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President Khama pays tribute to Waterford Kamhlaba

On the day before the 50th anniversary of Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, His Excellency Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, a member of the graduating class of 1970, visited the school to open the 50th anniversary celebrations

, visit his former classmates and teachers and launch the memoirs of his former housemaster Mr Tony Hatton, of which he personally wrote the foreword.

Guests were welcomed by students in national dress and the school marimba band. Mr and Mrs Hatton drove up following their private meeting with President Khama, who followed shortly afterwards on foot. Mr Hatton commented as he got out of the car “I never thought I would see the day when I was driven as the President walked”.

The day started with a special assembly in the Michael Stern Hall, attended by Waterford alumni of the 1960s and 1970s, students, staff, governors and dignitaries. Present on stage at the assembly were Mr and Mrs Hatton, President Khama, President Khama’s brother, also an alumnus and the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, the Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland, Acting Principal Mr Bruce Wells, Chairman of the Governing Council Mr Clark Thom and members of the Waterford School Trust and Waterford Kamhlaba Foundation of South Africa.

During his speech, President Khama told stories of his time at the school, paid tribute to the effect Mr Hatton had had on him and described him as ‘one of those teachers that you remember for the rest of your life’. He engaged the students in asking what had changed since his time at the school and admitted that he still felt apprehensive about referring to his old housemaster by his nickname, ‘Khaki’. The highlight of his speech was when, after referring to his wearing of the original Waterford tie, he also slipped on his old school blazer, the maroon uniform which was worn at the time, and discovered that it still fitted.

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Mr Hatton then spoke of his time at the school, his thanks to what he described as ‘the real’ founders of the school- founding Headmaster Michael Stern, and staff Gordon Milne and Jim Richardson. He celebrated the effect that the school had had on educating his own three children who had passed through the school and finally to the Reverend Athol Jennings, Headmaster at the school at the time that Mr Hatton left, for having created the contrast in emotions toward the school, which had made the day so special.

Following those speeches, the school’s alumni fund was launched by Mr Themba Gamedze, Waterford alumnus and donor, who described the importance to the school of alumni donations and to provide the next 50 years of scholarships. Following his speech he handed a large multi-coloured piggy-bank to the Acting Student Representative Council Executive members Salha Hillal and Alex Driehaus who accepted the fund on behalf of all current and future students of the school.

Throughout the assembly, musical interludes were provided by the school choir, whereupon President asked whether “joining the choir was a choice, or whether it was still compulsory?”

Following the assembly, all guests were invited outside to witness the unveiling of a plaque outside the library, dedicating it to Mr Hatton for his work in establishing and populating the library in the early days. Amongst other speakers, current members of the student ‘Friends of the Library’ club spoke of their fondness for the facility and their thanks for role in school life.

Thereafter, guests turned 180 degrees to see the raising the anniversary flag to signify the commencement of the 50th anniversary celebrations at Waterford. Despite a slight technical hiccup concerning the flags hoisting, the symbolic opening of events was applauded as a significant day in the history of the school and one which, in Mr Hatton’s time, must have at times seemed nearly impossible.

As guests queued for a signed copy of Hatton’s book, Phoenix Rising, and made their way up to lunch, President Khama was shown around his old residence and other facilities at the school. Two Form 2 students who had seconds earlier been arguing over whether they would feel star-struck upon meeting the President, were greeted and shaken by the hand as the President’s party moved through the hostels and promptly decided that “he’s just a normal guy”.

As lunch was served in the Jane Holland Centre for Creative Learning, Hatton sat between his wife and the President, surrounded by other former students of his. The President spoke freely and naturally with his former schoolmates and, upon his departure, had to be torn away from conversation with them.

As the President’s party moved out and headed back to the airport, Waterford started to return to normal. The football match between the Form 2s and Form 3s, delayed from the morning, kicked off and the daily activities of socialising, prep and sport kicked in again. Tony Hatton was not an ordinary teacher and has been appropriately honoured for his role at the school. To everyone’s surprise, although undeniably a great man, His Excellency, never a man for heirs and graces, endeared himself to the school as ‘one of us’, ‘just a normal guy’ and a very funny and relaxed graduate of Waterford. No more simply a President, he became Ian, part of Waterford and, on every count, ‘Kamhlaba’.

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