Publisher: Little, Brown and Company Publishers (UK)
Year of publication: 1996
Early this year I went on a visit to my old high school. It was my first time of being there since I had left the school some nineteen years back. My visit coincided with school holidays, so I had the chance to peer through my former classrooms without disturbing any lesson in progress.
For the benefit of context, I will state that the school is a Catholic private school situated in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg.
Glancing through the large window into my former English classroom, I was confronted by a large, printed display stretching from the front corner of the classroom to the back. Printed on it in a large font was the word, DECOLONIZATION.
Decolonization is a term that we in South Africa have in recent times come to be very familiar with. In the midst of the FEES MUST FALL student protests, the term was paraded as somewhat of an instruction manual – the next development in the progression of South African society. This got me studiously contemplating the meaning of the word colonization, and its associated meaning in contemporary South African society today. And as the universe would have it, around this time I happened to come across this book at my local library.
Tim Jeal, the author of this novel, is somewhat of an expert in colonial biography. He has published a grand, epic biography on David Livingstone, the Scottish Christian congregationalist, pioneer medical missionary of the London Missionary Society and explorer. The other sweeping biography he has written is one on Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration and rather amusing search for Livingstone in central Africa.
The Missionary`s wife was written and published in the middle nineties, when colonial history on Africa was undergoing a revisionist process. The point was to give it a more balanced and authentic account, particularly about the stories as told by the subjects of colonialism. Writers of historical fiction on Africa were coming into a general consensus that the kind of narrative on colonialism as espoused by adventurist writers such as H Rider Haggard, was simply outdated and lacked authenticity to back it up. They agreed that a more genuine account of events was now necessary to align closer with what actually happened.
The story is set in the late 1800`s. The missionary`s wife is Clara Musson, the only child and daughter of a wealthy English Midlands pottery-maker and industrialist. Jilted by a local aristocrat, and still grieving her mother, she rediscovers her Christian faith through the Reverend Robert Haslam, a visiting missionary giving lectures while on leave in Britain. Much older in age, the widowed reverend`s charisma and brazen belief in his faith and purpose lure Clara in. In spite of her father`s objections at the possibility of losing his only child and heir to the “Dark Continent”, Clara marries Robert before he leaves England for his remote mission station next to Belingwe village in Bulawayo, southern Rhodesia. He, however, will not take her along to his mission station until he has succeeded in converting the local chief, Mponda, into Christianity. He feels it will be better for her to come and live with him under these circumstances.
Clara is forced to sit back and patiently wait for the letter to arrive giving her the green light to travel to Africa to start a new life with her new husband. During the arduous and long journey, first by passenger ship and by ox wagon, she meets an attractive young soldier, Captain Francis Vaugh, who is hunting expedition with the big-game trophy hunter Heywood Flynn, an American. Clara finds the captain attractive, but he does not give in to her feelings and puts him out of her mind, until she begins her new journey as a married wife to the reverend Robert Haslam at the mission station. Her arrival at the mission reveals the fact things, it may seem, are not as how her new husband purported them to be. Chief Mponda has not yet made the leap into becoming a Christian.
He is taking his time because of rising tension the Christian believers and the non-believing villagers, led by his son, Makufa. The non-believers are led by the Chief`s son alongside the village medicine man, Nashu. Once he becomes a Christian, chief Mponda will have to put aside all three of his four wives and keep only the first. Nashu`s daughter, Makufa, is the second of the chief`s wives.
It is not the chief`s desire, but the dictum of Christianity on the practice of polygamy. With this encroachment of “civilization” on tradition, and growing resentment against the invading white man, rebellion looms large in the horizon.
The descriptions about general life at the mission, and in the village, are intense and at times slow the narration by becoming too complex, and long-winded. Clara struggles to deal with Robert`s unflinching commitment while at the same time, she bears witness to the disintegration of a way of life that colonialism and Christianity will ultimately bring upon the villagers.
