The Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Festival 2013 at Vygieskraal Stadium

On a blisteringly hot Saturday, 19 October 2013, Vygieskraal Stadium in Johnson Road, Rylands, Athlone, was the venue for an exciting annual interschools event: the Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Festival. I had been to the 2011 festival in Vygieskraal and the 2012 festival in Florida Park (see photos and reports on those links) and was rather looking forward to this year’s event, as it is always a colourful spectacle – and a great photographic opportunity. 🙂

Vygieskraal Stadium in Athlone hosts the 2013 Marching Drill Festival

Vygieskraal Stadium in Athlone hosts the 2013 Marching Drill Festival

The marching drill project was initiated by Mr Saeed Ruiters, a teacher at Portland High School in Mitchell’s Plain and now President of the Western Province Marching Association (WPMA), and Ms Lyrice Trussell, Senior Curriculum Advisor for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

The trophies sparkle in the sunshine, waiting to be handed out to the best schools in the various categories

The trophies sparkle in the sunshine, waiting to be handed out to the best schools in the various categories

After the programme had proved so successful at Portland High School, improving discipline, respect for authority, and pride in the school uniform, as well as inculcating positive behaviours and leadership skills, it was rolled out to all the schools in the Mitchell’s Plain area. It now extends across much of Cape Town, i.e. to the Metro South, Metro East, Metro North and Metro Central areas.

Here come the talented musicians of Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums

Here come the talented musicians of Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums

The WPMA wants to extend it to other provinces too, but so far the focus has been on the Western Cape, and this is the only area in the country where this competition is held.

Amazing Grace, Highland Cathedral - all stirring pieces when played on drums and bagpipes

Amazing Grace, Highland Cathedral – all stirring pieces when played on drums and bagpipes

Mr Ruiters and some of the other educators involved were recently interviewed for an eTV documentary, “South African Heroes: Teachers” (you can see some Facebook photos here and an inspiring YouTube video clip here), focusing on the benefits of the programme.

Not surprisingly, given the positive impact of their programme on learners, they have received accolades from the SA Army, Navy and Air Force, the London Metropolitan Police, the MEC for Education in the Western Cape (Donald Grant) and the Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security (Alderman JP Smith), among others.

Alderman JP Smith (Mayco Member for Safety and Security) delivering his keynote address

Alderman JP Smith (Mayco Member for Safety and Security) delivering his keynote address

The SANDF and especially the Reserve Force volunteers were very supportive of the programme from the beginning; a partnership has now been established with the War Veterans Association (the so-called Friends of the Force Association, or FOFA), which is sharing its skills and expertise with the participating learners.

Metro Police Deputy Chief Yolanda Faro on the left waits to speak to the learners too

Metro Police Deputy Chief Yolanda Faro on the left waits to speak to the learners too

The marching drill programme was rolled out at Western Cape schools as part of a Life Orientation activity in 2007, which meant that it was incorporated into the weekly school timetable as a physical education class. The youngsters practice, train and drill throughout the year.

The High Brass Brigade

The High Brass Brigade

When I arrived at the stadium around 8am, I wandered around to get my bearings, and to take some photos at the static displays on the far side of the sportsfield. The City of Cape Town’s Emergency Services, Traffic Department, Fire and Rescue Services, and Disaster Risk Management, as well as the South African Police Services, had all set up stands. And so had several military units.

Static military displays by Cape Garrison Artillery, Regiment Oranjerivier and Cape Field Artillery

Static military displays by Cape Garrison Artillery, Regiment Oranjerivier and Cape Field Artillery

Immediately recognisable was the Rooikat armoured reconnaissance vehicle of Regiment Oranjerivier (ROR), which is usually driven by MWO Karel Minnie, the Regimental Sergeant-Major. Although it looks extremely intimidating with its eight huge flat-run tyres and its powerful gun, this never seems to deter youngsters – or adults – who invariably ask for permission to climb aboard (see photos in previous posts – WP SMDEA Drill Squad visits Fort Ikapa; Women’s Day at Fort Ikapa; Imbizo at Nomzamo; Personal perspective on the Imbizo)!

