23 Rabi Awwal 1439 AH • 12 December 2017

Mr Desai, a principled and fearless educator and activist

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Tributes are pouring in for Khalid Desai, the former principal of Alexander Sinton High School, who passed away yesterday aged 80. Desai has been described as a mean who led from the front in 1976 during a time of immense political upheaval during apartheid. His niece, prominent journalist Zubeida Jaffer, called him “a man of principle who faced the army when they surrounded his school.”

“He stood by his learners when they were chased by the riot police in Athlone. He ended up being arrested and detained in 1986,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Desai joined the Sinton as a young teacher after qualifying at the University of Cape Town with the B.A, B.Ed and B.Comm degrees. As a teacher, he taught Latin and Accountancy.

In one tribute, he is recalled as being a stylish, witty, eloquent man but also strict as an educator. He was prim and proper on and off the field.

He led from the front as only the school’s second principal in 1976 at a school steeped in politics, culture, and sport.

“He was in his element during assemblies in the school hall rising on his toes to emphasize a point and keeping a beady eye on misbehaving boys while a girl or two fainted during the assembly,” wrote one former Sinton pupil.

“Some memorable lines from him still echo, “you boy there” to a student dodging him for bunking classes. And from the stage in the school hall in 1982, “if you are not a good athlete, at least look like one”. The school went on to win the Champion of Champions at the old Athlone Stadium in 1982.”

Mr Desai during a VOC outside broadcast
[Photo: Shanaaz Ebrahim]

The Alumni of Alexander Sinton High School said Desai steered the ship as a “principled principal through the dark waters of Apartheid”, without compromising academic, sporting and cultural integrity.

“In 1985 he led the way along with the Sinton community to open the school when the minions of Apartheid had closed it. He and all the staff were arrested on that day when the police beseiged the school in what became known as the “Siege of Sinton”. He, together with the school community and other schools, took the decision to repeat the academic year,” said the alumni.

“We can never quantify the sacrifices he made both as a leader, an educationist and a pillar of the community. His words were always, “If heads must roll, mine will be the first.””

Nelson Mandela on a visit to Sinton, led by Mr Desai (right)

Alexander Sinton high school was the first school visited by the late Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison, as a result of Desai’s hard work.

“We will never forget the sterling contribution you have made to build this school and to make it great. We are still reaping the benefits and your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of those you have touched,” said the alumni association.

His janaza took place at his home in Church Street, Lansdowne on Thursday.

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