Later, when captain Francis and Fynn return to flush out rebelling African militias, Clara finds her love for the captain reawakened, thus adding to a growing list of problems she has do confront. Equally, in his military role as a captain of a British Army legion (interestingly, based in the Natal colony), Francis Vaughn faces moral and ethical dilemmas which will affect the rest of his career in the military, and his whole future.
The Missionary`s Wife is one of a handful of historical fiction books about Africa that make the attempt to relate the story from a place as close to authentic as it is possible. Be that as it may, some aspects of the narration stand out as incorrect to the reality of the period. For instance, the village inhabitants of Belingwe are of Venda extraction, a likely fact given the close proximity of the current day South African/Zimbabwean border, and the Venda people`s ancestral home straddling along that same border.
Given this fact, it is rather curious how some of the villagers’ names are of a different origin. For example the Reverend Haslam`s houseboy is called Sibusiso, a Zulu name, and one of the mission station handmaids is called Lerato, which could be either a Sotho, Sepedi or Setswana name.
I would have loved to have seen a few notes from the author at the end detailing if any of the principal characters were real or were inspired by those who were, particularly in reference to the American trophy-hunter Heywood Fynn. For anyone who knows something about Rhodesian history, some events and scenes may seem familiar. For example, some elements of the storyline revoke aspects similar to the Matabele Rebellion of 1896.
The ending leaves open the possibility for a sequel, that things had not as yet reached their natural ending. It`d have helped to see how Clara fared in her later life. It`d be interesting to know if she did, or did not resettle back into the prosaic dullness of English domestic life upon her return, or she lived out her years reminiscing of Africa.
The Missionary`s Wife is a moving, gripping and a sterling probe into the moral dilemma that was colonialism. It is a powerful love story flashed out with vivid historical detail. Brilliantly plotted, the book evokes the sights and sounds of 1980`s Africa. It is remarkably engaging and skillfully told. Ultimately, The Missionary`s Wife is a story of deep moral intelligence.
John Langalibalele Dube was born at Inanda Mission station of the American Zulu Mission (AZM) in Natal on 11 February 1871 to James and Elizabeth Dube. ‘Langalibalele’, his middle name, means ‘bright sun’. Dube’s grandmother, Dalitha became the first convert of the Lindley Mission Station in Inanda, in the late 1840s. She wanted a clear separation from the traditional AmaQadi way of life. The Christian way of life was perceived and associated with ‘freedom, education and civilisation’. Consequently, James Dube (John Dube’s father) himself became a religious minister and became a leading figure in the Amakholwa (converts) section of the AmaQadi tribe.
Dube’s mother, Elizabeth, was from the Tshangase chiefdom and her traditional name was Namazi Shangase – she was given the name MaShangase after her children were born. Dube had seven siblings: Nomagugu (the first-born, a daughter), Victoria, Esther, Hleziphi, Africa (the first-born son), William and Thupana.
Rev James Dube (who died in 1877) was also one of the minor Zulu chiefs of the AmaQadi tribe and one of the first ministers ordained by the AZM. Thus, John Dube was born of royal lineage, and by right was a chief of the AmaQadi tribe. It was only because Dube’s father was converted to Christianity by the early missionaries that he did not rule over his AmaQadi people. There was conflict between the introduction of western education by the missionaries and the traditional African society’s way of life.
He spent his early schooling years at Addams School at the Inanda station, where his father James Dube served as a Congregational Minister. Missionaries played an important role in shaping the social and political scene in South Africa. The missionary influence was both positive and negative, and Dube stands out as a typical example of both influences. While mission education helped Dube develop a strong grasp of the English language, missionaries also attempted to culturally indoctrinate their indigenous subjects. This is evidenced by Dube’s generally critical view of his ‘native land’ later in his life.
While he was at school, on one occasion, Dube got into some trouble with other boys at his school, and the school’s Reverend Goodenough approached his colleague, William Wilcox, who was based at Inhambe, to come and have a talk to the boys. From this encounter, Dube and Wilcox developed a relationship.
