Mmegi Online :: Van Rensburg: Southern African educator, social activist
Banners
Banners
Banners
Banners
Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 13:42 pm.
Banners
Van Rensburg: Southern African educator, social activist

Born in Durban, South Africa on the December 3, 1931, Patrick van Rensburg, spent much of his childhood in Pietermaritzburg in the care of his grandmother, Susanna Marie Lagesse, whom he adored.
By Tom Holzinger Fri 23 Jun 2017, 11:24 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Van Rensburg: Southern African educator, social activist








His biological parents never married and his mother left the country soon after his birth.  He was brought up a Catholic and enthusiastically attended mass every Sunday during his youth.  The home language was a mixture of English, French, Afrikaans, and Zulu, all of which van Rensburg spoke fluently.

Although he chose work over college at age 17, van Rensburg soon threw himself into correspondence courses and earned a BA (English) from the University of South Africa (UNISA).  As he remarked later, his youthful experiences closely reflected the deep divisions in South Africa as a whole.

The anti-apartheid years

At age 21, van Rensburg joined the Department of External Affairs; in February 1956 he was appointed vice-consul to the then Belgian Congo.  Fellow diplomats introduced him to Western humanism and non-racial ideals, even while his own government enacted apartheid.  He resigned his post 15 months later and returned to South Africa.

After several months’ reflection, van Rensburg entered politics and began to organise for the more progressive Liberal Party.

He soon displayed leadership beyond his years. Notably, he was arrested several times for arranging political meetings among non-white South Africans.

In 1959 he travelled to Britain, met an old friend and ANC comrade, Tennyson Makiwane, and unexpectedly helped launch the Boycott Movement against his country’s racial policies. The South African establishment condemned him fiercely. When van Rensburg returned to South Africa in March 1960 — one week after the Sharpeville shootings — his passport was confiscated. Within days he was forced to flee to Swaziland, then under British protection.

After some anxious months, van Rensburg and other SA refugees were flown to Serowe, Bechuanaland, where they spoke with Seretse Khama, before going on to Ghana and London. In the UK he received a British passport and met his fiancée, Elizabeth Griffin (1938– ). Early in 1962 he published Guilty Land: The History of Apartheid, which made a strong impression on Western audiences.

Early days in Serowe

Shortly thereafter, van Rensburg and Griffin left for Bechuanaland and settled in Serowe.  On June 29, they married.  They rented a small house from the Mataboge family — previous immigrants from South Africa — and volunteered as tutors at the Simon Ratshosa primary school.

Late in 1962 they received permission to build a secondary school on Serowe’s eastern edge and in February 1963 they opened Swaneng Hill Secondary School to its first students. The school soon became widely known for its policies of non-racialism, self-help, community service, voluntary student labour. Its curriculum included practical subjects as well as Development Studies and the school soon became a model of progressive education throughout the region.

In collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Education, van Rensburg planned and raised money for similar secondary schools in Tonota (Shashe River School) and Mahalapye (Madiba Secondary School).  Other public and private schools also went on to encourage, to some degree, voluntary service and manual labour.

Another early initiative was the Swaneng Consumers’ Co‑operative, co-founded with the late Mothusi Seretse.  The co-op enjoyed great success for many years, with activities that included the construction of the famed Tshwaragano Hotel.  Together with Joel Pelotona, he also founded a self-help cooperative, Boiteko, and encouraged others to do the same.

Promoting rural development

Van Rensburg recognised the positive implications for economic development, especially rural development.

In 1965 van Rensburg pioneered a distinctive form of vocational training: on-the-job education with active production.  These units were called brigades, and they soon included building, farming, textile work, tanning, mechanics, and more.

He solicited funds and volunteers from overseas to launch and run them, adding to their novelty and effectiveness.  Other settlements soon followed this example, creating three dozen locally controlled brigade centres throughout newly independent Botswana. For various reasons, the Ministry of Education eventually closed down the community trusts that ran the brigade centers in 2009.

A prolific writer, van Rensburg chronicled his evolving thinking in several influential volumes: Education and Development in an Emerging Country (1967), Report from Swaneng Hill: Education and Employment in an African Country (1974), and The Serowe Brigades: Alternative Education in Botswana (1978). During these years as well, Liz van Rensburg gave birth to two sons, Thomas Masego (1963– ) and Mothusi Joe (1966– ).  In 1973, by a directive

Banners

from Sir Seretse Khama, the family were made citizens of Botswana.

As the decade progressed, van Rensburg became increasingly disillusioned with mainstream education and chose to promote less expensive, self-help-based forms of education. Crucially, he forged professional and personal alliances with international aid donors (especially in Scandinavia) and with other pioneers of education-for-development.

