More than 60 years ago Dr Paul Clüver’s mother, Gertrude, established a farm school on De Rust, the family farm in the Elgin Valley. With only 23 learners. A small first step is key to a great journey, Gerrit Rautenbach discovered.
Being the custodians of a fourth-generation 120-year-old agricultural business makes the Clüver family also the custodians of future generations. They empower people to choose their own futures. Yet, to be able to choose, people need to be armed with the ability to do so. And the only way to achieve this is through education.
The early years
“My mother, Gertrude, grew up in Saron, a mission station near Tulbagh. She realised from an early age how important education was and that there were often no schools for the farm kids,” Dr Paul Clüver opened the story.
That served as ample motivation for her to use her savings and establish a farm school on De Rust with only 23 learners at first, but it was the cornerstone of a monument.
“She convinced 11 surrounding farms to get on board,” said Karin Clüver daughter of Paul and production manager on De Rust Estate. “Grandma was a real lady, stately, proud, but very hardworking with a great passion for her people. And to educate them. She has, for instance, mentored Mr Carelse, the second principal, helping him to obtain his BA degree,” Karin added.
Talking about principals, the first principal elect, Mr Joorst, was supposed to be on board the morning of 27 January 1957, but only arrived all flustered late that afternoon, missing the first day. Wandred Theunis, the present principal, loves telling the story: “He just got married and for the honeymoon, the couple cruised by boat from Durban to the Cape. Due to bad weather they docked a day late. Apparently,” Wandred chuckled. “However, Joorst immediately started hitch-hiking to the farm. In Somerset West he was picked up by a friendly gentleman who became famous 10 years later. It was Louis Washkansky, the recipient of the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant performed by Dr Christiaan Barnard in 1967.”
During the years of apartheid farm owners were prohibited to have schools on their properties. In those years these schools were all administered by churches, mostly the Moravian Missionary or Uniting Reformed Churches (URC). So the Clüvers made the land available to the URC of Grabouw, but after some years the church could not keep it up anymore.
From farm school to big school
Gertrude, however, never gave up on her dream. She formed an Article 21 or non-profit company, De Rust Futura Trust, and convinced more surrounding farms to join the project. Together they built a proper school. Initially the Trust took care of all the expenses, until the Western Cape government got involved and the school formally became a Department of Education school. Today the land and the school buildings belong to the Trust. The Department rents it and foots the bill for the personnel and the running of the school.
When Wandred was appointed as principal in 2004, the school was ready to go places. At that point, it was still only a primary school, but at the end of 2010, the first matriculants completed Grade 12. Currently there are 62 matriculants and since the inaugural class 10 years ago, the average pass rate is 90.4%.
“About 15% go on to study at colleges and universities such as Elsenburg and the University of the Free State,” Wandred explained. “Along with this growth phase came a name change as well. It was De Rust Futura Primary School, but we thought De Rust Futura Secondary or even Combined School is so stereotypical. But when you hear De Rust Futura Academy … now, thát is something else,” Wandred added with pride.
Today they have an Early Childhood Development crèche, Grade R to 12 as well as an aftercare centre. Another unique feature is that every one of the 1014 learners gets two meals (breakfast and lunch) per day and the learners staying for aftercare get an afternoon snack as well. To cope, they have a staff complement of 38, topping the original number of learners by more than 50%!
From big school to agricultural school
At present 95% of the learners come from 58 surrounding farms with a few from towns such as Botrivier, Kleinmond, and as far as Hawston. With so many farm kids, it was natural to focus on agricultural oriented subjects to help them to understand the environment they come from better and to create future career possibilities in agriculture. The subjects offered are Agricultural Management Practice, Agricultural Technology, and Science.
For Agricultural Management Practice they needed to learn how to establish and maintain an orchard in the apple-happy Elgin Valley. Also, how to grow vegetables, conventionally, as well as in tunnels. (The Department of Agriculture helped to set up the first tunnel in 2012.) In addition to horticulture, the curriculum also requires a zoological sector which consists of the establishment and management of a herd of Hereford cattle. All these agricultural practices are already part of the Clüver’s farming on De Rust. Which means they have first-class mentors. To further honour the legacy of Grandma Gertrude, the Clüvers rent them the farmland for R1,00 per year.
