Charles Jonathan ‘Jonty’ Driver
19 August 1939 – 21 May 2023
It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Charles Jonathan Driver (Prep 1952, Upper 1957); poet, novelist, teacher and political activist. He is survived by his wife Ann, his three children and eight grandchildren.
Jonty was born in Cape Town on 19 August 1939 and spent his early years in Kroonstad with his mother and younger brother while his father fought in North Africa during the Second World War. With the conclusion of the war the family moved to Grahamstown, where his father the Revd Kingsley ‘Jos’ Driver (Head boy 1931, Upper 1931, Rhodes Scholar) was appointed Chaplain of St Andrew’s College and Housemaster of Merriman.
Jonty began his schooling at St Andrew’s Prep in 1947. He was in Upper House at St Andrew’s College from 1953, completing his post matric year in 1957.
Jonty excelled at academics and dramatics at College, was elected a Prefect and achieved an A Aggregate in his matriculation examinations.
After school Jonty attended the University of Cape Town obtaining a BEd degree and a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma. He was a dedicated student activist, and served as the President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) for two terms in 1963-1964. In 1964, he was detained without trial by the Security Branch under its 90-day law for his political activities.
Upon his release he left South Africa for Britain where he enrolled at Trinity College, Oxford and obtained his Masters in Philosophy (MPhil).
During this time the apartheid regime refused to renew his passport and he became stateless for several years, eventually becoming a British citizen. He was banned from returning to South Africa for over 20 years, and was finally permitted to return to the country in 1991.
After completing his studies at Oxford University, Jonty enjoyed a successful teaching career including the headmastership of a number of schools. He spent five years as Headmaster of Island School in Hong Kong, seven years at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire and eleven years as Master of Wellington College, one of the most prestigious British public schools.
Jonty’s passion was English literature, especially poetry and he wrote verse all his life. He published ten collections of poems, five novels, two biographies and two memoirs.
In 2007 Jonty he was made an honorary Senior Lecturer at the School of Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia.
His early works were banned in South Africa under the apartheid government, but were reissued in 2000.
Jonty loved College, the teachers and the academic environment, so much so that he returned as “Poet in Residence” many years later to share his passion for poetry and English literature with the boys of College.
Jonty was a leading member of the independent schools’ movement for decades. His drive and progressive outlook earned him the following accolade from Berkhamsted School where he was Headmaster from 1983 – 1989.
“…the first of the ‘modern’ Headmasters of Berkhamsted who recognised the need to get out and about- forging international links, teacher swaps, the introduction of scholars from other continents, contributing to the work of the Headmasters’ Conference and many other public engagements and visits abroad. All these activities have brought the name of Berkhamsted to the forefront, sometimes in places where it was little known before, as well as enriching the life of the School in many ways.”
“Jonty’s personal recipe for success has been ‘motivation and inspiration, the germs of which he has introduced in epidemic proportions to the School. We have all been shaken and stirred and are the better for it.”
The Berkhamstedian, October 1989
Although Jonty spent several decades living abroad in England, his early life in South Africa always remained a key focus in his writing and he was an active participant and supportive presence in the local literary community. He will live on in his written works and the memories of family and friends.
St Andrew’s College Archives, May 2023