His daily letters written to his wife
are a mine of information as he described how he had to beg, borrow and annex
equipment and staff.
However, because it was in the city, the facilities were limited
so a piece of land outside of the city was allocated, much to the chagrin
of the community because it was deemed to be too far out of town.
Ground was also given to what is now Pretoria Girls High and the
Transvaal University College, now the University of Pretoria.
The main buildings as they stand now opened for education in 1909
as Pretoria College. They were designed by Patrick Eagle and not Herbert
Baker as is often thought but they do, however, look over the Union Buildings
which were designed by Baker. In 1910, when South Africa became a Union
it saw, as Second Master and school historian John Illsley says, "nation
building the 1910 version".
"After the Anglo Boer War the authorities thought it good to combine
the school with Eendracht High School to reconcile the Dutch and English."
This dual medium arrangement continued for almost 15 years before it became
an English-only school.
By the start of World War II, the third boarding house was built.
It was also during this time that women teachers were first introduced
because many male staff had joined the war. "It was unheard of during that
time, and it was incredibly difficult for them," said Illsley.
In 1948, while a worker was stripping paint with a heat gun, he
disturbed a wasps nest and the original dome was gutted in the ensuing
Built above the library, boys and staff created a human chain
as they tried to save as many books as possible from water damage. Thereafter,
a flat roof was built to seal it off for many years. But an official in
government, EE Penzohrn, took it upon himself to research the original
plans and a replica was built.
Not satisfied with just a dome and a flag pole, the school's quirky
art master Walter Battiss roped in his art students and sculptured a schoolboy
out of hardwood and so Danny (Swart the "model") was born with a rugby
ball under one arm and a book under the other signifying a balanced education.
Over the years in true schoolboy fashion Danny would often be
dressed in the dark of night in a blazer, pyjamas, and any manner of clothing
until it was stopped because of the dangers associated with climbing up
He stood overlooking the city for 40 years until dry rot started
taking its toll. In the 1990s old boys funded a replica with another old
boy and sculptor Guy du Toit casting it in bronze from the original.
And it's the umbilical cord between old boys and the school that
often plays an important roll.
As Illsley says, "they maintain links with the school by attending
10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 Year On reunion functions which, among other
things, helps to engender pride in the current pupils. They support bursary
funds to allow financially disadvantaged boys to attend the school and
make up an important part of the male staff at the school.
"They serve on the governing body in specialised roles, often
send their sons to the school which helps to maintain tradition and have
contributed to major fund-raising initiatives, of which the latest allowed
for a R24million hall expansion project to be paid for entirely from donations
by the school alumni and friends of the school."
There's an almost endless list of well-known old boys that have
gone on to make a name for themselves. These include the Kantor brothers,
Bernard and Ian, founders of Investec; Nobel laureate winners Max Tyler
(yellow fever vaccine) and Michael Levitt (chemistry); anti-apartheid activist
Lord Peter Hain; Advocate Billy Downer, Justice Edwin Cameron, entrepreneur
Elon Musk; Springbok captain John Smit and Chiliboy Ralepelle; Proteas
captain Aiden Markram; Bafana Bafana's Mark Fish; and of course, Oscar
With 1550 boys that start their day at 7.30 every morning, 101
teachers and 87 support staff, the school's budget this year is in the
region of R115m of which the state contributes less than 20%. This necessitates
that almost half the teachers are paid by the School Governing Body and
so too are more than half of the support staff. It's essentially school
fees that make up the balance that's not paid by the state.
Since 1909 there have been seven headmasters, including Tony Reeler
who joined the staff from Pinelands High School in Cape Town in 2010.
He describes his time there to date as incredibly rewarding.
"From a professional point of view, it is the biggest boys school
in South Africa and, with its rich history, is one of the top schools in
the country. On a personal note, it remains a pleasure and a privilege
to be part of the school with its extraordinary ethos. To see the growth
in young people as they undertake the journey from childhood to adulthood
is simply wonderful."
Times have changed considerably from when a few strokes with a
cane by one of the male teachers or being "jacked" by the "boss" would
often keep the boys in line. How then to keep more than 1500 boys from
"The boys are largely self-regulating. While we do have discipline
structures in the school and a very effective house system which divides
the school into 10 smaller units, each with its own staff, we constantly
emphasise the need for self-discipline and an expected code of behaviour
that is value-driven.
"If a boy steps out of line, he is often reminded that 'we don't
do that here'. Our expectations of the boys are very high indeed."
As an old boy, who has a son in the school, wherever I go only
good things are ever said about the institution. With such a diverse cross-section
in our country and so many different views, this can't always be easy.
But according to Reeler, Boys High "provides a world-class education
within a state school context. This allows for boys from all backgrounds
to sit together in class, play games together and learn from each other.
Our teaching staff are incredibly dedicated and devoted to their boys and
their well-being. Our facilities are remarkable and the support from our
community is highly valued".
With age-old rivals Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) across
the road, Girls High and Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool all within easy walking
distance from each other, thousands of young people's lives are influenced
and shaped every day.
"We have an excellent relationship with the neighbouring schools
and support each other at all times. We do a number of activities together
and our pupils often socialise together. While we do compete with each
other often, particularly Affies, it is within the boundaries of mutual
respect and admiration," says Reeler.
And as it is, in South Africa education is often in the news and
not always for the right reasons. Much has been said and written about
diversity within our educational system and for Reeler deep and meaningful
discussions around diversity are critical for our children's sake and that
of our country.
"We work very hard with our staff and boys to get them to engage
with each other, talk, debate and discuss differences and similarities.
Many assembly messages are on the strength that comes from difference and
acceptance thereof. We try really hard to 'see' each boy and who he is
and we are always open to change that which needs changing."
A poignant reminder of how fragile life can be plays itself out
every day at 5.30pm when a trumpeter plays The Last Post from the west
tower of the main building.
In the 1990s, the school adopted it as a way of paying tribute
each afternoon to all those of the school who have passed away while at
school, as well as remembering its war dead. When it's played, all boys
and staff come to a halt, even on sports fields and observe a few moments'
Every headmaster since the school's beginnings has left a lasting
legacy, so it would only be right to give the incumbent the last word.
"It is important to me that the influence I may have had has caused
people to think - academically from a critical thinking perspective, but
more importantly, on an inter-personal level as they try to understand
each other. We are different and there is no use in pretending we are not,
but we can be united in common causes - be they our religion, our values
or our aspirations.
"I want the boys to be able to disagree from a position of respect
for another person's point of view and I want them to influence others
for the good."