Apart from paying it forward, their involvement also pay off with many qualified learners returning to De Rust Estate to work. Lucas Qhu, the 2015 head boy, is currently doing a learnership of two years. He spends one week at the University of Free State and three on the farm, developing a permaculture garden.
The school also sells its fresh produce and in that way is more self-sufficient. The next goal is to make De Rust the definitive garlic grower of the Western Cape. A low inset cost, a small piece of land, and a great per kilogram price – a winning formula. And extra funds…
What about Covid-19?
Just like any other school, De Rust Futura’s learners were told to stay at home when the coronavirus reared its head in South Africa. Most learners do not have access to Wi-Fi and the internet. The school had to rely on old-fashioned methods to get the study material to the children. “The show must go on, and educate them, we will,” Wandred explained determinately. De Rust Futura is involved in a feeding scheme (with partners Elgin Foundation and Cape Wine Auctions) and since the lockdown started, have given food parcels to 501 homes. “This way we supply meals to our learners and when the farms collect the meals, they also courier the learners’ assignment papers backwards and forwards. This system, supported by WhatsApp groups between teachers and pupils have helped to save the academic year.
What about the future?
Going from primary to a combined school to a school with a strong agricultural element were all bold steps. Next in line would be a hostel, first for the agricultural learners, because farming has a lot longer hours than standard schooling. They have to be involved from early morning to late afternoon.
Although more than 300 learners are presently focusing on agriculture, De Rust Futura Academy does not want to become an exclusively agricultural school. There are kids with different visions, different interests. Hospital Studies as a subject makes sense in lieu of the tourism attractions in the Elgin Valley and surroundings.
“All our learners come from quite far away, we use this aspect to broaden their views. That’s why we have longer days on Tuesdays to Thursdays to offer arts and culture classes, leadership, entrepreneurial skills, drama, sport, and music – we have a choir and our marimba band has won competitions. We have many future goals, such as teaching auxiliary health care, hairdressing, and other vocational technologies,” Wandred concluded.
“The success of this school, is like most things in life, because of passion, hard work and dedication,” said Dr Paul Cluver, a man who first became a world-renowned neurosurgeon before one of the most prominent wine producers in South Africa. Amongst many other successes.
“Success also depends on partnerships,” Karin added. “All successful schools have strong support, both financially and socially. De Rust Futura, due to its past and social positioning does not have this support base. This is where the Section 21 company comes in, supporting the school financially and socially but most importantly, it helps the school to network with various role-players within the wider society. There are very many long-term, synergistic partnerships.
“Our fellow farming families who have supported the school for over 60 years. These families still represent their farms on the board: the Hutton-Squire family, Du Toit’s and Lombardi’s, and the families of Albert Rust and Ross Heyns respectively. To them, helping is not only a privilege but the right thing to do.
“The WCED has had a very long relationship with the school. This is a unique school and a unique situation, which must be a challenge for the department to manage. It does not fit into the normal box. Stellenbosch University has also played a pivotal role. In 2003 Prof Tobie de Koning helped to create the expansion plan to extend the school to Grade 12.
“Various fruit industry businesses and organizations have been supporting the school for decades: Kromco, Fruitways, various Trusts: Molteno, Lombardi, and Gerald Wright. More recently the wine industry became a supporter.
“Our area is well-known for mountain biking, events like W2W, the Epic, Woolworths Tri-Athlon. All these companies have built a relationship with the school and support it in various ways. Lastly the cattle industry with individuals and companies like Bertus Mong, BKB, RFID, and our own vineyard and livestock manager, Christiaan Cloete.”
Paul concludes: “Then there is the leader, Wandred … he has a partnership with us, with schools in England and Sweden. Not to mention his staff and all his learners. Without partnerships, you isolate.”
That’s why, more than 60 years ago his mother, Gertrude Clüver, partnered with Reverend Warrich of the Unifying Reformed Church of Grabouw. Because she saw the future.
And the future is education.
CAPTION: Principal Wandred Theunisen, Dr Paul Cluver and Karin Cluver at one of the school’s agricultural projects.