The Swaneng Story

Swaneng Hill School (SHS) was a unique school founded by a unique person, supported by unique people, in a unique place at a unique time.  This is the story of these unique things.

SHS was unlike other secondary schools in colonial Africa.  Traditional schools produced bureaucrats – SHS produced civic minded citizens.  These citizens might well become bureaucrats but they also knew the value of the self-help and physical effort that are required in a developing country.  SHS was founded by Patrick van Rensburg (PvR) and his wife, Liz (LvR).  Under their leadership SHS was built with voluntary effort – much of this effort provided by the students and volunteers from overseas.  As well as academic subjects, a ‘Development Studies’ course was taught, and other projects, external to the school, were started.  The unique place where this happened was Bechuanaland, soon to become Botswana, just prior to and just after the country gained its independence from Great Britain.

Botswana, formerly Bechuanaland, is a landlocked country about the size of France in south-central Africa.  Although it straddles the Tropic of Capricorn the climate is more moderate than it might be if it was not on a plateau with elevations between 500 and 1,600 metres.  Botswana is a semi-arid country and much of it is taken up by the Kalahari Desert.

In 1885 Britain unilaterally declared that it would protect Bechuanaland from expansion by the Germans from the west and by the Boers from the south and east.  In 1895 the chiefs of Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland asked the British government for further protection, particularly from the Boers, and the ‘Protectorates’ were born.  This ‘protection’ ensured that the Protectorates were not absorbed into South Africa as many expected they would be.  A British protectorate was essentially a country in which the British Crown controlled foreign relations and defence – economic development was not a high priority.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s Bechuanaland’s population was still well under a million people.  The thinly populated country was surrounded by the white minority regimes of South Africa, Rhodesia and South West Africa.  The country had only a handful of university graduates.  There were only five kilometres of paved road in the entire country and its per capita income was about 10 percent of the world average, placing it among the world’s poorest countries.  Drought was a regular occurrence in Bechuanaland and a number of consecutive years of drought and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease destroyed more than one third of the national cattle herd, the country’s only asset.  Bechuanaland’s situation was grim.  At the same time, one South African man’s situation was grim, too.  In protest against the apartheid policies of the South African government, Patrick van Rensburg resigned his post as South African Vice-Consul in the Belgian Congo in 1957.  Ultimately, because of his involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, his passport was confiscated and he was forced to flee South Africa.

427 – Rra and Mma Swaneng

After a brief spell in Europe, Patrick and Liz Griffin, his future wife,  went to Bechuanaland, now Botswana. There they founded

Masego, Liz and Pat on picnic
309 – Masego, Liz and Pat 1964

Swaneng Hill School and developed his principles of ‘Education With Production’.  Following Swaneng Hill’s  success, several other schools were started and he also started the Brigades Movement and the Serowe Consumer’s Co-operative Society.


246 – Pat and Liz 2014

This is the history of the building and development of these organisations and of the evolution of van Rensburg’s theories by the people who were there:- students, parents, teachers, volunteers and well wishers. This is a ‘Crowd Sourced History’ of the ‘Swaneng Hill’ projects.

Follow this link to find out more about ‘Crowd Sourced Histories’ and to see ‘The Crowd’ slide show :- The Crowd

We have made every effort to make this website accurate but a document of this type is prone to mistakes and omissions, for which we apologise.  If you spot any errors let us know about them by contacting us here :- Contact



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