A Sound Mind in A Sound Body A Road Well-Travelled – from Dirt Track to Major Highways


Dr James Ellis’ presentation from the HASA Symposium in Genadendal 2016

I once remarked to someone in the United States that I went to high school “… in a small village that did not have a single ‘paved’ (tarred) road. It now has a single paved road.”


Over the years I often reflected on the road travelled to Genadendal on tarred and dirt roads (some of us partly by rail), and how metaphorically it foreshadowed the different roads we would all land up on as we went our adult ways. And the simplicity of the, then still, dirt road of Genadendal, unfolded into the avenues, broad streets and boulevards of our respective places of study, occupations and other societal engagements. And in the process the simpler abodes we came from may have dimmed in importance or suffered from the lack of our input.


In our Matric year in 1963 we had a Dutch set work book by Ina Boudier Bakker, entitled “Aan de Groote Weg”, recording the story of a young girl fighting the overwhelming odds of modernity threatening the continued existence of their small guest house. When a rival hotel owner got authorities to agree to the construction of a major highway, the Groote Weg, which would pass right by his place and no longer theirs, the result would have been total loss of their regular customers at the small pension on the small road, to the bigger hotel. She eventually won that battle, refusing to succumb to values alien to the life she grew up with. A fight, I believe to preserve the warm, honest and sincere comfort and care of the more modest place of abode.


This story seemed to me over the years to mirror the very experiences we who studied and grew up here, and the village more generally, had been challenged with. During uplifting and also trying times these past years, we the Class of ’63 could count on the legacy and warm memories, if not always the real and active support from each other, that our collective experiences had created since our young lives came together in that joyous life transformative joint encounter in a small country town with its single dirt roads, that taught us about the big world with its challenging highways out there. And we all travelled a long way. Indeed a road well-travelled! 


 Some of us, though, were very fortunate “to go back home”, or elsewhere tried to put up newer, much more modern places where we hoped people could be at home. The success, or otherwise, of these ventures some of us could attest to, or others have recorded it on our behalf, or as beneficiaries, brought us their assessments. And the successes were only those to the extent that we were able to replicate the education and instilling of those values taught along the small dirt roads of the village that fundamentally shaped our lives.   


During our time learners came from almost all over South Africa, country town and major cities, travelling to study at Genadendal, an almost South African cosmopolitan community, if not too farfetched. Our parents and other family members sent us as young girls and boys into the world out there, to Genadendal as an unknown place, with unknown people. But they knew then that in this village there were God-fearing people who will take care of their children and a church and school that will enrich their lives beyond measure. For how else could they entrust our young lives to the uncertainty?


Here we were received and cared for. Some of us were cared for in the homes of villagers.  Many of us, initially only boys and later girls as well, stayed in the hostels which the Church in those days so generously provided as spaces in which we could grow up in a protected and caring manner.  Here for the first time we have encountered the broader world outside of our places of origin; for the first time engaged certain cultural awarenesses; for the first time encountered certain political awakenings; for the first time fell in love. And here we were spiritually raised


As young people most of us – especially those who stayed in the hostels – on Sunday after Sunday through powerful preaching were empowered with the motto of the Moravian Church: “Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him!”  This we experienced amidst our youthful dedication or mischievousness – yes, we sometimes tried to bridge the physical divide between the genders Moravian church buildings used to observe, and some even absconded during church services to the famous “Kloof”, making sure that some younger inmate knew the theme of the sermon, if we were possibly interrogated about it later by a teacher.


But above all, our experiences here enabled us to find social and spiritual direction to our lives and to stay on course. This common experience has been characterized by the hallmark of the Moravian experience, passed on from their home community in Bohemia, and later Herrnhut, passed on to us: the dual orientation of a life guided by spirituality supported by sound education, and secondly the value of hard work to build character. In the words of Japha and Japha (1997:10), Genadendal was a:


“… theocratic and patriarchal Christian community based on religion and work as the twin pillars of the righteous life.”


This was evidenced in the influence of that earliest training and continued work in this respect, passed on to so many of the trainees of this town. Both of these influences I will return to later.  For we were inspired by the words to the Hebrews 13: 7:  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” If we recall some of the great people of the past, their teaching and their preaching, and the ultimate outcomes of their respective walks of life, how could we do other but to follow the example they set and that of so many others who came after them, who served here and took care of us as well? How can we else but honour and celebrate their legacy; Oom Daan Moos Wessels, Bishop Habelgaarn, Rev Ivan Wessels, Bishop John Ulster, Rev Martin Wessels, Rev Dan Beukes, Mr Ferdi Cloete, and many others?


