The ravages and trauma of COVID are indisputable. No one was out of reach of the clutches of the pandemic which denied and took so much from everyone over the last two years. This was particularly true for pupils in their final year of school – the pinnacle of their school career. Wanting to acknowledge, commemorate and honour the experiences forfeited, opportunities sacrificed and dreams deferred by all the matric boys of 2020, 2021 and 2022 – St Benedict’s Boy’s College commissioned a new bronze statue of our Lady, Mother of Africa.

The beautiful work of art was unveiled at the school’s recent Founders’ Day event – a truly memorable occasion and the first time since COVID that the school could gather as a community. The fact that the OMI priests from far and wide were present in commissioning this sacramental made the occasion that much more meaningful.

A crowd-funding initiative was set up to raise the finances needed for the project. In his address at the statue’s unveiling, Executive Head, Andre Oosthuysen said, “In these difficult financial times the appeal was not warmly received by all, but it was heard by sufficient parents whose generosity has allowed the dream to become a reality.”

Adding to this Oosthuysen said that the sculpture is symbolic of how we triumphed over COVID and a reminder that the Mother of Christ is an intercessor who approaches Jesus on our behalf – she hears the drumbeat of our prayers.

Heidi Hadaway, the same sculptor who created the school’s statue of St Benedict’s, was responsible for the beautiful effigy installed near the new staircase that descends from the basketball courts to the Mazenod Block. She faces north looking across the school’s grotto towards the rest of Africa and is set upon a granite block where every 2020, 2021 and 2022 matric boy’s name is inscribed in remembrance. The matrics of 2022 were also included because two years of their senior high school career have also been severely derailed by the pandemic.

In his address Oosthuysen spoke of “a dream deferred” – a deliberate allusion to the poem “Harlem” penned by Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“I hope we will always look at this statue and be reminded of the concerns raised by pupils of colour at our school – and others across the country through the Black Lives Matter movement – following the murder of George Flloyd at the height of the pandemic,” added Oosthuysen. “It will also remind us how as a school we value and place enormous importance on the identity and belonging of families of colour in our school.

“Written for a different community in a different country and time; the poem asks questions about what happens to postponed dreams when, in an oppressive environment, some, because of who they are, do not feel free to dream and have to defer or postpone their dreams. It’s my hope that this new statue of our Lady – in her African form, identity or manifestation – will be a daily reminder to one and all that our faith and school aspire to be inclusive and that all are welcome here.”

Oosthuysen went on to say that everyone has a duty and responsibility – as individuals and as a community – through words and deeds – to turn that sentiment into reality. He implored those present to join together in building a great South African, African school.

In closing he said, “Let not the words ‘we all belong here’ be a hollow sentiment from the lines of the school song – but rather a certainty that rings true for each one of our boys, parents and staff. Let us be a school where dreams are never deferred but fulfilled.”