Series. He saw President Museveni, President Kagame, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and several ministers in Uganda and Rwanda through school but feels nothing special about it. He was only doing the job he adores. Ivan Okuda met Jedidiah Bangizi, the indomitable head teacher who transformed many schools..
There is the well shaven and neat hair. There is the miniature height and body build, then there is the sharp alto voice that emits eloquence with polished English. Each word is delivered in a slow but sure tone, one at a time, allowing each to sink into the listener’s mind. By any measure and stretch of imagination, Jedidiah Bangizi is a simple man. You see and feel it in his immaculate but simple dress code and Corona car. But behind this simple-man impression that the 73-year-old cuts, is the story of a man whose teaching hands have produced two presidents, more than a dozen cabinet ministers from Uganda and Rwanda, and a prime minister.
At the time President Museveni was a student at Ntare School in the 1950s, Bangizi was a class or two ahead of him. He was to later return to the school as a physics, chemistry and biology teacher and find Mr Museveni in his Senior Six. Rising from class captain to headmaster of the Mbarara-based school, he was headmaster at the time Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, then a refugee, was a student at the school. Ten of Rwanda’s cabinet ministers, are his former students, and so is prime minister Amama Mbabazi and a number of senior business, political and civil society leaders.
In 1972, Bangizi became head teacher, following the Idi Amin engineered economic war that forced former head teacher Crichton William out of the country.
From scarcity of food, stationery to insecurity, heading a school at the time was a challenge for those with hard skin. In the mid-1970s, he got a directive to expel students from Rwanda for whom the ministry of culture was unable to continue paying school fees.
“I looked at these students and sympathised with them as a parent. I convinced the school management to keep them in school till government sends the money. That saved many. I could not imagine what their fate would have been but it was a bold step we took,” the father of four says. One of the students was President Paul Kagame, who has publicly retold this story of life at Ntare School.
At Ntare School, Bangizi emphasises, the teacher-student bond was so strong that teachers interacted and debated with students as though they were equals. As a student, he remembers the much acclaimed headteaher, Crichton kept cautioning them against bullying. Because of the glue that bound teachers and students, this came as brotherly advice and it stuck in them
To him, Ntare was home so much that he gave it his all. He closes his eyes and passionately shares stories of the “good old” school.
“We were admitted to Ntare because we had brains. You left Ntare because of your brains. When I returned as head teacher, I was not even excited because I was only returning home. I am disappointed that the old Ntare is fading. I keep telling the students and teachers,” he says. The 1979 liberation war that saw Tanzania-led forces kick out former president Idi Amin was a test of his resolve to see this, his home tower on. The war reduced the offices of the bursar, headmaster, staffroom and dormitories to ash.
“The school could have gone to the dogs,” he sadly recalls, an emotional bout taking the better of him. By the time he left in 1980 when he was transferred to the ministry of education’s central inspectorate as an inspector of schools, the school was back on its feet. The lion roars is the school motto and yes, the Ntare lion’s spirt was wounded but not defeated. In 1983, Bangizi took over Kigezi High School and later Old Kampala SS from 1985 to 1997 and Mbarara SS where he served till 2001, retiring to establish Old Persons Association, an Ngo of retired professionals seeking to reclaim cultural values through informal education in families.
As he looks back at a career spanning more than 34 years, Bangizi is contended that his legacy is one of a man who loved his job, knew it was a calling and served to the best of his ability. Former education minister, Amanya Mushega once described him as a scrubbing brush because he was a fire fighter who raised schools from dust to glory.
To date, he continues to teach because, “Teaching is in my blood. I can’t do anything else. I am disappointed when teachers today emphasise salaries as if they came to teaching for money. This is a calling; they should have done other courses. ”
His relationship with his most famous Old Students
Asked about how he feels on teaching two future presidents, he Bangizi says:“I feel nothing special about it. President Kagame came here for the Ntare Golden Jubilee celebrations and said he would not be where he is if it was not because of Bangizi. People were shocked but well, it is like building a house, you build and let others judge,” he says.
In fact, time and again, he says, “people keep telling me, ‘you go and see the presidents but I am not that type of person. I respect my former students and they respect me. I meet the presidents and we talk as OB-former teacher”
And boy does he have fond memories of his former students. Of President Museveni, he laughs loud and asserts, “He has not changed. He is still the ambitious person I knew, one with a vision and does anything to achieve it,” he says of the president, continuing: “One time there was a debate. He stood up, pointed at a white teacher and told us “look at that man. Look at me. If you cut us and put our blood in a test tube, you would not tell a difference.’ These bazungu are like us, don’t fear them,” he reminisces warm-heartedly.
“In the staff room, we called Omwony Ojok (deceased former minister), Mukwanason Huhya and Museveni the gang of three. They loved debate and challenged us to the extent that the headmaster started fearing him,” he says. .