Teacher Training at Genadendal

Teacher training, having started early in the 19th century in Genadendal, has been well documented by several authors over the years. Wolhuter (2006) reports:


Education for non-White South Africans was originally provided for only by missionary organisations. From the beginning of the nineteenth century missionaries from Europe came to South Africa in large numbers, so much so that, according to Christie (1991:71), by the end of the nineteenth century, there were more missionaries in South Africa than anywhere else in the world. The typical missionary station invariably included a school (qf Sheriff, 1986:14-45). To train teachers, mission schools also employed the monitor system which was later supplemented by mission teacher training colleges. The first college was established at Genadendal (a Moravian mission station) in 1838 – long before there were any White teacher training colleges.”


An uncited document from the Genadendal Museum Facebook page points out how this development in Genadendal was in sync with development in Britain and the USA at the time:

The first teacher training college in the United Kingdom was the University of Chester and can trace its roots back to 1839. In the same year the first teacher college in the United States was founded in Massachusetts. It operates today as Framingham State University.”


A Council of Higher Education (CHE) publication (CHE, 2006) similarly quotes a source stating the start of Teacher training in South Africa as having  

“… its origins in a mission station established by the Moravian Missionary Society in 1737 at Baviaanskloof (Kallaway, 1984:48).  


It further points out that the Training College was established to assist with:

“…training Khoikhoi assistants to help with the teaching of the children in the mission schools of the Society.” 


Commenting on the pioneering nature of this work a Moravian Theological Seminary declares that:  “When the training of teachers started at the Mission Station of Genadendal in 1838, a bold step was taken to start training indigenous workers, which would inevitably result in the growth of the work of the Moravian Church in South Africa.”


Another uncited Museum Facebook entry claims that the freeing of the slaves in Cape Town was further impetus to the establishment of the college in Genadendal:

 “The second important historical event that was a direct result of the abolition of slavery, was the establishment of the first Teachers’ Training College in South Africa. When the slaves were set free, they had to work for another four years for their bosses. Many of them intended to settle afterwards on mission stations, away from the harsh treatment on farms, in need of Christian education and for alternative job opportunities. The four subsequent years, after the abolition offered the opportunity for missionaries to prepare for an influx. A report of 1 January 1838 stated that more than 600 people applied to become inhabitants of Genadendal.”


My story, however, draws mainly from Isaac Balie’s seminal work in his publication, Die Geskiedenis van Genadendal, 1738 – 1988 (1988). In it he gives us a fuller account and extremely rich descriptions of the earliest pioneers starting this work at Genadendal. It recounts not only the overall history of the town in all its different facets, but pays intimate attention to the huge legacy of the Moravian Church spiritual inheritance from its German roots. It is enriched by his deep intimate personal knowledge of the village and his people, and strongly undergirded by his meticulous and well documented research.


Balie (1988, p. 17) recounts the very first education efforts of the first missionary Georg Schmidt already in 1737, to be followed later by the second group of missionaries on 3 March 1793 (1988, p.46), and others after them.  He details the first teacher training started in 1828 when the missionary Hans Peter Hallbeck  decided to provide private training to Ezechiel Pheiffer and Wilhelm Plezier (1988, p.50).  This was not regarded as satisfactory and with regard to expand this in a dedicated institution, Hallbeck brought news from Germany that a German nobleman, Victor von Schonburg-Waldenburg made a substantial financial contribution

“…towards the building fund and on 12 September 1838, a double story building with graceful Cape-Dutch gables could be consecrated to serve as the first Teachers’ Training College in South Africa, with C.F Francke as lecturer and H. P Hallbeck as principal. Eleven students were enrolled that day. (Genadendal Museum Facebook Page)


Balie describes this event with the proud exclamation: “Nêrens in die land het ‘n soortgelyke inrigting bestaan nie.”Nowhere in the country had a similar institution existed.” [Translation] (1988:51). He lists the names of the first students enrolled in the Training College as Alexander Haas, Dawid Lakey, Jozua Plezier, Johannes Absalom, Michael Balie, Jacob Haas, and Petrus Beekman (all from Genadendal), Carl Jonas (Elim), Nikolaas Oppelt and Josef Hardenberg (Groenekloof), and Wilhelm Klein (Enon). These were all people who subsequently had made an impact on the life of the village, the church and education in general, in the respective places where they served.  


