Encouraged by Elinor Sisulu’s call at our recent annual review function that an unexamined life is not worth living, two of our girls interviewed Kevin Tait to hear the story of the Ruth First Jeppe Memorial Scholarship programme and how it came about.
“Just over a decade ago, after a lifetime in education mainly in teacher education, then as headmaster at Jeppe Boys, Mr Tait became the business manager at Jeppe Girls. He was looking for new ways to generate income for the school and knew that a successful fundraising programme required a story that distinguished it from other initiatives. Through his involvement on the Wits SRC as a student, he had heard about Ruth First and her connection with Jeppe Girls. At about the same time, there was discussion about our most famous alumnae and how we were acknowledging them.
The first thought for honouring Ruth First was to have a Valedictory award for bravery. But it was soon realised that this was not significant enough for such a prominent person and the idea of a scholarship was suggested. The quest for funds and finding a way to honour Ruth First now merged into one: we had found our distinctive story! As Justice Albie Sachs, our patron said, 'It will be wonderful for many young women of diverse backgrounds to be given the opportunity to obtain top quality education at Ruth’s old school and thus follow in her footsteps.'
Mr Tait consulted widely to ensure support and was delighted when Ruth’s three daughters Shawn, Gillian and Robyn Slovo, who live in England told him that they could not think of a more appropriate way to honour their mother’s memory. Gillian came out to launch the programme and from small beginnings in 2011 when the first four girls were funded by a grant of R100 000 from ABSA, (these girls are now completing their third year of tertiary study) the programme has grown to include 55 girls at school this year, and 19 alumnae, with an annual budget of about R1,9m. 11 matriculants are leaving at the end of the year and 14 new recipients will be admitted into Grade 8 in 2019.
From our point of view, Mr Tait is our silent supporter. Silent but strong, at any time we know that he is one of the people we can approach for help. He is always there, at our mentor days, the Wits Ruth First lecture, the theatre outings - we really appreciate everything he does for us. We also know that he is the main person keeping the Trust going, staying in touch with the donors, finding new donors, organizing the Fiesta, and selecting the new Ruthies each year. The commitment and the drive that Mr. Tait has to promote the scholarship, is the same drive that motivates us girls to constantly achieve our best and bring honour to Ruth First and her name, as well as ourselves and Jeppe High School for Girls.”
Ivana Garvanski and Claudia Steincke
Ruth First Matrics, 2018