Approaching | College

Muir College: Approaching 200 years of excellence

With its second centennial birthday approaching swiftly, Muir College Boys’ High School in Uitenhage is preparing for one of its biggest celebrations yet. Muir alumni Andrew Binning and Asanda Singata spoke to BizNews founder Alec Hogg on the school’s rich history that dates to the 1820s. The two share the school’s plans for its 200th celebration, which ranges from an international rugby tournament to an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. As one of the oldest formal learning institutions in South Africa, Binning says the school is keen to move with the times. “It was one of the first schools to admit black individuals and the school wants to maintain its traditions.” – Misha Samuels

Asanda on diversity at Muir College: 

The school started transforming around 1990, [when] it accepted the first black [student] who is now an advocate at the NPA. Today, the school has 70 percent black students and the rest is a mixture of whites, coloureds and Indians. It’s quite diverse. When I was there, it was pretty diverse. I matriculated in 1999] With us, all classes were mixed and even with sports, I played first team rugby. I had white team players there as well.

Andrew on the type of student that comes out of a 200-year-old all-boy’s school: 

I think a sense of pride, a sense that you’ve been through a school with traditions. Muir college is quite a small school compared to the other traditional boys’ schools in the country. So, you [are] always the underdog, you almost feel like you’re always playing against the All Blacks. I think on the sports field [but] academics not so much. You always feel [like] you are the underdog. You feel proud to have gone to school where you gave your best. The school motto, for example, is second to none. Nec Pluribus Impar. It doesn’t mean that you must always win. It means that you give your best. And if you give your best with anything, that’s all you can do.  

Andrew on how they are celebrating 200 years: 

We obviously [must] take Covid-19 into regard. We are taking it sort of quarter by quarter for now. The Founders Week is planned for the first week of August 2022 and that’s our main focus. We want to raise the profile of the school and talk about how the school has credit towards education in South Africa. But of course, we’ve [planned] some key events. We’ve got a gala dinner for a thousand old boys and VIPs with social distancing. We have an international rugby festival where we’ve invited six top schools in South Africa to play against six teams from overseas. The schools that have been invited and have so far accepted are Paarl Boys’ High School and Grey College, Grey High School and Selborne College in Uitenhage. 

We have an old boy who coaches the top rugby club in the USA in South Carolina and he’s bringing that team across. We are also utilising our [reputation] in England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand. We also have an old boy who recently played his first match for Japan as a Japanese national, Shane Gates. So, I’m looking at a variety of teams taking part. 

We signed a contract with SuperSport and we’re going to broadcast those games live and live stream under 13 tournaments. So, lots happening around the rugby school assembly, lots of pomp and ceremony functions for teachers. A Remembrance Day service. We are trying a Guinness World Record attempt of [the greatest] number of people doing a school war cry. We are hoping for 2,500 to 3,000 thousand people to get into the Guinness Records and have activities [planned] around that.

Asanda and Andrew on the future of an all-boys school in a woke society:

Remember, we are a boys’ school and we do have a sister school, Riebeek College. We need to look at things differently. As you are saying, the world is changing. We need to adapt to those changes and we need to align with those changes. If they talk of our strategy as a school, they talk about our traditions.

We have work lives [and the] last thing we want to do is to be labelled as a secret organisation. You know, there’s nothing sinister about it. I think it’s just that most of us had good experiences. It was part of [our] upbringing. [We were] part of a small community where you knew everybody. As old boys, we now caucus for other old boys to give back to our old school and the community. We are positioning a couple of legacy projects as part of the celebrations this year that will launch in August next year and [we are] appealing to corporates and to old boys who are well connected, even the old boys themselves. We have some really influential and successful old boys [and are able] to say here’s our chance to give back to where we came from. 

Andrew on the history of Muir College: 

The story is that about eight or 10 educators from Scotland came [to] Cape Town and were sent to various parts of the Cape Colony. It’s interesting because Uitenhage is about 40 km outside of Port Elizabeth. It’s in the same metro now, but apparently in those days, [the] Uitenhage area was more affluent, things worked better. People stayed in [the] area and this guy, Rose Innes was sent to Uitenhage to start a school and opened Muir College in 1812. Then, in 1829, [Innes] was recalled to Cape Town to start SACS and UCT. So, the same gentleman who is credited with starting the school that became Muir College, also started SACS and [the] University of Cape Town in 1829. The school changed its name two or three times. I [believe] in the 1860s, the superintendent of the Cape Colony was Thomas Muir, and the school for some reason decided to take on his name. I think he was quite an influential person and did well for the school. And that is the Scottish Heritage of Muir College. 

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