Rice, 16, who went to exam-free Putney last year, is keen to add another idea at Bedales: “At the end of term, every person did any project they wanted, and was given a rating – and some of them have left school and started businesses already,” he says.

Todd Lengacher, director of intercultural programs at The Putney School, says Bedales pupils do seem surprised at their “apparent casual nature”, especially “spacious” days of three classes plus activities such as milking the cows. But such exchanges, he believes, are vital. “I often look at world leaders, in particular some of my country’s leaders, and have to believe that they would see the people from beyond our borders in a different – more empathetic – way if they had taken these kinds of exchange opportunities in high school. Our world is a better place for every interaction we push ourselves to have with people not ‘like’ us.”

By Senay Boztas

Freelance journalist Senay Boztas wrote this case study on Bedales whilst researching for an article on international partnerships, recently published in The Guardian


Visit from Barnaby Rogerson and Rose Baring

Recently, we were lucky enough to welcome leading travel writer and publisher Barnaby Rogerson and writer and co-owner of Eland Publishing, Rose Baring. They talked to a small group of Bedalians about travel writing and their experiences of travel.

A series of anecdotes, all highlighting certain aspects of travel, were related and Rose talked of the effects of losing her car keys in Morocco, and the adventure she was able to have as a consequence. She then spoke of her experiences in China, where she was forced to fully realise the distinction between her life and theirs, as she watched a group of men desperately capturing some goslings and their joy at the prospect of a simple thing such a food.

Barnaby made the succinct and evocative statement: ‘we are sitting on the iceberg of privilege’, and expressed the importance of remembering this as we go about our lives, and particularly as we travel. Moreover, they emphasised the importance of making genuine connections with people – the value of eye contact and a smile – as well as learning to just live in the moment and appreciate it for what it is, rather than attempting to capture it.

On the topic of photography and media, it was remarked that we are so often manipulated into being fed the same images over and over, and these images do not necessarily reflect the reality of the countries they are portraying. Their passion and care was contagious and the fondness of which they spoke of their memories was wonderful and filled everyone present with wanderlust.

By Godelieve De Bree, 6.1

What we can learn from Sophiatown


During Monday’s Assembly, I spoke about Sophiatown, an area of Johannesburg that by the 1930s had developed into a multi-ethnic community.

Through a mix of indigenous cultures and the influence of American jazz and cinema, Sophiatown became a hotbed of culture for three decades – music, journalism, literature, photography, theatre all flourished. Drum magazine, launched in the early 1950s and aimed at the Black urban population, was significant in encouraging these arts as well as documenting the injustices under apartheid. Musicians such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, composer and journalist Todd Matshikiza, writers, Can Themba and Es’kia Mphahlele, actor and short story writer Bloke Modisane all lived and worked in Sophiatown and were influenced by life there.

Es’kia Mphahlele and Bloke Modisane

Writer, Es’kia Mphahlele and writer / actor, Bloke Modisane

The ethnic mix of Sophiatown flew in the face of apartheid policies. In 1955, despite individual and mass protests, the authorities started the first forced removals, dismantling the township, relocating people to areas in and around Johannesburg – to areas designated by ethnicity. My wife’s family, parents and grandparents were part of this forced removal. Over the next few years, forced removals and the bulldozing of houses continued. Sophiatown was designated a ‘whites only’ area and renamed ‘Triomf’.

But the struggle against apartheid went on.  Although many artists had their work banned, through their influence, whether at home under the apartheid laws or overseas in exile, they shaped attitudes and worked for political change. In 1963 Miriam Makeba was invited to speak at the United Nations to explain how life was under apartheid. Subsequently banned from returning home, she continued to bring awareness about the situation in South Africa to audiences around the world through her performances.

Sophiatown - Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Over the next thirty and more years, international opinion and political conditions changed, domestic unrest increased and eventually the new democratic South Africa arrived. In the elections of 1994, Nelson Mandela was voted in as president and the principle of diversity was enshrined in the new constitution. Just as the rich cultural life of Sophiatown had an impact on shaping the new South Africa, so too the values we portray through art, photography, music, writing and drama – all accomplishments for which Bedales students are notable – can influence people and help bring about justice and change in the wider world.

By Martin Jones, Teacher of Maths

Jaw: challenging extremism

Dr. Usama Hasan, Senior Researcher in Islamic Studies at the Quilliam Foundation, the counter-extremism think tank, delivered the Bedales Jaw on Wednesday 3 February.

Usama talked about the goals and successes of the Foundation as well as his own personal history. Having grown up as Muslim in England, Usama explained how many people had treated him unfairly purely based on his devotion to his religion. Despite this, Usama graduated from top universities (London and Cambridge) and became a leading scientist gaining an MSc, MA and PhD in Theoretical Physics and Artificial Intelligence.

Usama talked openly about his past as one of the leaders of the Salafi Islamic movement; he and many of his men fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia during the 1990s. Returning to the UK, Usama published a series of essays and academic papers that address Islam, law, equality, scientific ethics and human rights as well as joining with the Quilliam Foundation to challenge extremism.

After the talk, a group of students joined Usama for dinner where discussion focussed on tackling Islamophobia through media, gender equality within religion and the rising tension between the Israelis and Palestinians. Overall, Usama broadened our knowledge on a variety of topics whilst managing to explain the different perspectives between extremist and pacifist Muslims.

By Athen Brady, Block 5