Dube asked Wilcox if he could accompany him to Oberlin College on his return to the United States. Wilcox agreed, but warned Dube that he would have to earn money to pay for his education. Dube claimed to have saved some money while working as a miner, although it is believed that his mother gave Wilcox a total of thirty gold sovereigns to take Dube to the United States. This amount of money was however not sufficient to sustain Dube during his stay in the US. Consequently, Dube earned money doing outdoor labouring jobs, but after expressing his dissatisfaction, Wilcox introduced him to Mrs Frank H Foster, who used her connections in Oberlin to find more suitable work for the student.
During 1887 and 1888, Dube worked at the Oberlin College as a cleaner, ad did odd jobs for the students. From 1888 to 1890, Dube enrolled at the Oberlin preparatory school to study the sciences, mathematics, classical Greek works, and a course in oratorical skills. Throughout this period, Dube experienced great difficulty maintaining a steady job while studying at the same time. Although Dube never received an official degree from Oberlin College, the skills, connections and worldly perspectives which he cultivated during these years laid the foundations for his later accomplishments.
Wilcox left Oberlin to take up the position of a pastor in New York, and invited Dube to visit him there. During this visit Dube assisted Wilcox in printing a pamphlet entitled Self support among the kaffirs. The pamphlet emphasised Wilcox’s belief that industrial education was the best way to uplift the native people of Africa. The concept had a profound influence on Dube, to the extent that it would result in the founding of the Ohlange Institute ten years later.
While in the US, Dube was given the opportunity to lecture while accompanying Wilcox on his lecture tour. He lectured from 1890 to 1892, delivering talks throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Dube succeeded in raising a sum of money which was later used to start a school in South Africa. During this time Dube published a book called A Familiar Talk Upon My Native Land and Some Things Found There. The work reflected the conflict Dube experienced as a mission-educated indigenous person struggling to find a balance between his traditional ethnic roots and Christian teachings. But the publication also reflected Dube’s motivation to produce literature and exhibited his writing skills, which would serve him well in leading indigenous people in articulating the battle for their rights.
A chronic illness forced Dube to return to South Africa in 1892, a year after Wilcox had returned to work at a mission station at Groutville. On his return, Dube taught at his former high school in Amanzimtoti, where he met Nokutela Mdima, who he later married. Again, Dube and Wilcox found themselves working together, but Dube became increasingly unhappy with the structure of traditional mission education. In 1894, Dube was encouraged by Wilcox and Nokutela to establish his own mission. This spurred him on to establish a small day school in Incawadi Village in the Umkhomazi Valley, where he taught English and mathematics. In an attempt to transform and Christianise the village, Dube built two churches between 1894 and 1896. Dube’s school differed from other missionary schools: the learners were encouraged to read in their own language as well as to concentrate on practical aspects of the curriculum.
In 1897 Dube returned once more to the US for further training, this time accompanied by his wife. He enrolled at the Union Missionary Seminary in Brooklyn, in New York. In March 1899, Dube was ordained as a priest by the Congregational Church. During this visit Dube was profoundly influenced by Booker T Washington, whose ideas dominated Dube’s educational and political thoughts. Both Dube and Washington were inspired by the motto ‘learning and labour’, which Oberlin College had adopted. Both men were considered civil rights activists, educators and writers. Washington encouraged his students at Tuskegee to become self-reliant by teaching them skills such as printing, farming, shoemaking, and cooking, amongst others. This inspired Dube to develop a similar kind of initiative aimed at advancing the rights of Black people when he returned to South Africa. In August 1900 he established the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute which was renamed the Ohlange Institute in 1901. The institute functioned as a school where African children obtained education.
The school was founded in 1900 as the Zulu Christian Industrial School by John Langalibalele Dube and his first wife, Nokutela. The school, also known as the Ohlange Native Industrial Institute, was the first educational institution in South Africa to be founded by a black person. The land for the school was donated by Chief Mqhawe of the AmaQadi. John had been in contact with Booker T Washington and modeled the school after the Tuskegee University in America. As a result, the Zulu Christian Industrial Institute laid emphasis on developing self-reliance in its students. In 1901 the school was renamed the Ohlange Institute. The school was called “Ohlange” by Dube based on the word “uhlanga” which means the point of new growth in a plant or an ancestor.
