Nestled in the foothills of the Drakensburg in South Africa, St. Bernadette’s was founded over one hundred years ago by Valerie Van Heerden, the first Mayor of the nearby town of Piemburg.
The staff, prefects and pupils of St. Bernadette’s owe much of the discipline instilled into daily life to some of the less well publicized practices of former leading South African statesmen.
While no longer practicing compulsory sterilization of unruly students, the standards of behaviour are backed up with a healthy regime of corporal punishment.
Students are expected to bring several changes of clothes, night wear and sports equipment. Our intent is to create graduates that are proud and confident.
Former Alumni have met with successes in a broad range of careers, from the sciences to international diplomacy. The prodigious accolades awarded to former students include research fellowships, leading positions in multinational corporations and in one case, becoming the matriarchal leader of an African dictatorship.
The boarding arrangements at the school are in informal small dormitories. The architectural style of the striking building has been heralded as “Original, beautiful and functional to the extreme” by several commentators. It has also been noted that those parts that are original are not beautiful, those parts that are beautiful are not original, and those parts that are functional were largely purchased from the now defunct Natal High Security Penitentiary For Enemies Of The State located next door to the original concrete block house or ‘Education Centre’, laid out by Mayor Van Heerden.
On a typical day the gurls of the school undergo deportment and elocution training, Science and Arts training and rifle practice on the firing range located at the foot of the playing fields, overlooking a nearby seniors home.
“While the academic standards are important at St. Bernadette’s an emphasis is placed on developing the character and all round personality of the bright young minds in our care,” comments Ms. Thornwood, a regular visiting teacher at the school.
The sound of happy young children, occupied with the execution of their daily duties (and quite possibly some of the other students) can often be heard drifting across the beautiful South African landscape.
“Many of our students go on to enjoy careers in the caring professions,” says School Matron, Ms. Clodagh Lovelever, very proudly.
“It’s not unusual for our students to be found assisting with volunteer duties at the local police stations, hospital and the nearby seniors home, where many of the patients have developed a rare and unexplained anxiety disorder.
“We consider ourselves to be at the forefront of behavioural and psychological research,” points out Ms. Van Heerden.
Her enthusiasm was echoed by her husband, who happens to be the local Kommandant of Police, from his nearby office in the local police station.
“It’s quite usual for the gurls to end up in ‘ere several times a week. Some of them more!” He says helpfully.
Ms. Van Heerden likes to point out, “Any gurl that passes through these halls will never go a day of their life without the prospect of being able to earn a living and stand on their own two feet – though not necessarily at the same time.”
As singing drifts across the fields and happy children frollick about the place in the balmy Natal weather, the rich culture of the location permeates all that takes place. Steeped in history the school is a stones throw (a very suitable measure) from where a race riot took place in the civil uprisings of the 1970’s.
Just ninety years prior to that the massacre of 3000 Zulu tribesmen by a contingent of Welsh Guards of the British Army put Piemburg firmly on the British Empire map. Students of history will note this was the first use of experimental automatic weapons and high explosive shells on unarmed African populations and marked a turning point in the pacification of local tribes. In the years following the engagement peace and calm returned to the locality, although it was largely reported to be completely depopulated by former inhabitants.
“We’re carrying on those traditions of experimentation and being on the cutting edge of progress,” says Ms. Van Heerden.
She concludes, “We like to think of ourselves as guardians of the traditional values of this land.”
Readers of FionaDobson.com will be interested to know that Auntie Kittie is on the board of governors of St. Bernadette’s School For Gurls.