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In Memoriam: Joan Williamson, Founder of CWESI Adult Education at WBHS

WBHS In Memoriam Joan Williamson‘Life is a gift from God. Joan Williamson's life was a gift to God.' - Jan Odendaal

Tuesday 9 April 2019: It is only fitting that Wynberg Boys’ High honours the memory of Joan Williamson who recently died at the venerable age of 98.  

’She was an icon in South African education,’ said Jan Odendaal after her Requiem Mass on Wednesday 4th April. Jan was in charge of adult education in the WCED when Bruce Probyn, then Headmaster of Wynberg, accepted his request to host the adult night school which had outgrown its premises at the Catholic Church of Constantia. ’She showed how education should be run and how it could change lives.’ Joan has been changing lives ever since she started her evening classes in her garage in Constantia where she was helped by people who were competent educators and were doing it for the right reasons - and receiving no remuneration in the process.

From garage, to church, to Wynberg. The big move to the school took place in 1996 with Wynberg staff providing many of the early teachers who undertook these teaching duties even though having put in a full day’s teaching. ‘It was called CWESI,’ Jan continued, ‘Constantia Wynberg Sharing Initiative. At the WCED, we called CWESI the Rolls Royce of Adult Education in the Western Cape.'

’She came across as a quiet and placid,’ said John Young who ran the Night School for 13 years taking over from the then teacher-in-charge, Jan de Waal, 'but if you read the letters which she wrote to the apartheid officials, you will soon see her strength of character. She shamed those officials into allowing the school to continue.’ These letters are currently stored in the CWESI offices at the school  appropriately called the Joan Williamson Centre.

In 2006, Joan was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Pope for her services to adult education. She is the only woman in Africa ever to receive that award. The certificate was proudly displayed at the Memorial Service, testament that one individual can change the world - especially if she is determined and driven by what is right.

CWESI teaches basic literacy as well as preparing its students for the matric exam. Joan would have been proud to hear the news recently announced that CWESI will shortly be receiving an award for the 2018 matric results in adult education  - outstanding results in five subjects, 100% pass rate and 33 subject A’s. And it all started from humble beginnings in a small garage in Sillery Avenue Constantia.

Our condolences go to her two sons - both Wynberg Old Boys: John (1969) and Pete (1973) as well as her three daughters. They can well echo the sentiments of Jan Odendaal: ‘Life is a gift from God. Joan Williamson's life was a gift to God.'

Keith Richardson
Former Headmaster, Wynberg Boys’ High School


Wynberg Heritage 2006 CWESI Magazine

Extract from the 2006 WBHS Magazine annual CWESI Report:

Mr John Young, then Director of CWESI: “The great event in the life of CWESI in 2006 was the opening of a new suite of offices in the eastern wing of the Wynberg buildings. We named it the JOAN WILLIAMSON CENTRE after the school’s founder  and it was a great honour to see Mrs Williamson cut the ribbon, which officially inaugurated CWESI’s new administrative on 31 May. The office comprises a working room for the administrators and teachers and a store-room for books and our photostat machine. The offices are carpeted and well-lit and will provide a true 'home' for CWESI staff and students for years to come.”

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