Anyone with children in school in Stellenbosch would have heard of Oom Polla‘s Shop, where you can purchase school books, school uniforms and stationery.
So who was Oom Polla?
The answer is simple. “Oom Polla” was the nickname of the famous Mr. Paul Roos (bottom, second from left).
Many people regard Paul Roos as one of SA’s top historic figures in education and sports. He was the type of person who walked into a room and without saying anything, had people’s admiration.
“He radiated warmth and generosity,” someone writes.
“Paul Roos” becomes a school
After his career as Springbok rugby player, Paul Roos started working as the principal (also called the ‘rector’) of the Stellenbosch Gymnasium (1910 to 1940). The boy’s school at that stage was simply called the “Stellenbosch Gymnasium”, and was first located in Dorp Street and later in Victoria Street (where the visual arts department is today). The Stellenbosch gimnasium was the humble beginning out of which the town’s first tertiary institution (the “Arts Department”) and later the “Victoria College” grew.
During the great depression (1930s), the number of pupils declined so heavily that Stellenbosch considered merging their different secondary schools. Many citizens were, however, heavily opposed to it, and by the forties, things started to look better.
When the school building in Victoria Street became too small (about five years after Mr. Roos left the gymnasium), the institution moved to a new location on the banks of the Eersterivier. At the time Mr. D. Blignault was the rector. The new school was inaugurated in 1946 and dubbed “Paul Roos” in honor of the beloved rector. There were 564 pupils in the school when they walked to the new school buildings.
Interesting facts about Mr Paul Roos:
Here are some things you might not have known about Paul Roos (the man):
Paul Roos was very passionate about mother tongue education.
Until 1910 school reports cards were still published only in English. Only after Paul Roos’ start as rector did Dutch play a bigger role and later Afrikaans. Beginning in 1913 Paul Roos gradually promoted mother tongue education until the school was completely bilingual.
In a 1921 yearbook he writes: Our school is possibly the first in the country where, with very minor exceptions, the sound educational principle of home language as medium may be followed by either section throughout the Primary and Secondary Departments, right up to Matriculation…In short, we really have an Afrikaans medium School and an English medium School under the same roof”.
Uncle Polla didn’t only support sports
He also promoted the school’s cultural activities. During his time as principal, Paul Roos decided to stage a few plays with the boys. A fellow teachers describes how passionately Paul Roos directed the plays, moving about on stage with a rolled up newspaper in case of any shenanigans.
The play Napoleon Bonaparte did so well that the group was requested to perform it in Cape Town.
Paul Roos was a Springbok captain
A number of Springbok rugby captains came from Stellenbosch (and many of them attended PRG). How many of them do you know: Theo Pienaar, P.K. Albertyn, Danie Craven, Salty du Rant, Avril Malan, Abe Malan, Dawie de Villiers, Hannes Marais and Morne du Plessis?
Trivia: There used to be a time when football and horse riding were still Stellenbosch’s most popular sports… Read here for our blog about Stellenbosch’s early sports.
Paul Roos did not approve of school uniforms!
Oom Polla is remembered as a straightforward kind of person; he didn’t have a lot of patience with rules, regulations and unnecessary officialdom. He also refused to clothe his boys in uniforms or make them walk in lines. “I do not want to make soldiers of my boys,” he always said.
The school uniform system was only introduced in the school in 1952.
Paul Roos was strict, but also loved
The legendary principal won a lot of admiration from his colleagues and pupils. Someone explains that with his bushy mustache, his huge no. 20-neck and his shoulders that looked like a wagon house, he must have seemed an Olympian figure to the youngsters in standards two and three.
Yet he is remembered as a generous person who believed kids should be allowed to be kids. It is told, for instance, that when the juniors one day ‘captured’ the principal and held him ‘hostage’ on the pillar of the school gate, he laughingly agreed to give them the day off.
… if you want to read another anecdote about Paul Roos, read our blog about G.G. Cillié’s house.
Oom Polla’s shop was founded in 1995 with the purpose of providing Stellenbosch and surrounding schools with stationery and textbooks.
(The store is located on Paul Roos grounds and is open between 9am and 4pm. See https://www.oompolla.co.za/ for more info.)
‘nDromer is a young Stellenbosser who loves writing about the everyday things that often go unnoticed. She likes dusty books and seeing how the past isn’t always what it seems. She has written about Stellenbosch, it’s heritage and it’s people almost every week since 2015.
Article and main photo: Y Coetsee 2018
Sources:H.T. van Huyssteen, Stellenbosch Drie eeue (1979).
Stellenbosch 1866 – 1966: Honderd jaar hoër onderwys (1966)