Winner of the Stella Clark Teachers' Award, 2016

VC Dr Max Price, former Trafalgarian and student Lameez Fredericks, Trafalgar High School history teacher Salma Southgate, winner of the Stella Clark Teachers’ Award, with headmaster Nadeem Hendricks and Assoc Prof Rochelle

Salwa Southgate of Trafalgar High School in old District Six knows there’s little she can do to change her pupils’ difficult circumstances. But changing their minds is another matter, says the 2016 SCTA winner As coincidence would have it, Stella was once a librarian at Trafalgar High School where Ms Southgate teaches. It was the first school built in Cape Town for coloured and black pupils and it played a leading role in protests against apartheid policies. Salwa whose teaching career spans 31 years, is a history teacher and also deputy principal at the 104-year-old institution, whose list of alumni reads like a who’s who and includes Cissy Gool, Dullah Omar, Richard Rive and Reggie September. But after 1994, the school took a knock; many parents began sending their children to former Model C schools, says headmaster Nadeem Hendricks. Many of the pupils now come from the Cape Flats and run the gauntlet to get to school each day, some leaving home at 05:00. But when they get there, Hendricks is at the gate to greet them, and Southgate and others are there to welcome them inside.

Lameez Fredericks who nominated Ms Southgate wrote in her nomination: “Coming from a previously disadvantaged school like Trafalgar, it is easy to get sucked into the idea of never being good enough to succeed in life … Mrs Southgate is one of those extraordinary individuals that always strives to go above and beyond for her students. She doesn’t just teach history; she gives life lessons and watches out for her students as if they were her own. She respects her students and motivates them and I believe it was because she constantly pushed us to get a tertiary education that made the majority, if not my entire matric class of 2015, apply for undergraduate studies here at the University of Cape Town.

It’s these kinds of words that a student, vulnerable to the toxic environment of mediocre work and nonchalant attitudes (that usually surround previously disadvantaged schools), needs to hear.” In her response to the award, Ms Southgate paid tribute to her pupils and to those who’d made the acknowledgement possible, saying that for too long teaching had been regarded as a Cinderella profession. “When learners come into my class, I raise their expectations of themselves … There’s lots of love in the classroom: they feel safe.”