Alexander Sinton Secondary School

Alexander Sinton Secondary School, also known as Alexander Sinton High School, is an English-medium school in Athlone, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The school is located in the Cape Flats, an area designated as non-white under the Group Areas Act during apartheid. The school was involved in the anti-apartheid student uprisings of the 1970s and 1980s. Staff and students at the school made headlines when they barricaded the police into their school in September 1985.[1] The following month, three youths were killed near the school by police officers who opened fire on protesters in the Trojan Horse Incident.[2] It was the first school to be visited by Nelson Mandela after his release from prison.[3] As of 2014, the school has 1,100 pupils, half boys and half girls. The school employs 40 teachers and six non-teaching staff.[4]

Alexander Sinton Secondary School
Thornton Road, Crawford

South Africa
Coordinates33.9759°S 18.5125°E / -33.9759; 18.5125
MottoVel Primus Vel Cum Primis ("If not the best, amongst the best")
Established1951 (1951)
FounderAlexander Sinton
PrincipalMichael D Peterson
Number of students1,100


The school was named for its benefactor Alexander Sinton, who bequeathed money to found the school in 1951.[4]

1976 uprising

During the youth uprising of 1976 protesting the imposition of the Afrikaans language as a mandatory medium of instruction in schools, the students at the school and Belgravia High School nearby in Athlone boycotted classes on 16 August during a period that saw marches, random acts of arson and battles between students and the police.[5] In 1976 Nabil ("Basil") Swart, a teacher at the school, was arrested after helping a student who had been shot during the protests. Swart was released on bail after being detained for a weekend.[6]

1985 protests

Internal resistance to apartheid intensified, and a state of emergency was declared in parts of the country in 1985. The Committee of 81, a student organisation representing coloured schools in the Western Cape which organised student boycotts and protests, held some meetings at the school in 1985.[6] The school effectively stopped teaching from February and was officially closed on 6 September when the government ordered more than 400 schools to close as a result of civil unrest.[1][6] Some teachers resigned their positions and others were confused as to their role. The Teachers' League of South Africa, a professional association for coloured teachers,[7] encouraged its members not to resign for the sake of the children. Teachers decided to teach, but not to co-operate with the authorities.[6]

The school defiantly re-opened on 17 September 1985 when the principal, Khalied Desai,[8] led teachers, uniformed students and parents who sang protest songs.[1] The police were aware of the students' plans,[6] and arrived quickly. The students threw stones, built barricades and the police replied with armoured vehicles, tear gas, rubber bullets and the arrests of nearly 200 people.[1][9] Teachers and parents supported the students and their protests against injustice.[6] After the arrests were made, the police were surprised to find that they themselves were effectively prisoners, as the exits from the school were blocked by vehicles brought there by protesters outside the school.[1] The police had difficulty taking away the people they had arrested.[1] The New York Times noted that the action taken by coloured teachers and students at the school was remarkably different to the boycotts taking place at black schools.[1] Swart was again jailed for two weeks in 1985 for helping to re-open the school.[6]

The state of emergency was extended to include Cape Town on 25 October 1985, giving the police and army greater powers to deal with instability in the area.[10] Swart was again jailed for eighteen months in 1986 for his involvement in the school unrest.[6]

Trojan Horse Incident

On 15 October 1985 three male youths, aged 11, 15 and 21,[8] were killed by the police nearby in Belgravia Road in Athlone in what was called the Trojan Horse Incident.[2][11][12] Students and activists had gathered where they regularly had battles with the police and were stoning vehicles.[2][11][12] Most of the people in the crowd were from the school.[13] Police officers who had been hidden in crates on board the back of a truck opened fire on stone-throwing protesters.[2][11][12] The police had deliberately provoked the protesters to allow them to shoot – the truck was driven down the same road twice as the police did not get the anticipated reaction the first time, i.e. stones being thrown at them.[11][12][14] A CBS television crew witnessed and filmed the incident and images thereof were broadcast to the world.[2][11]

An inquest found that the police had behaved "unreasonably", but despite a private prosecution no sentences were imposed on the people involved.[15] A Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing was held into the incident in 1997, after the end of the apartheid era.[8] A memorial marks the spot where the incident took place. It shows a silhouette of the Trojan Horse vehicle and the people who shot the three young people. The memorial also officially includes graffiti sprayed on the fence that includes the message "Stop State Violence".[16]

Other controversies

In 2012, the then principal Fazil Parker was involved in a dispute with the Department of Basic Education after he was given late notice that his teachers needed to mark national exams. The teachers considered the request unreasonable and did not comply with it, resulting in Parker being summoned to a disciplinary hearing.[17]

Notable alumni

  • Ronald Harrison, artist and activist who created the Black Christ painting banned in South Africa.[18]


  1. "Attempt to Reopen a School is Barred". The New York Times. 18 September 1985. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  2. Cape Town Uncovered: A People's City. Juta and Company Ltd. 2005. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-919930-75-6.
  3. "Alexander Sinton High School". Archived from the original on 3 October 2014. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  4. Our School Archived 23 June 2014 at the Wayback Machine,, retrieved 17 August 2014
  5. Western Cape Student Uprising, SA History online, retrieved 19 August 2014
  6. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission Human Rights Violations Submissions – Questions and Answers, Date: 02-06-1997, Name: Basil Swart, Case: Athlone". Department of Justice. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  7. Adhikari, Mohamed (1994). "Coloured Identity and the Politics of Coloured Education: The Origin of the Teachers' League of South Africa". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 27 (1): 101–126. doi:10.2307/220972. JSTOR 220972.
  8. "'Trojan Horse' killers still a mystery". Mail & Guardian. 27 March 1997. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  9. Alan Wieder (21 January 2014). Teacher and Comrade: Richard Dudley and the Fight for Democracy in South Africa. SUNY Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-7914-7845-5.
  10. Rule, Sheila (26 October 1985). "Pretoria Expands Emergency Order". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  11. Sue Williamson (1 September 2010). Resistance Art in South Africa. Juta and Company Ltd. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-919930-69-5.
  12. Carolyn Hamilton (31 December 2002). Refiguring the Archive. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-4020-0743-9.
  13. Olshan, Judd D. "The Trojan Horse Incident" (PDF). State University of New York College at Cortland. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  14. Brogden, Mike; Shearing, Clifford D. (2005). Policing for a New South Africa. Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 9781134889464. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  15. Trojan Horse Incident, SA History, retrieved 17 August 2014
  16. Memorial to the Trojan Horse Incident in Cape Town, Ruin79, Flickr, retrieved 21 August 2014
  17. Teachers can’t cope with 'extra workload', Ilse Fredericks, Nov 2012, IOL online, retrieved 17 August 2014
  18. Harrison, Ronald (2006). The Black Christ: A Journey to Freedom. Claremont: Philip. p. 9. ISBN 0864866879.
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