Over the past 125 years the Mariazell Mission, has been noiselessly producing a highbrow of African leaders who are shifting levers of power at key institutions in South Africa
Ariazell Mission is a 47km ride outside the town of Matatiele, at the foothill of the Drakensberg Mountain. The drive to this Catholic mission is paved with a bumpy dirt path on rolling rocky hills. Hurried automobiles, small and big, raise a storm of dust from the gravel surface en route to this tranquil, picturesque hamlet.
At the entrance of the mission stands tall a modest Catholic church carved from century old brown sandstone with a mesmeric high ceiling whose rooftop is painted in green. The external metal sheet covering the church is in sync with the green hills, the tall trees, the carpet of grassland, fynbos, shrubs and flowers that emit a natural perfume so friendly to the human nose.
Mariazell is blessed with an abundant space to bivouac, bird watch, hike, horse-ride and mountain bike.
To cool off after an adventure is the Jordan River and a friendly waterfall ideal to shower-off the dust and sweat from an exploratory trip.
Among the residents of the mission are nuns and learners attending the historic academic institute, Mariazell High School. The motto of the mission school is O Ra et Labora, a monastic Catholic practice, which in Latin means pray and work hard.
Over the past 125 years the Mariazell Mission, has been noiselessly producing a highbrow of African leaders who are shifting levers of power at key institutions in South Africa. From the brown stone-built classrooms is a view of the horizon showing the imposing foothills of the Drakensberg. It is where dreams are made. In the winter season the snow-white mountain breathes an
atrociously cold biting air, a blizzard that has failed to stand in the way of scholarly thirsty African youth.
No surprise key South African institutions are peppered with graduates from Mariazell. At the end of the 2019 winter, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni announced that one of the Mariazell old pupils, Advocate Makhubalo Ndaba, had been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). The PIC manages funds in excess of R2 trillion, mainly on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund. In the Spring of 2019 Philani Potwana, a 31-year old and Mariazell alumnus, was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of First National Bank’s (FNB) Easy Segment division. FNB is a subsidiary of the JSE-listed banking goliath FirstRand Group. About a decade ago Potwana came up with an innovation that allowed bank customers to withdraw money at an ATM without a bank card, which is now known as e-wallet.
Makhubalo and Potwana’s erudite manners were undoubtedly shaped by respected educators such as Sam Lebenya, the teacher and former principal of Mariazell High School. Among Potwana’s peers at the institution were Nkosodumo Mfini, a chartered accountant and current finance director at the perishables’ division of JSE-listed Tiger Brands. Tiger Brands is a maker of the oats porridge that many learners consume before a day of school.
From the village-based mission school has emerged a fine alumni which includes reigning Constitutional Court Judge Mbuyiseli Madlanga, Minister of Education Angie Motshekga, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Defence Terror Lekota, late activists Albertina Sisulu, Epainette Moerane Mbeki and many others who serve in South Africa and abroad as doctors, lawyers, engineers, clerics, pharmacists, entrepreneurs, researchers, teachers, artisans, social workers and many other professionals.
Although located at what would seem to be an obscure rural setting, the Mariazell mission has somehow demonstrated some advances in engineering. For a doubting Thomas who struggles to believe that water can produce electricity, a tour to the plant at Mariazell mission is advisable to understand how.
Mariazell Mission has always been self-sustaining as they have been generating their own electricity through a hydro-electricity generating power facility which has adequately provided for their needs. Thus protecting the institution from the ailing operations of the state-owned Eskom that is struggling to put lights on for many learners eager to read.
While the school continues to produce a well-educated class, its academic excellence has somehow waned, making the establishment a shadow of itself. The mission school is on its knees praying hard for the return to its glory. It awaits solutions from its alumni to sustain the legacy to a second century.