The school was so popular initially that students were sleeping without beds. The finances were difficult in the first few years. A solution to this came from an American committee that supported Dupe’s belief that Christian conversion could be achieved via industrial education. A leading member of the committee was the Illinois pastor Sidney Dix Strong who had visited South Africa and had included the Ohlange Institute to his itinerary. Strong’s wife died on the journey back to Chicago and Strong decided to use the Ohlange cause to distract himself from his loss.
Strong was able to arrange for the Dube’s to meet Douglas and Emaroy June Smith who became rich due to patent medicines and in time from the Peosodent toothpaste brand. They donated thousands of dollars to the school which enabled for more teachers to be employed. This was in addition to the money that Dube obtained from the family of Anson Phepls Stoke.
By 1904 the finances needed further attention and Dube was unable to find any help in Natal. He had to return to America and he left John Mdima in charge of both the school and the newspaper. In Brooklyn he met the new chair of the committee Phillip Smith Lace who was pastor of the Central Congregational church in Brooklyn. Cadman reorganised the funding arranging for benefactors to sponsor students for £30 a year and arranging for Dube’s helpers and family including John Mdima to go to college. The Dubes spent fifteen months in the states with John speaking and his wife singing. June Emaroy Smith was particularly generous and funded the 1907 construction of a boy’s building. Dube noted in his talks that the Afro American was largely Christian whereas the native African had only limited access to the Christian message.
In its early years the school taught not only basic education but also vocational skills such as journalism, shoe and dressmaking, carpentry, motor mechanics and agriculture. Dube contributed to the administration as well as teaching journalism. The academic side was not ignored and in 1915 the first Ohlange students went to study at the University College of the Cape of Good Hope. 1917 saw the construction of a girls dormitory. The purpose here was to establish a teacher training centre which was seen as a female career.
Enoch Sontonga song which later became a South African national anthem became better known after Ohlange Institute’s choir used it. They played it at the South African Native National Congress meeting in 1912. It was sung after the closing prayer and the ANC adopted it as its official closing anthem in 1925.
Also on his return, Dube established links with like-minded leaders to form the Natal Native Congress (NNC) in July 1900. This was the beginning of his commitment to political action. The aim of the NNC was to find a way whereby black peoples’ feelings, aspirations, and grievances could be brought to the attention of the colonial government. The concerns of the NNC centred around the following issues:
•Unobstructed land ownership
•Freedom from enforced labour
The Congress became the main political organ of the Black people throughout the period that Natal remained a separate colony. Through the NNC, Dube advocated equality and justice for all. He hoped to close the widening gap between the Whites and Blacks of South Africa. He played a leading role in Black resistance to the Union of South African states, from whose legislature Blacks were to be excluded.
The skills of editing and publishing that Dube developed, while working at a local printing firm in the US, were put to good use when he established the first indigenous Zulu newspaper, Ilanga Lase Natal. Officially launched in April 1903, Dube’s aim in establishing the newspaper was for it to be a mouth-piece for the black population, and to propagate the idea of a united African front.
Ilanga expanded on Washingtonian ideas of self-sufficiency and self-segregation. Dube used his newspaper to expose injustices and evil deeds from all quarters and made black people aware of their rights and privileges. Initially the paper was printed by International Printing Press in Durban, but from October 1903 (the 25th edition) it was printed at Ohlange itself.
Ilanga was financed from donations and funds which Dube received from associates and friends in the US. There was little evidence of any influence from the American Zulu Mission in the newspaper. Occasionally he would feature editorials and articles in English which were intended for the white settler community, the department of Native Affairs and the Natal Government. Dube hoped in this way to keep them connected to black opinion at the time. As time progressed, black people used the newspaper to criticise government policies. At one stage Dube was accused by the authorities for inciting resentment against the government.
Ilanga Lase Natalfocussed on issues pertaining to:
•Land controversies (including taxes and land ownership);
•Laws and acts, such as the poll tax;
•Reports such as those of the South African Native Affairs Commission;
•Political and social developments.