A squad is getting ready for the march-past - stand up straight, chests out!

A squad is getting ready for the march-past – stand up straight, chests out!

Nearby stood the heavy SAMIL 100 gun tractor of Cape Garrison Artillery (CGA), with their fearsome Oerlikon 35mm twin-barrel quick-firing anti-aircraft cannon. And Cape Field Artillery (CFA) had arrived with one of their 25-pounder guns, which are towed by SAMIL 20 gun tractors. These guns are traditionally used to fire salutes at ceremonial and annual occasions, such as the Opening of Parliament, Remembrance Day and the Gunners Memorial Service. They also regularly participate in the performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture at the annual Cape Town Military Tattoo.

The squad from Portland High School forms the guard of honour

The squad from Portland High School forms the guard of honour

Troops from 9 SAI Bn (South African Infantry Battalion) – a Regular unit rather than a Reserve unit – had set up an excellent weapons display in a camouflage tent. The soldiers on duty there were, as always, very knowledgeable and informative, and patiently explained what the weapons could be used for, while stressing the safety aspects.

Hyacinth Primary School of Lentegeur, Mitchell's Plain, looking very sharp!

Hyacinth Primary School of Lentegeur, Mitchell’s Plain, looking very sharp!

The atmosphere was positively electric with anticipation – I felt myself getting goosebumps, despite the heat, when the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums, led by Pipe Major Staff Sergeant Andrew Imrie, marched across the field and formed up in front of the grandstand to play, among others, the powerful Highland Cathedral and an exquisite Amazing Grace. What is it about the sound of the bagpipes, that it sends shivers up one’s spine?! Judging from the loud cheers and vigorous applause from the grandstand, the rest of the spectators felt similarly.

Saluting the dignitaries

Saluting the VIPs and dignitaries

After this musical introduction, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman J.P. Smith, delivered his keynote address, and Deputy Chief of the Cape Metro Police, Yolanda Faro, also spoke to the learners. And then, the marching began in earnest!

Imperial Primary School of Beacon Valley, Mitchell's Plain, saluting the VIPs and dignitaries

Imperial Primary School of Beacon Valley, Mitchell’s Plain, saluting the VIPs and dignitaries, and impressing the judges

“Left, left, left-right-left – left, left, left-right-left…” chanted a chorus of young voices behind me. I turned to see a squad of youngsters, marching down the distinctive red track of Vygieskraal stadium; they were swinging their arms shoulder-high and stepping out proudly. All were neatly attired in matching uniforms and shining shoes, their hair tied back and tucked under peaked caps or berets. Led by a drum major with a twirling baton, they were marching in sync with the thump-thump rat-ta-tat of a couple of drummers, who were walking close behind them.

Cheering spectators on the grandstand leap to their feet whenever their school team is announced

Cheering spectators on the grandstand leap to their feet whenever their school team is announced

As the announcer called out the name of each school over the loudspeakers, a roar of cheering came from the spectators, who were seated in the roofed pavilion along the western edge of the large sportsfield. Some leapt to their feet, and were waving their arms about, and shouting at the tops of their lungs – clearly, these were happy supporters and parents of each team!

Eisleben Road Primary School in Rocklands, Mitchell's Plain

Eisleben Road Primary School in Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain

Although it is officially called a ‘festival’, in the spirit of encouraging closer ties between the participating schools, it is definitely a ‘competition’ or ‘championship’ too, judging from the intense looks of concentration of the participants, their high levels of discipline and the evident pride they displayed in their uniforms, their squads, and their schools. Trophies and awards are handed out in various categories, such as: Best Dress; Grand March Past; Best Drum Major; Best Exhibition; and Best Overall.