The influence of these first trainees was unquestionable value to the Moravian Church and Balie states that “Al die kerkwerkers en voornemende leraars is hier opgelei.” (“All the church works and prospective ministers were trained here.” 1988:92). He details how they were respectively placed in ministry at several of the Genadendal out-stations established, at places like Voorstekraal, Twistryk, Berea and other towns like Elim, etc. and played educational roles as teachers (1988:83-84, 127).


The nature of the training included, apart from the educational content, significant emphasis on handicrafts, learnt from local tradesmen, printing and music (1988:93).  The famous Moravian Church brass bands originated here. As one of my friends pointed out, apart from many of these trainees being ministers, teachers and all were good in music, they all had beautiful handwriting.


That this education had a very pronounced Eurocentric focus as well is illustrated by Balie citing the Church Monthly, De Bode of 1862, p.5, commenting on exams: 

“… waarbij het mij eigenaardig was, deze jongelingen van Napoleon, enz. te horen spreken, als of de kennis dier zaken met recht hen toekwam en ik mij in een examen eener school in Europa verplaatz dacht.” (“… during which it was peculiar to hear these young people talk about Napoleon, etc., as if knowledge of matters of  this nature were rightly theirs and that I have been transported to an examination in a European school.” (1988:94).


The training, of course emphasized the twin virtues of a converted religious life and physical work, and by 1888 Balie reports that 125 students had already been trained, the majority, 69, as teachers and 19 as ministers. (1988:94)


 The expanded functioning of the college was supported by the Provincial educational authorities and by the turn of the century English as medium of instruction was introduced. Furthermore, an optional theological course was added to the curriculum. Eventually the training was further diversified to provide for different teachers diplomas. (1988:127).


The influence of this training is further evidenced by the fact that apart from one white woman, a Miss Hanna, all the principals of the Primary school were ordained ministers as well and, with other teachers, all trained at the college. (1988:167)


Educational development and government management in the Province finally led to other institutions being considered elsewhere and sadly it is reported that the Department of Public Education decided to close the Genadendal College on 31 December 1927, after 90 years of service. A total of 236 students qualified there as teachers during that time. (1988: 169).


While some of this may be argued as having been patriarchal, here was an example of empowering a community beyond mere educational training. It held the kernel of what later in our social development might become a model of holistic development. There is, however, no doubt that this pioneer work had from its very start made a significant contribution to the life and people of Genadendal and as I will be point out later anecdotally, to a host of people and the places where they served their lives’ missions later in life.


The High School at Genadendal

The Secondary School at Genadendal started in 1938, again with the agency and support of the Moravian Church. According to Balie, this 14th secondary school for “coloureds” was already serving communities from many different towns. It was accorded high school status in 1947 and grew in reputation. (1988:170).

“… die Hoërskool Emil Weder, net soos die ou Opleidingskool (het) ‘n groot naam in onderwysgeledere verwerf.” (“…the Emil Weder High School, as with the old Training School (had) gained a significant reputation in educational circles.”)  (Balie, 1988:218).


A number of people who subsequently played senior roles in education both at level of education administration and higher education, served as principals of the high school, including Frank Quint and Ardene Cupido, the latter at one time Dean of the Faculty of Education at UWC. A significant number of alumni of the school also served as principals through the years as well.


The further association of the Moravian Church with the high school was the establishment of the hostels in 1957 for boys initially, and for girls in 1962. This was located in the buildings currently housing the Genadendal Museum in the case of men, and the old primary school buildings converted to a hostel for women. 


The hostels enforced strict disciplinary rules, supported by a system of monitors of senior learners, and reinforced the twin pillars referred to earlier, by compulsory regular church attendances of all residents, study times in the afternoon and after supper, and a work regimen done in grade teams during the week. Those disciplined for serious transgressions were “punished” to perform labour chores in the gardens on Wednesdays and Saturdays when other residents were allowed to leave the hostels. 


Teachers from the school served as supervisors and this had instilled in many a healthy respect for discipline and authority, as we had combined the educational instruction at school with the care provided from the same teachers at our place of residence, thus establishing a potential community of care, even if not all teachers had always been entirely popular or consistent in their attitude and actions.