When Dube returned from the US in 1905 (after his third visit), tensions arose between him and the white missionaries. Ilanga lase Natal attacked the missionaries’ views on land allotment on the Reserves, the Mission Reserve rent, the social aloofness of missionaries and their lack of trust for the converts, inadequate selection of African officers and failure to defend African interests. By September 1906, Dube was calling for a meeting of the Transvaal, Cape and Natal congresses and ‘welcoming signs that tribal antagonisms are dying down as indications of progress’.
In 1906 the Bambatha Rebellion broke out. It was triggered largely by an introduction of new taxes, and also the encroachment of white settlers on land owned by Africans. Dube had followed the debate regarding the poll tax in Parliament and was extremely aggrieved that the government had not consulted with kholwa spokesmen or chiefs on the matter. He noted in his newspaper that the economic situation of Blacks would not allow them to pay the tax without considerable suffering. He argued that the tax was unfair as Blacks were not represented in Parliament.
Despite his opposition to the tax, Dube did not support the rebellion. He wanted to avoid violence at all costs and wanted the government to know that the kholwa would always remain loyal to the government and that they had no reason to rebel. In Dube’s own words: ‘the loyalty of the natives is beyond dispute’. He made it known that the kholwa still identified with the values of the White man and wished to be seen as equals to Whites.
However, Dube bitterly opposed the arrest and trial of the Zulu King Dinizulu kaCetshwayo, in connection with the rebellion and actively assisted in raising funds for his defence. Dinizulu, son of the last Zulu king, who was the last Zulu king to be officially recognized the British as such, was for Black people in South Africa the symbol of their former independence and their identity as a people. Dube, with his recollections of and pride in his African past, understood the significance of Dinizulu and his place in Zulu history. Dube publicised Dinizulu’s arrest. The Natal government attempted to suppress Ilanga Lase Natal before and during the Bambatha Rebellion, and the newspaper was the object of constant suspicion.
Dube tried to use his influence during the rebellion by visiting and talking to Zulu chiefs to get their people to keep the peace. Dube had no desire to end British rule and the spread of Christianity, and Bambatha represented the heathen way of life, something Dube had no desire to return to.
Another reason for Dube’s endorsement of the colonists’ reaction to Bambatha was based on the economic and the political status of Blacks throughout Natal. Some colonists saw the rebellion as an opportunity to grab the land of Blacks who supported Bambatha and ousting the people who lived on this land. Dube’s programme of self improvement rested upon the pre-condition that educated kholwa would be able to purchase land. Many of the influential kholwa openly endorsed the war and actively participated in the suppression of the rebels.
During the rebellion, the White press generated extreme hostility towards the Black population and exaggerated threats of terror. White authorities also became increasingly critical of the activities of the kholwa class and the missionaries who trained them. Dube defended the behaviour of the Black elite during the rebellion and refused to take responsibility for the violence.
Kholwa chief representatives distanced themselves from the disruptive activities of Bambatha. The rebellion had an direct effect on the Ohlange school as a number of students remained at home due to rumours of violence. Dube blamed the government for the conflict and argued in his newspaper that if the government halted the collection of the poll tax it would be seen as showing weak.
Dube also used the rebellion to encourage the kholwa community to collect funds to send representatives to Britain to demonstrate against the unfair poll tax, the pass laws and the oppressive compulsory labour system. This prompted Governor McCallum to demand a public apology from Dube.
In 1908 he resigned from the pastorate of Inanda. The tension between Dube on the one hand and the government and missionaries on the other subsided in 1907 but he was constantly warned that he was ‘playing with fire’. But in the columns of Ilanga and as part of many delegations of kholwa he protested and petitioned the government against proposed legislation.
Nevertheless, ideologically, Dube had accepted the missionary gospel. It could be argued that generally the impact of missionaries on African culture and value systems had been superficial in Africa, but for Dube and subsequent generations the ‘psychological conversion’, if not ‘psychological colonisation’, was near complete.