Further collaborations with the Botswana Government did not go well.  He was asked to be Vice-Chairman of the Rural Development Commission to promote village-level growth. He later resigned in protest over the direction the Government was taking,  angering the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

Making a mark on the international stage

In 1980, with backing from the Swedish government, van Rensburg launched the Foundation for Education with Production (FEP) to spread his vision internationally. Several FEP projects were initiated in newly independent Zimbabwe. The Foundation published a respected educational Journal from 1982 to 1996. (In 1998 it was absorbed into the Southern African Review of Education with EWP, a collaboration that continued until 2004).

In 1981 Patrick van Rensburg received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award from the RLA Foundation in Stockholm, a great international honour.  From contacts made there, he was able to introduce the practice of permaculture to Botswana.  A community trust in Serowe continues to promote it.

At this time also he met his second companion, Rosemary Forbes (1950– ), with whom he fathered a daughter, Joanna Boitumelo (1986).

In 1984, together with Methaetsile Leepile, van Rensburg re-launched a weekly national newspaper, Mmegi wa Dikgang (which he had initially established in Swaneng as a community newspaper in 1969).  After struggling for several years, Mmegi eventually became a susutainable publication under the leadership of Titus Mbuya.  Leepile went on to lead the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Namibia.  These two organisations have played a profound role in Botswana’s recent history.

By the mid-1980s van Rensburg had become a key resource person for the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Sweden.  He helped organise many international seminars for them. His thinking reflected both the Foundation’s advocacy of a ‘third way’ of development and his own commitment to socialism from the ground up. He read eclectically, from Mao Zedong to Paolo Freire

After the capitulation of apartheid in 1990, van Rensburg returned quietly to South Africa and initiated some modest urban and rural projects, most of them in Johannesburg. He lectured on Education with Production and briefly hoped that it might be included in the great post-apartheid school reforms. In 1991 he became the first honorary member of the Southern African Comparative and History of Education Society, a professional body that continues to promote his work. 

Legacy of a visionary

Van Rensburg consistently rejected globalisation theory — especially its reliance on foreign investment — in favour of domestic capital accumulation and local control.  Ultimately, however, the post-independence elites of Southern Africa opted for private investor-driven development. He took this disappointment in a near-personal way, leading to some years of private bitterness.

Van Rensburg continued to work in both countries for a number of years, but in 2003 he moved back permanently to Botswana where he pursued a low-key life in Gaborone, and contributed to Mmegi .  He wished to re-publish Making Education Work and to finish his autobiography, but neither of these project came to fruition.  Ten years later, suffering from dementia, he moved from Gaborone to Serowe to be in the care of his son, Mothusi. It was a return to the home that he had built for his family more than 40 years before.  Patrick van Rensburg died peacefully at his home on May 23, 2017.

During van Rensburg’s years in Botswana, the country underwent spectacular changes.  His most important legacy is the network of voluntary community trusts that built upon his approach. Uniquely widespread in Botswana, these trusts work for local community development and improvement.

Beginning with the Serowe Youth Development Association in the mid-1960s, such a model was decisively set in motion by van Rensburg’s energy, commitment, and example.

 

* The above obituary is based on ‘van Rensburg, Patrick’.  Oxford Dictionary of African Biography.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.  Volume 6, pages 113-114, with additional information from Joel Pelotona, Otsogile Pitso, Rosemary Forbes and Sheldon Weeks.

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Banners
Banners
Banners


Features
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 15:19 pm
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 15:06 pm
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 15:05 pm
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 14:58 pm
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 14:57 pm
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 11:24 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:45 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am
Fri 16 Jun 2017, 17:12 pm
Fri 16 Jun 2017, 17:08 pm
Thu 15 Jun 2017, 15:58 pm
Tue 13 Jun 2017, 15:34 pm
Fri 09 Jun 2017, 16:45 pm
Fri 09 Jun 2017, 16:21 pm
Fri 09 Jun 2017, 16:15 pm
Fri 02 Jun 2017, 15:47 pm
Fri 02 Jun 2017, 15:41 pm
Banners
Banners
Subscribe to our Newsletter
have a story? Send us a Tip
Banners
  • Previous
    Next
    Masa Centre
    ::: Sunday 18 Nov - Sunday 18 Nov :::
  • Previous
    Next
    Riverwalk
    ::: Sunday 18 Nov - Sunday 18 Nov :::
  • Previous
    Next
    Gamecity
    ::: Sunday 18 Nov - Sunday 18 Nov :::
Selefu
Tla gae! Ke sharpo.
Banners
Banners
istanbul escort