What the hostel provided was an interesting added element to our school experience; a connect between the school day and continued interaction beyond it.  In the words of one of my cohort members from the time:

“Ek wil graag noem dat die koshuislewe my hele lewensbeskouing verander het. Voorheen was dit as die skool uit is dan is dit koebaai aan al die klasmaats tot die volgende dag. Op Genadendal op koshuis was jy interaktief tot slapenstyd. Daar het ek werklik geleer wat menswees is. Geredeneer en filosofiese gedagtes uitgeruil, skolasties en sportief gekompiteer, respek vir jou medemens opgebou, diep vriendskappe opgebou wat lewenslank behoue gebly het, eerlikheid, maar die belangrikste was om onafhanklik te dink.”


The school experience itself was a revelation to some of us as there was no real competition in performance but only the expectation that you do well, even if you had no idea of you might have been measured against others’ achievements. We were encouraged to use our time fruitfully, and many of us recall gleefully how the then principal, Gerhard Dietrich, had often told us to have a book with us at all time, even if it was just a dictionary.


Some of us lived in the homes of villagers and those of us in the hostels had opportunity on weekends in particular to visit with them of these community members where we further benefited from the Genadendal experience.  Here we have encountered so many wonderful people who physically, socially, culturally, politically and spiritually cared for us.  A friend of mine pointed out that he had to get used to a community where there was not the traditional racial division he had been used to in the town he came from.


Indeed, Genadendal is the place where we really grew up. Here we received the custodianship of the community who took care of our all-round education in the basic values, norms, institutions, and social customs of life. This has allowed us to individually and collectively achieve goals that we had set out to accomplish.  It has been a rich and rewarding experience to have walked this path and now be able to share the fruits of our labours with each other. 


Many of us came from other Moravian mission stations where they were used to the rites of the Church from there.  Parents sent their children to Genadendal where they could continue in school and church.  Because school and church played a very important role in forming characters from their primary school training, they were sent to Emil Weder secondary where we made friends with new people. New parents and new friends! Brothers and sisters who enriched our lives from another angle. It was also a path to our tertiary education and to our lives in general. From here we embarked on the fabulous journeys along the unfolding highways and byways of our preparation for our stations in life, of becoming better equipped travelers, bridge builders and roadway managers, opening up avenues of opportunity and growth for those entrusted to us. 

The Products of Genadendal and Achievements of our Alumni

The people who have been trained in Genadendal, either in those early days of the Training College or the Secondary and High School which followed, can certainly form a long line of well trained, dedicated and committed educational, religious and social leaders, not just in Genadendal, but all over the country where these alumni found themselves as leaders.  igh SHiExamples of names of locals include members of the Wessels, Beukes, Cloete, Balie, Duminy, Daniels, Jonker, Adonis, April, Meyer, Habelgaarn, Johannes, Smith, Abrahams, Sauls, Van der Berg, Snyder, Windvogel, Wildschutt and many other families.


Educational leaders include Frank Quint, Ardene Cupdio, Basil May,  people in health care such as Carl Abrahams, in broadcasting such as Jeremy  Federicks and Terence April, noted academics such as Jattie Bredekamp numerous school principals including Isaac Balie, Geoff Adonis, many others from this town. From our own 45 member Class of ’63 of whom we have records, one counts at least 18 school principals. Others include more teachers, a university professor in Psychology, Joan Meyer, a Technikon Lecturer, Clive Solomon, a senior Municipal Manager, Cecil Africa, a specialist in chemical fuels, Jackie van der Heyden, a past President of the Moravian Church, ministers of religion Bernie Lemboe and Derrick Meyer, two past Mayors, John Gertze and Stephen Muller, and an ambassadorial staff member for Namibia, Theo Hess.


The Class of ‘63

During a glorious weekend in September 2013, when we celebrated the 50 years since we were in Std 10, we also celebrated the 75 years that our Alma Mater has been providing education to those who went before and came after us. We were lauded by the Genadendal Community during the worship service by a leader of the congregation and a High School alumnus, as well as the High School Principal for what we had achieved and stood for. And we royally basked in this affirmation. We were even lauded by the members of this community, as we are told, as someone is reported to have remarked after the Celebration worship service, walking home:

 “Haai, maar is dit nie mooi van die kinders nie, om na soveel jare weer na Genadendal te kom, en hier te kom reünie hou; dit was baie goed dat hulle so deel geneem het aan die diens; en het hulle nie mooi en ordentlik gelyk toe hulle daar voor gestaan het om te sing nie? En het hulle nie mooi gesing nie; ‘n mens kan sien hulle het goed geleer en ons het hulle goed opgevoed toe hulle hier was.”

