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Students in 1963 - E Dlamini, R Frank, D Keet
Students in 1963 - E Dlamini, R Frank, D Keet
Waterford School was opened on a mountainside at the edge of Mbabane in 1963, after founding headmaster Michael Stern spent 6 years teaching in South Africa, first at an all black school (St. Peter’s, which was closed in 1956) then at an all white school (St. Martin’s, on the same site as St. Peter’s, where he was the founding headmaster), under the Apartheid Regime. Michael Stern came to South Africa to teach in 1955 after responding to an article written by Father (later Archbishop) Trevor Huddleston called, “And the Church Sleeps On” but he became increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated with the pervasive environment of racial intolerance. In 1961, after several years of St. Martin’s work camps in the then British Protectorate of Swaziland, and after it was clear that Michael could not teach and live his ideals in South Africa, he committed himself to the idea of a multiracial school in Swaziland. Waterford was established in clear and expressed opposition to the South African Apartheid regime and its laws of racial segregation.

Michael Stern was not alone in his efforts to make Waterford a reality. His colleagues Gordon Milne, Deon Glover and Jim & Jean Richardson left St. Martin’s to join him in Swaziland. Gifts of service and skill were also made, the most famous being architect and parent Amancio (Pancho) Guedes, who offered to design the school for free, and Stanley Kaplan, a consultant engineer, whose combined efforts allowed the physical structures of campus to be built despite little funding.

Not only did a school need to be built, but the founders of WK wanted all students who qualified academically to be able to attend regardless of their ability to pay, making funds for bursaries a necessity. Early fundraisers were Christopher Newton Thompson, chairman of the school’s Executive Council, which later became the Southern African Trustees, and South African businessman Clive Menell, a friend of Michael Stern’s. In 1963, Michael Stern established the Waterford School Trust in London, with chairman Dr. Eric Abbott, Dean of Westminster. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Wolfson Foundation and the Anglo-American Corporation were early donors, with Harry Oppenheimer, Chairman of Anglo-American, funding the science laboratories (which are still used today). Friends of Waterford also established a ‘Fifty Club’ in Johannesburg, for those who were willing to give £50 for the initial costs. All of these efforts allowed what seemed a crazy idea discussed over a campfire to become a reality.

The school opened with little fanfare on February 3, 1963; an opening ceremony was planned for a few weeks later.

The first students were 16 boys. The boys consisted of seven white (five of who came from St. Martin’s), six black, two ‘coloured’, and one Indian student (the racial demarcations set by the Apartheid regime). Two of these boys were unable to continue their studies at Waterford after a border between South Africa and Swaziland was established in July of 1963 and a few more didn’t return after the first year.

School 1963 - Students, staff and volunteers
School 1963 - Students, staff and volunteers
WK students in their maroon blazers and navy blue ties.
WK students in their maroon blazers and navy blue ties.

It would be remiss to not also mention the founding staff members, because, as Tony Hatton puts it in his memoirs, “the nominal salaries they received must rank them among the School’s first major donors.”

  • Michael Stern - Headmaster; French, Latin, English
  • Gordon Milne - Housemaster; Mathematics
  • Tony Hatton - Bursar; History, Geography, English
  • Jim Richardson - Building & maintenance; Divinity, Woodwork
  • Jean Richardson - Matron
  • Alan Harman - a VSO volunteer turned Science teacher
  • Peter Klatzow - Music
  • Nicholas Buchan - General helper, including daily runs down to Mbabane

Despite the school’s early successes, many local and international observers deemed this diversity as ‘sick’ and ‘unnatural’. To those who supported racially segregated education, and society, Waterford was a threat to their convictions. During the early days, this animosity was displayed through slashed car tyres, increased tension with neighboring schools and the taunting of white students, who, as Tony Hatton put it, were learning “at a young age that racial prejudice produces a special sort of viciousness towards those of the same colour but different mind.”

Over the next couple of years, the school grew exponentially, and with it, support for it’s ethos and mission. In 1967, King Sobhuza II Ngwenyama of Swaziland granted Waterford School the name Kamhlaba , saying, “Wherever you are in the world, the earth does not distinguish who you are. You live in it whatever your colour, whatever your religion, whatever your race. You live in it and it does not try to ostracise you or show any difference as to what you are. And this is the meaning of Kamhlaba.” And from then on the school was known as Waterford Kamhlaba.

During the same time of Waterford’s founding, another movement in education was beginning in the UK, United World College movement (UWC). At a time when the Cold War was at its height, the aim of UWC was to bring together young people from different nations to act as champions of peace through an education based on shared learning, collaboration and understanding. And in 1981, the two movements came together when Waterford Kamhlaba joined the UWC movement, becoming Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa (UWCSA).

The Rondavels. The original structures on the land when it was bought.
The Rondavels. The original structures on the land when it was bought.
Students helping to build WK
Students helping to build WK

Waterford played a small yet significant role in the struggle for racial equality in the Southern Africa region, educating the children of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Desmond Tutu, Nobel prize-winning novelist Nadine Gordimer, the first President of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama, and the revolutionary leaders of Mozambique Samora Machel and Eduardo Mondlane. In a post-Apartheid era, Waterford has sustained its early vision to educate exceptional students regardless of race, religion or financial background. The school continues to nurture Africa’s future political, business, and civic leaders.

Our Headmasters/Principals over the years are:

  • Michael Stern: 1963 -1973
  • Athol Jennings: 1974 -1984
  • Richard Eyeington: 1985 -1995
  • Paul McDermott: 1995 -1998
  • Laurence Nodder: 1998 - 2012
  • Stephen Lowry: 2013 - 2020
  • Patricia Angoy: 2021 - 2022
  • Jackie Otula: 2023 - Present

Today the school has over 600 students representing 60 nationalities, taught by staff from 18 countries. Waterford Kamhlaba provides opportunities for academic achievement, personal growth, and leadership development for young people across Africa and the world. Offering education of Forms 1 to 5, with Form 5 sitting the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) qualification, followed by two years dedicated to the International Baccalaureate (IB). Additionally, all academic levels are involved in weekly community service. This emphasis on service was part of the Christian founding in 1963, was reinforced by UWC, and is now one of the most important aspects of the school, with many alumni recalling its impact on their personal and professional choices. Waterford Kamhlaba’s academic reputation and commitment to service is exceptional.

For 60 years, Waterford has proven that young people can look and work beyond the barriers set by governments and politicians; they can create a peaceful, welcoming environment that doesn’t judge an individual based on their race, religion, or socio-economic status. And for 60 years more, WK will endeavour to fulfil Michael Stern’s original vision for this school on a hill in Swaziland.