When the government at the time decided to have separate schools for lower and higher primary learners, a new school was established in Steadville called Nikela Lower Primary School. Emnambithi Primary being the first school in Steadville, accommodated Sub A – now known as Grade 1 – until Standard 4 – now known as Grade 6. In 1976, there was a breakaway, meaning a new school was established, called Nikela Lower Primary School. The school officially started running in 1978, with the first recorded learner being Richard Buthelezi. The school gave classes from Sub A to Standard 2. Most teachers who had been teaching these grades at Emnambithi, were moved to Nikela. Nikela continued to use the facilities of Emnambithi Primary. Soon after this breakaway, Emnambithi Primary then accommodated Standard 5.
The first principal of the school was Ms PG Mdhladhla, who was succeeded by Miss Ntshingila.
Nikela fell under the Education and Training Act of 1979, after it repealed the Bantu Education Act of 1953. Although on paper, the name of the Act had changed, the system of racial segregation continued. The school was made of prefab with some buildings of corrugated iron. The school however faced challenges as for the first few years, classes of Emnambithi Primary were still used. The school then adopted the system of platooning, where learners attended school through shifts. Some attended school from 08:00 – 12:00, while others from 12:00 to 16:00. This became bearing on the teachers who had to work long hours, while teaching large numbers of school children. At some point, there would be two classes at the school hall in Emnambithi. Often, each class would have 43 learners or more. The school also had only female teachers. According to Ms SS Ndlovu, this was due to child care, as females were believed to be better care givers. The system also oppressed female teachers who got pregnant out-of-wedlock. It was against the law to do such, and the teacher would be expelled from school.
Teachers of Nikela decided amongst themselves to wear uniform – this was not a strict rule from the Government of the day. The first uniforms were dark green dresses, and these later changed to navy skirts and white shirts. These uniforms were worn until the early 90s.
Each grade had about four classes, with each teacher having to teach all the available subjects. Such subjects were Music, isiZulu, English, Afrikaans, Ezenkolo (religious studies), Ezemvelo (Environmental studies), Ezempilo (Health), Izibalo (Arithmetic), and Ezendawo (Geography). In the beginning, all classes were taught in isiZulu; this only changed with the new dispensation.
The school also had a number of sport codes; for example, basketball, netball, athletics, drum majorities, and tennis. Although tennis was often played at Rooi, where Chief John Ndlovu and Charlie Mlotshwa built a tennis court, some learners still took part. Nikela competed with both black and white schools and would often represent Emnambithi junior schools in Newcastle and Pietermaritzburg.
Challenges faced by the school were the payment of school fees. Most parents, who did not have jobs, could not afford to pay fees. For certain projects such as sport trips, the school would have to fundraise on their own.
Profiles of first teachers
Ms SS Ndlovu
She started working as a teacher in 1976, at the age of 20. She taught from First Year to Standard 2. She became a full employee at Themba Primary in Estcourt, eNtabamhlophe. She then started working at Nikela Lower Primary on 4 April 1980. According to Ms Ndlovu, corporal punishment was the main form of discipline at the time. Ms Ndlovu was not active in politics. According to her, the law didn’t allow teachers to be politically active. In 1985, she had to leave the school due to her pregnancy, but went back to the school in 1988 where she taught until March 2013.
Ms TQ Myeza
Ms Myeza started as a teacher at Emnambithi Primary in 1963. She taught First year (Sub A) at Emnambithi, and further went to Nikela when the breakaway took place in 1976. She taught isiZulu, Ezenkolo, English, Afrikaans, Ezempilo, Arithmetic and Music. Ms Myeza was born at the Red Location (Rooi) and her family later moved to White City. She experienced the bucket system, gravel roads, communal showers, etc. She also was never involved in politics. This is the lady who gave us information on the structure of the school, the platooning system that was adopted to deal with the demand, as well as the subjects taught and the culture of the school from its inception. Ms Myeza resigned from Nikela in 2013 after serving as a teacher for exactly 50 years.
Ms MTC Cele
Ms Cele started as a teacher at Emnambithi Pirmary School in 1971. She was part of the breakaway. According to her, apart from the increasing demand, the Department of Education had decided to separate lower primary from higher primary. She further stated that the Dutch Reformed Church in White City, was at some point used as classes for Nikela learners. The platooning system affected first and second year learners.
Ms Cele was born and bred in New Look. According to her, this is how the location was established;
Rooi, New Look, Jabavu and then White City.
The location used communal taps and showers (three showers shared by the residents of New Look) and the only electricity at the time were street lights on the main road. People were moved from Umbulwane and Magokogweni to live at Ezakheni in the 1970s.
During the violence of the early 90s, children from Nikela would be fetched by their parents or their older siblings from the school. She also emphasised that pregnant teachers (out-of-wedlock) would be expelled from the school.
Nikela has come far from its inception in 1976. From being a primary school catering for the demand during apartheid, it has surely been a home for many great people we know of today. The school takes pride in being one of the best lower primary schools in Ladysmith. It does not only feed Emnambithi Primary, but the rest of higher primary schools in Ladysmith.
The work done by the first teachers until those that are still steering the ship today, does not go unnoticed. Documenting the history of the school is but one of the initiatives to be carried out, in order to ensure that it is renowned for the good work.
Memoirs from former learners:
Neliswa’s family were one of the first people to live in Steadville (Rooi Location). Her grandfather was Chief Ndlovu. Her family later moved to White City. When her mother got married, her family moved to Ezakheni (where she was born), but due to political violence at the time, she went to live with her family in Steadville. She said “times were tough as we became accustomed to the sound of gun shots in the night and early mornings”. Because she was living in Steadville, she attended Nikela Lower Primary, with 5 of her cousins.
Her aunt (Ms Ndlovu, who is mentioned above) would walk with her to school and most people actually thought she was her biological mother; and this meant that she was never late for school.
As the political violence became more intense in Steadville, she says they often feared for their lives, but it was much better than eZakheni.
Streets were often patrolled by the South African Police and the South African Defense Force in “hippos”.
Neliswa was taught by Miss Dambuza (when she started at Nikela) whom she describes as a young and friendly woman who pushed her to her potential. The following year, she was taught by Mrs Madondo – her first English teacher.
Nikela was and still remains an active school when it comes to sport. Miss Dlamini also took part in athletics. Other activities included singing. Her stay was short-lived in Nikela as her parents relocated to Limit Hill.
NB: Research on Nikela still continues. This will be updated in the near future.