National heritage site in ruins

A national heritage site lies ravaged. The Transvaal Bantu Normal College, which counts Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Pan Africanist Congress president Stanley Mogoba among its first students, is in ruins. Pipes have been stolen and historic rondavels have been pillaged.

Community forum and Mamelodi historians Masito Wa Mamelodi have tried to keep them in a decent state, but without government help it has proven impossible.

Its once beautiful garden is overgrown and wild.

“All the people who attended this institution became people of significance in South African politics,” said Aubrey Mogase, chairperson of Masito Wa Mamelodi, adding that they also included Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone and writer Doc Bikitsha. The college was the precursor to the University of Limpopo.

Today, you will see condoms and cigarette butts on the floor inside the ruined structures, and the old toilets and baths have been stolen. The basins were ripped from the walls, and water gushes from where they once stood. Now local nyaope addicts are working on unearthing the electric cables to feed their addictions, according to the organisation’s Thabiso Makgobothe.

“They stole the gate and the geyser. They do these things under cover of darkness,” he said.

The area does have security at night, in the form of a group of local women armed with nothing more than cellphones and concern for the site.

The Tshwane Metro is responsible for this property that is poorly fenced and urine-soaked.

“We have tried so many times to communicate our worries to the council, but nothing,” said Mogase.

City Press called the Tshwane mayor’s office earlier this week, after which we were put through to the metro police. An officer on duty promised to attend to the matter, saying: “We will send some of our people there to evaluate the situation and take it from there.”

Mogase said: “Nobody came here at all. There were two councillors here last week making promises to help, including mayoral committee member for health Sakkie du Plooy, who haven’t been heard from since.”

Approached for comment, Du Plooy said: “We were pleasantly surprised. It is bad, but not too far gone. If the community would stop breaking things down, we see major potential. The chairperson (of Masito Wa Mamelodi) expressed interest in displaying pictures and documents around the historical significance of that place.”

Du Plooy said the metro would work with the University of Pretoria to restore the buildings, and is also working on plans to provide drug rehabilitation to residents in the area.

The rondavels were built in the 1940s as part of the Pretoria City Council’s move to find suitable housing for the “natives” of Vlakfontein, which is now Mamelodi. The rondavels were built but they were rejected by the local community. The municipality then donated the facility to the Transvaal Education Department, and the buildings were converted into the Transvaal Bantu Normal College in 1947.

“One of the most important figures linked to this place is Cuthbert Motsepe, who is the uncle of [mining magnate] Patrice [Motsepe]. He was a history teacher here and he did his best to make every student aware and conscious of their situation,” said Mokone.

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