Waterford School in Swaziland was founded in 1963, the brainchild of an enterprising Englishman named Michael Stern. Sickened by neighboring South Africa’s apartheid regime, Stern decided to set up a school to which all races would be admitted as equals,a multi-racial school in opposition to South Africa's apartheid policies.
Michael Stern, the founder of Waterford school in Swaziland. Sickened by South Africa's apartheid policies, Stern decided to set up a school where all races would be admitted as equals.
Educational policies of the apartheid government drove him from the country to Swaziland. It was not an idea which initially appealed to everyone. “South Africa disliked Waterford intensely and they made life as difficult. We did lose a number of children. They went home for the holiday and couldn’t get back because their passports were confiscated. One actually had it valid for all countries except Swaziland. It was very vicious,” told Tony Hatton – founder teacher.
The initial number of students was sixteen (boys only) blacks comprised of a 25%, 25% comprising Indian and half as white. “During the apartheid time, the blacks were together with the whites,” Lawrence Msibi – Waterford transport manager. The school is located in the mountainous area in Sidwashini, approximately 15 minutes from the city centre of Mbabane, Swaziland.
The first sixteen students to be enrolled in Waterford in 1963. The white, black, Indian and colored students were treated as equals.
Today the school, now under the umbrella of the United World Colleges education group, still abides by its original aim of promoting tolerance though the kinds of differences that exist between students. But problems have changed over the years.
Lawrence Msibi, Waterford's transport manager. He worked at Waterford school for over 29 years.
As the world is becoming a multi-cultural society, race issues have thus continued to become a thing of the past. The most pertinent issue faced by the society now is economic standing by different families. Waterford has faced the same issue. Hence to be able to still make a difference, they incorporate students from wealthy and humble backgrounds in the school.
Over the years the school has sponsored many students from humble backgrounds.The school fee costs more than seventeen thousand dollars per year. Hence not every student can afford it. “For us it’s not simply linguistic, cultural, national race diversity. But for us economic diversity is another big issue. Eighteen percent of our students are on full scholarship,” told Stephen Lowry – Waterford principal.
Waterford's students in a music performance.
One such student who was privileged to get funding is Shakes Dlamini, “in comparison to other students in Waterford, I might not rank high in terms of economic status. I might come out as less privileged but I don’t feel out of place because there are a lot of students that are also on scholarship, that are from similar backgrounds and some from even much worse backgrounds.” His funding came from Swaziland Electricity Company for whom he promised to work for five years after completing his university studies.
Today the school has received world acclaim for bringing up world great leaders in areas of management, politics, art, music and many more. But that was not the case when it was started. The school continued to receive criticism and legal tussles from the masters of apartheid. But some visionary leaders noticed the work that was going on in Waterford.
Nelson Mandela, still in prison, sent his daughters there. Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana, sent his son Ian, who is now the fourth president and Desmond Tutu also sent his children. “Waterford’s history has a big impact on me because Waterford is involved in the apartheid struggle. It just makes you want to improve the world in the same way that the school improved the world,” told Alicia Simba.
Winnie Mandela with her two daughters. Though the school gained a lot of opposition from the apartheid regime, great leaders against apartheid like Mandela sent their children to study at Waterford.
The final students like Shakes also receive support in choosing universities. Nine out of ten students go to study in America. Shakes preference is either Stanford or Harvard University. “Waterford has helped me in every sort of way. It has put me in a position to tame my dreams such as going to Harvard in reality. I might be tempted to stay in America but I won’t stay because we have some serious energy crisis here in Swaziland and I believe for me to make a difference I need to come back,” told Shakes as he prepared to leave the school.