At the same time numerous meetings were held by Africans, Coloureds, and Indians to protest the whites-only nature of the constitutional discussions that took place from 1908 to 1909. Dube was part of a delegation that left South Africa in 1909 to present a petition by Blacks to the English House of Commons in London against the Act of Union of 1909, but the deputation was unsuccessful. These activities culminated in a South African Native Convention in March 1909, where delegates called for a constitution giving ‘full and equal rights’ for all Blacks, Coloureds, and Indians.
Political agitation against the Natives Land Act continued, and preliminary drafts of the Act were debated in 1911. Not long after, several hundred members of South Africa’s educated African elite met at Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912, to establish the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) – later to be renamed the African National Congress (ANC). In 1912, Dube accepted the Presidency of the SANNC, in spite of the pressures put on him by his preoccupation with education. In 1912 Dube addressed a group of Africans in Zululand to explain the new movement (the ANC) and appeal for unity.
The SANNC had a newspaper called Abantu-Batho from 1912 to 1933, which carried columns in English, isiZulu, Sesotho, and isiXhosa. It became the most widely read South African paper at the time. During this time Dube advocated a need for the congress to work closely with the Coloured people and succeeded in his attempts to get representatives of the congress to meet at least once a year with the African Political Organisation (APO), under the leadership of Dr Abdullah Abdurahman. Dube also urged unity amongst the black population through the affiliation to the congress and the removal of provincial bodies, which functioned as separate entities.
Dube was instrumental in improving the status of black women, especially those involved in the domestic work sector, and acted as a mediator in women’s dealings with the Department of Native Affairs.
In 1913 the Natives Land Act affected every strata of African rural society, which spurred the SANNC. In 1914 Dube was one of the delegates in London to protest against this legislation, but this delegation caused some controversy within the SANNC. It was believed that Dube had made some compromises on the principle of segregation. The bone of contention within the SANNC was the Land Act, and Dube was ousted from the presidency of the SANNC in 1917 and was succeeded by Sefako Mapogo Makgatho. From this time onwards Dube concentrated his activities in Natal.
In the 1920s, like some of his generation (and the strata of mission-educated Africans) he became involved in a series of liberal attempts to establish ‘racial harmony’ between Blacks and Whites, such as the Smuts Native Conferences established under the 1920 Act (which Dube quit in 1926 on the grounds that they were powerless), the Joint Councils and many missionary conferences. In 1926 he was one of the South African delegates to an international conference at Le Zoute in Belgium, a visit he also used to raise funds for Ohlange. He was involved in replacing Josiah Tshangana Gumede,who was considered left-wing, with Pixley ka Seme as president of the ANC in 1930, and in 1935 Dube became a member of the All African Convention. He represented Natal on the Native Representative Council from 1936 until his death, in 1946, when he was replaced by Chief Albert Luthuli on the Council.
One of Dube’s controversial episodes came in 1930 when he openly considered supporting Hertzog’s bills in the hope that they might provide some additional funds for development. It should be remembered that Dube was ousted from the presidency of the ANC in 1917 for his apparent acceptance of the principle – if not the contemporary practice – of segregation. Dube forged an alliance with the segregationist, Heaton Nicholls, and he toured the country soliciting the support of African leaders in Johannesburg, Kimberly, Bloemfontein and the Eastern Cape for a bill on Land Settlement promoted by Nicholls.
This provided for the allocation of seven million morgen of land, to be added to the already scheduled areas, and the provision of adequate funds. The problem was that, like Hertzog’s proposals, Heaton Nicholls coupled his land schemes with an attempt to end the franchise of the Cape Africans. This scheme also envisaged the representation of Africans in the senate but this never materialised.
However, this did not discredit Dube. In 1935 he was elected to the Executive of the All African Convention. He became disenchanted with the government’s schemes. At a meeting of the Natal Debating Society in 1935 he launched a sharp attack on the government’s policies, which Jabavu printed as a pamphlet: Criticisms of the Native Bills. In it Dube expounded his nationalism and his rejection of African inequality and his belief in the principle of African representation. In 1935 a 50% share of ILanga laseNatal the paper was bought up by Bantu Press and Dube’s control of the paper waned.