Each of the squads marches past the grandstand

Each of the squads marches past the grandstand

Mr Ruiters advised me that the adjudicators were all experts in the field of drilling, with a wealth of knowledge that they shared with the schools and the WPMA. They included SA Army veterans from the SA Coloured Corps and based at 9 SAI; Lt Col Andrew Anthony, Major E. Estruis, Major Keith Gordon, Warrant Officer 1 A. Bengell, Warrant Officer 1 J. van Zyl, Warrant Officer 1 Tiny Meyer and Ms van Zyl. There were also active members of the SA Navy, Warrant Officer 2 J. Bright and Warrant Officer K. Swartz.

Harvester Primary School of Westridge, Mitchell's Plain

Harvester Primary School of Westridge, Mitchell’s Plain

I later received the results from Mr Ruiters, who also pointed out that, during the schools’ individual performances, the Western Province selectors chose the best marchers from each of the schools to form the Western Province Schools Marching team, which is a big honour!

Elsiesriver High School in their maroon waistcoats and grey trousers

Elsiesriver High School in their maroon waistcoats and grey trousers

“Elsies River High School won the overall highest points in their division, followed by Oval North, who came second, and Beacon Hill High School, who came a close third. Cascade Primary School scored the highest points overall in the Primary School division, beating Merrydale Primary with only two points, followed by Harvester Primary in third place. There was a thid section made up of Community Cadets, in which Scottsdene from Kraaifontein took the highest honours. Bishop Lavis Community Cadets, who are managed by a Metro Police Officer (NSO) and trained by community worker Martin Ruiters, took second overall, while Saints Maniac Society of Mitchell’s Plain came third overall.”

The youngsters from Merrydale Primary School of Lentegeur stand patiently and quietly

The youngsters from Merrydale Primary School of Lentegeur stand patiently and quietly

Each squad marched proudly down the track, saluting as it drew level with the chairs, where the dignitaries, VIPs and judges, some from the military, were seated. They passed between the guard of honour, which had been formed on either side of the track, as the roar reached a crescendo. They marched around the gently curving track, until they had reached an empty space at the far side of the field, where they halted, lined up in neat rows, and turned 90 degrees. Then it was the turn of the next drill squad to march past the grandstand and the judges.

Even these youngsters from a primary school display discipline and self-confidence

Even these youngsters from a primary school display discipline and self-confidence

I tried to count how many participating schools there were – and I think there were about 18 or 19.

According to Mr Ruiters, three high schools were attending for the first time: Crystal High School of Hanover Park, Oscar Mpetha High School of Nyanga, and Phoenix High School in Manenberg. Their squads had been trained by the Western Province Cadets and managed by Metro Police Officers.

What makes this so interesting is that they were part of a pilot project of the Department of Safety and Security of the City of Cape Town, to reduce crime at these schools. The learners performed extremely well, even though they did not have much time to prepare for the competition.

Portland Primary School of Mitchell's Plain

Portland Primary School of Mitchell’s Plain

I was so impressed at how disciplined and tidily dressed all the participants were, and at their focus and concentration. As I walked around the field, trying to make sure I took photographs of each of the participating teams, I was struck by how self-confidently, calmly and patiently they stood in their rows.

Here comes Cascade Primary School of Eastridge, Mitchell's Plain

Here comes Cascade Primary School of Eastridge, Mitchell’s Plain

Thinking back to my own school days, I could not recall any occasion, where we had stood properly and quietly in line, or worn our school uniform with pride – or looking anywhere as neat as these youngsters. We weren’t exactly an undisciplined, badly behaved rabble at school, but I don’t think our principals or teachers ever praised us – or had reason to praise us – for consistently good behaviour, excellent discipline or correct and matching uniforms. In fact, we usually got a bit of an earful.

Scottsdene Community Cadets

Scottsdene Community Cadets

All the people I chatted to during the couple of hours I spent at the event, emphasised the positive effect that the marching drill programme had had on these youngsters.

