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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Education as an Opportunity to Break Out of the Poverty Trap

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 164-165, Note the Copyright!)

The great events leading to the 1994 election of President Nelson Mandela and the first democratic government of South Africa have brought about some significant changes to the 40 million people living there. However, the stark socio-economic realities have remained much the same for over 50% of the population: they still live in poverty, with little hope of improvement in their living conditions. And many of those who are above the poverty line, who have work and are therefore better off, still live in endless rows of small houses in soul-destroying environments, the so-called townships where the government of apartheid segregated black and coloured people. This is where Waldorf Education is seeking to bring change to both poverty-stricken and better-off communities.

Early beginnings in Cape Town and Johannesburg

The work among the various groups of the population has only been possible because Waldorf Education and anthroposophy found their roots and established themselves in South Africa over very many years. The idea to bring Waldorf Education to South Africa started with the visit of Dr Zeylmans van Emmichoven (1893-1961) in 1954. The first kindergartens started in Cape Town in 1959 and in Johannesburg in 1960. Primary school classes were soon added. By 1962 two schools in Cape Town - the Constantia Waldorf School and the Michael Oak Waldorf School - and one in Johannesburg - the Michael Mount Waldorf School - had established themselves through the efforts of parents and teachers. These schools today are flourishing centres of learning from kindergarten to the upper school.

The Federation of Waldorf Schools in Southern Africa was founded in 1979 to co-ordinate the activities and build mutual support between the existing schools.

Integration begins

During the 1980s the apartheid government began to allow non-state schools to admit children from black, Indian and coloured communities, first by application of each individual child, later by a quota of 20%. Although still very restrictive, at least it became possible to reach over the racial divide and build relationships with other communities.

In 1985, two experienced teachers from Holland, Claartje Wijnbergh and Truus Geraerts, began to work in Alexandria, a poverty-stricken slum in Johannesburg.

Training for teachers in township schools

The Centre for the Art of Living was established in 1987 to train teachers and set up Waldorf Schools within urban and rural black communities. Out of their efforts the Inkanyezi Waldorf School in Alexandra, Johannesburg, Sikhulise Waldorf School in Soweto and the Lesedi Waldorf School in rural Madietane, Northern Province, were established. Through the work of Carol Liknaitsky many kindergarten teachers both in urban and rural areas were trained and supported.

Since then the Baobab Community College in Alexandra has provided training and personal development for a new generation of young black teachers in schools and kindergartens.

In the early 1990s Pauline Scott from the Baobab Community College moved to Cape Town to help Waldorf Education take root in the townships. The Noxolo Kindergarten (“noxolo” meaning “peace” in Xhosa) was established in Nonkululeko Hahlasela’s back garden.

Towards the end of the 1980s the Novalis Institute started foundation courses in Cape Town. The beginnings of the Stellenbosch and McGregor Waldorf Schools near Cape Town were made during this time. The Novalis Institute also started Waldorf teacher enrichment programmes in black schools in the poor areas around Cape Town. For years they improved the lives of children in these schools, developing a more holistic and creative approach to teaching. The Institute supported several black community schools, in particular the Bongolethu School in Philippi. This work was crowned with a visit by President Nelson Mandela.

In 1993 the Centre for Creative Education was founded in Cape Town as the official Waldorf teacher training centre in South Africa. It has grown over the past 8 years to a large training organization with an enrolment of 250 Waldorf teacher trainees annually. It has received preliminary accreditation from the South African government, and is in the process of establishing full accreditation. Special projects to develop Waldorf Schools in the black communities were undertaken from the start.

Currently two large kindergartens are in operation, Noluthando Educare in Khayelitsha started by Mavis Mbaba, and Khululeka Educare in Philippi started by Nombulelo Majezi. In 1998 President Nelson Mandela visited the Philippi Project, of which Khululeka is an integral part. The work of these kindergartens is leading on to two primary schools, in the Khayelitsha Waldorf School and the small Philippi Waldorf School.

In the year 2000, supported by the Friends of Waldorf Education and others, the Centre for Creative Education started a large project for kindergarten teachers in rural Eastern Cape training 130 women who care for children in these poverty-stricken areas.

Waldorf Kindergartens in Khayelitsha: Baphumelele and Nompumelele

The large Waldorf Kindergarten Baphumelele was founded by Rosalia Mashale in 1985 and the Nompumelele Kindergarten by Phumzana Duna in 1987. The Baphumelele Kindergarten has 265 children and has opened a further group for children with special needs.

An education movement in the making

The Waldorf Schools in South Africa have seen a tremendous expansion, especially over the last 10 years. Since they receive no financial support from the state they struggle to keep going. This applies particularly to the schools serving the poorest sectors of society.


Peter van Alphen
Studied Waldorf Education at Emerson College, GB. Since 1993 establishing the Centre for Creative Education. Chairman of the Federation of Waldorf Schools in Southern Africa.

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