Tony Hatton on books, Khama and 50 years of WK

This weekend at Waterford will honour Tony Hatton, one of the original WK teachers, founding school librarian and author of Phoenix Rising, his memoirs of the first 15 years of the school. In anticipation of the events of February the 2nd, we asked for his thoughts on the celebration.

Firstly, this is obviously the week leading up to Waterford’s birthday – what do you particularly remember about this week fifty years ago?

We were convinced that nothing would be ready for the day. Even the Residence Commissioner’s wife came in and offered some residency to accommodate the children, if necessary. There was also a question of beds; they were concrete slabs then… And, if anything vital was missing or arrived at the last minute, for example hot water or something… I guess it was the feeling that we’ve never been ready.

But the day itself went well?

The day itself went off well, except for the mud, the gloom and the mist… It was not at all a very inviting day. Although, it was quite exciting and in the end everything went off alright.

Moving a couple of years on, as you were working in this brand new and open school and experiencing various challenges, both financial and ideological, why exactly did you personally choose to plough your efforts in the creation of the school library?

I don’t know… it just happened. Well, nobody else was involved. Looking back as a bursar… I hadn’t got any more time than anybody else… and also I felt, since it involved so few books, I guess it didn’t involve much time in dealing with it. Also, at the time reading to the children was a very important aspect of the school… As I mentioned in my book, every week-day afternoon there was a quiet period where the children would have time to read, take a nap or even listen to some music.

Leading to our main event this week-end with President Ian Khama being our guest of honor, what did you think of Ian Khama as a student at Waterford? And… did you ever think he would ever become president of his own country?

No, I didn’t. Although, his father was indeed the president of Botswana during my time at Waterford. Well, from my reflections, Ian, even when he was just thirteen or fourteen, was very worried about his father’s safety. Indeed, the political situation in Botswana was a bit tense at the time and there were fractions, I think, that were against his branch of the family because of his father’s mixed marriage to a white lady.

Did you feel that experience and the different pressures on him as a young boy affected his time here at Waterford or did it define him in a sense?

Oh, he was very normal and fully engaged in school life. I’m not sure, but I think that was the reason why he was directed particularly onto the military side… I think he felt he had a duty to protect his father.

Is it a coincidence that so many African leaders, in many different fields, have started at Waterford? Do you see it as Waterford’s role to produce the types of people who can lead in the business, political or civic fields?

Well, I think we have been fortunate in a sense… I think in those days the standard of teaching and the standard of education at Waterford was pretty high… And, at the time… in this Southern part of Africa there was segregated education and I guess those who wished to have a good and non-segregated education where pushed more towards our side. Many people have accused us of wanting to create some sort of an ‘elite school’, but that was not at all our intention.

I find it fascinating that the same type of education that was promoted at Waterford 50 years ago is still the same today. Somehow, the school’s ideologies and reputation were spread out throughout the world and in consequence, the school became very well known… What do you have to say about that?

Well, I think for that, Michael was very good in terms of fundraising and advertising the school all over the world especially to donors in Europe and America. However, advertising wasn’t the main purpose – the main idea was to raise enough funds to run the school. WelI, I guess, in that sense, the school really became very well known in a short space of time.

I don’t really find a problem with Waterford being viewed as an elite school… I guess, this word may sometimes be used negatively… however, I do see Waterford as an elite school, at least in terms of its leading role in terms of its academic achievements. What do you think?

I think I agree with you on that… there are obviously different forms of elitism. When we started this school, we did not want to be associated with the idea of blocking someone out of our school simply because they did not belong to the upper class. Therefore, in that sense, that’s why we did a lot of fundraising… in order to generate funds to be able to provide bursaries for students that generally could not afford a Waterford education. I’m thus pleased to know that this student bursary system has continued at the school even today.

Finally, after the long association between Waterford and yourself and your family, what does it mean to you to be remembered in this way, through the library?

I’m truly honored and privileged to be remembered this way… It means a tremendous lot to my family and I for me to be remembered through one of the school’s most important buildings. It especially means a lot to me… when I recall what happened 31 years ago – I mean, to go from being kicked out of my post to this… it’s a great contrast… I’m afraid, I’ll have to be human enough to relish this moment. But again, it’s a great honor and it does really mean a lot to me.


The dedication of the Tony Hatton Library and the release of Phoenix Rising will take place on Saturday the 2nd of Febraury at Waterford and will kick-start the 50th anniversary celebrations.