The schools and neighbourhoods of Mitchell’s Plain and the rest of the Cape Flats are often in the news for all the wrong reasons: violent crime, rape, murder, gangsterism, drive-by shootings, violence, protests, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, abuse of women and children, unemployment, vandalism, truancy from school, breakdown of families… it is a litany of all kinds of social problems.

One of the final squads marching past the grandstand

One of the final squads marching past the grandstand

Children who grow up in these areas are exposed to and witness violence from a very young age. Many seek friendship, companionship, safety, and a sense of being part of a group, by joining gangs, which draw them further into a world, where violence and substance abuse are accepted as the norm. Many also join gangs because they find it difficult, even impossible, to remain neutral in a polarised, divided street or neighbourhood.

The guard of honour from Portland High School marches off

The guard of honour from Portland High School marches off

It is not surprising that the education system is suffering, and that teachers and schools are frequently challenged by absenteeism, a lack of discipline, classroom unruliness, and even gang shootouts right outside their doors. Thankfully, it is not always like that, and not everywhere is the situation so extremely volatile. But that undercurrent is always present, creating a level of stress and anxiety, which does not contribute to the creation of a positive, encouraging, stimulating environment where learning and creativity are fostered.

A group of friendly ladies - eager to pose for a piccie!

A group of friendly ladies – eager to pose for a piccie!

Thankfully, there are good role models, and teachers who do make a difference in the lives of these youngsters. The marching drill programme has had a significantly positive impact by instilling qualities such as discipline, self-confidence, teamwork and leadership. This has led to many of them reaching out to mentor their fellow pupils and to pass on these positive qualities.

A final look back at the stadium - the squads can briefly relax before the next performance begins

A final look back at the stadium – the squads can briefly relax before the next performance begins

I think it is wonderful when these youngsters, their schools and their neighbourhoods appear in the news for all the right reasons.

As in previous years, I could clearly see from their excited, smiling faces and their enthusiastic participation, that the youngsters had a great time on the field, and that they had enjoyed the opportunity to show off their marching skills.

Well done and congratulations to all the winners!

8 thoughts on “The Western Cape Schools Drill and Marching Festival 2013 at Vygieskraal Stadium

    • Hello Sybil – thank you. Yes, it was *hot*! And some groups were wearing warm tracksuit tops and even school blazers… A couple of the youngsters did need a bit of medical attention in the shade, probably because of all the excitement and adrenaline rush of performing, combined with a bit of dehydration from being out in the sun. I think they all deserved a huge pat on the back.

  1. Fantastic pics as usual Reggie! Lovely to see this thriving in the Cape community. What camera where you shooting with as I am looking at a Canon for myself here in Taiwan?

  2. Hello there. I had the privilege to have been invited to the Portland High School Life Orientation day which included a drill and marching programme. I observed excellent skill, discipline, refinement, synchronisation and camaraderie during their performances . A wonderful and worthwhile discipine that these learners are exposed to. Well done to all the schools, your trainers and all teachers who are involved in this project. Well done! Doreen Solomons

    • Hello Doreen – thank you for leaving such an encouraging comment. It is lovely to hear from other people how this programme is transforming the learners’ lives and teaching them a positive set of skills.

  3. Hello sir.
    I am a student of Elsies River High School and a proud member/secretary of the cadets squad.
    I cannot describe how nervous all of us were.
    In 2012 we set a standard when we won, however this year we had to double that.
    We practiced for 7 months. Weeks before the competition we practiced day and night.

    At the competition, just after our exhibition, Mr.Ruiters came to us and congratulated us on our fine display. We knew then already that EHS was going to take the trophy home.

    I cannot describe the feeling when they called out our name. We had won. Tears flooded my eyes as we ran down the stairs to the field, singing and dancing. All our hard work had paid off.

    Tomorrow is yet another big day for us.
    We are taking part in the Military Tattoo.
    Wish us luck 🙂

    I salute you.

    • Dear Merishce
      Thank you for leaving such a wonderful and detailed comment with some behind-the-scenes feedback!
      I look forward to seeing your performance at the Tattoo matinee today.
      Best of luck!

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