“Hey, isn’t it nice who these children to come back to Genadendal after so many years, to come and have their reunion here; it was good that they participated in the worship service; and did they not look pretty and respectable when they stood in front to sing? And didn’t they sing pretty; one can see that they have learnt well and we have educated them well when they were here.”


Here in vivid words, members of the community expressed a very real sense of the custodianship the villagers assumed on behalf of us as we spent our sojourn in this wonderful village.

But this recognition also carried with it an invitation and a commitment from us to carry our legacy beyond the most wonderful nostalgia and sentimental memory making and memorabilia the weekend created and established. We were challenged by our own previous undertakings, as well as the commitment and the explicit promises we made to invest our legacy currency in the current generation of learners at Emil Weder High School. A commitment to continue the process of sense making, enriching personal lives and of building character and community. A commitment indeed to preserve a legacy too precious to loose.




We have come to identify ourselves as the proverbial blue birds that flew over the rainbow, way up high, sometimes through rain and cloudy sky, to find the pots of gold of our service. We attained and we dutifully performed for many fruitful years. As little birds we all flew over our respective rainbows. Now we stand at the threshold of being able to carry our legacy beyond the nostalgia and sentimental memory making that weekend created and established


Around us the highways of our lives had taken us to many places, communities, and even different parts of the world. And we have been particularly blessed that it brought us back to Genadendal and each other again. We may not have been first to have had the training and care we had received, and we most certainly will not be the last.  But if we think of the rich and wonderful heritage we share with those who have gone before we cannot but celebrate this in recognition of the privilege and exceptional honour to have enjoyed over the years, the warm educational, spiritual and social nurturing of this community. This is integral to the legacy our alumni from this community, its training and care, want to celebrate and preserve and we thus bring our heartfelt thanks and honour to all who over the years had contributed to it.


My own joy and thanks are for those times when these contributions to a young and innocent life had served to make me stronger, and set me on a course in later years to a wonderful life’s journey, of duty and service.  I’m glad that I had traveled this road.

The Community of Genadendal had assisted in shaping and enriching us as people. To them all, pioneers and leaders, all heartfelt thanks.  With the words of the Moravian logo, I thank you:

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur

Soli Deo Gloria!






Balie, Isaac. 1988. Die Geskiedenis van Genadendal. 1738 – 1988. Perskor. Cape Town


Council on Higher Education. 2010. The History of Teacher Training and Recent Policy Developments. Report on the National Review of Academic and Professional Programmes in Education August 2010



Du Preez, Hannetjie, Van Oers, Ron, Roos, Job & Verhoef, Leah (Eds.). 2009. The Challenge of Genadendal.



Japha, Derek & Japha,Vivienne. 1997. Two Missions: Case Studies in the Meaning of Tradition in Contemporary Development in South Africa. TDSR Volume VIII Number II 1997. http://iaste.berkeley.edu/pdfs/08.2b-Spr97japha-sml.pdf


Moravian Theological Centre in South Africa. 2005.  History of the institution as told by itself:



The Genadendal Museum Facebook. 2015. Pioneer Work: The Training of Teachers. https://www.facebook.com/GenadendalMissionMuseum/photos/a.173747499350327.42803.158849820840095/929195330472203/ Bottom of Form


The Genadendal Museum Facebook. 2014. Our Education Heritage. Part I: From a Slave Certificate to a Teacher’s Certificate. https://www.facebook.com/GenadendalMissionMuseum/photos/a.173747499350327.42803.158849820840095/752200911504980/?type=3&theater


Wolhuter, C.C.  2006. Education Research and Perspectives, Vo!. 33, No.2, 2006 Teacher Training in South Africa: Past~ Present and Future C.C.  Wolhuter, North West University, South Africa. http://www.erpjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ERPV33-2_Wolhuter-C.-C.-2006.-Teacher-training-in-South-Africa-.pdf



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