By 1935, Dube founded the Natal Bantu Teachers’ Association, today known as the Natal African Teachers’ Union (NATU) for professional Black teachers. He still remained active particularly in the in 1940s after Albert Xuma persuaded him to participate in the movement nationally, but with limited success.
Dube was successful in his endeavours in contributing to the political and socio-economic development of Blacks in Natal. He fought against the injustices against Black people and tried to gain a sense of equity through his lifetime. On 11 February 1946, Dube passed away.
Vil-Nkomo summed up his life when he wrote in Umteleli wa Bantu on February 26 1946 that Dube: “has revealed to the world at large that it is not quite true to say that the African is incompetent as far as achievement is concerned”. To commemorate Dube’s achievements, the school held a special ‘Mafukuzela Day’ in 1950. In time, this became ‘Mafukuzela Week’, with figures such as the Zulu king in attendance.
Enoch Mankayi Sontonga was born in Uitenhage, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) around 1873 as a member of the Xhosa-speaking Mpinga clan of the Tembu tribe.
He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Mission Training College, after which he was sent to a Methodist mission school(un-named) in Nancefield, near Johannesburg in 1896. He taught here for nearly eight years. Sontonga was the choirmaster at his school, as well as an amateur photographer. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was composed by him in 1897. He based the melody on the hymn tune ‘Aberystwyth’, by Joseph Parry. Sontonga originally composed the hymn in B-flat major with a four-part harmony supporting a repetitive melody characteristic of both Western hymn composition and indigenous South African melodies. The words of the first stanza and chorus were originally written in Xhosa as a hymn.
It was one of many songs he composed, and he was apparently a keen singer who composed songs even for his pupils. Most of Sontonga’s songs were sad, witnessing the suffering of African people in Johannesburg, but they were popular and after his death in 1905 choirs used to borrow them from his wife.
In 1927, Samuel Mqhayi, the famous Xhosa poet, added seven additional Xhosa stanzas to Nkosi Sikeleli Africa.,
In 1901 it was taken up by the choir of the Methodist-founded Headltown Mission Institute, in the Eastern Cape, which used the song as its Sunday parades, alongside the British national anthem God Save The Queen.
In 1905 the black mission-founded Ohlange High School, in Kwa-Zulu Natal also adopted the song for its school choir song repertoire. The school had been founded in 1900 by John Langalibalele Dube. The idea of the school was conceived when Dube went to the United States of America (USA) in 1897 for training to become a missionary. Upon arrival he enrolled at the Union Missionary Seminary in Brooklyn, in New York. He was ordained a missionary here by the Congregational Church in March 1899.
The travelling Ohlange School Choir popularised the song at concerts in Johannesburg, and it became a popular church hymn that was also adopted as an anthem at political meetings in Johannesburg. This is how it was picked as the song to close the founding meeting of the South African Native National Council in 1912, of which Dube became the founding president. By 1925 it had become the official closing anthem of the organization, now known as the African National Congress.
The song was the official anthem for the African National Congress during the apartheid era and was a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. For decades during the apartheid regime it was considered by many to be the unofficial national anthem of South Africa, representing the suffering of the oppressed. Because of its connection to the ANC, the song was banned by the regime during the apartheid era.
In 1994 after the fall of apartheid, the new President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela declared that both “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and the previous national anthem, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (“The Call of South Africa”) would be national anthems. While the inclusion of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” celebrated the newfound freedom of many South Africans, the fact that “Die Stem” was also kept as an anthem even after the fall of apartheid, signified to all that the new government under Mandela respected all races and cultures and that an all-inclusive new era was dawning upon South Africa. In 1996, a shortened, combined version of the two anthems was released as the new national anthem of South Africa under the constitution of South Africa.
Carol Hardijzer is passionate about South African Photographica – anything and everything to do with the history of photography. He not only collects anything relating to photography, but conducts extensive research in this field. He has published a variety of articles (click here to view) on this topic and is currently doing research on South African based photographers from before 1910. He has one of the largest private photographic collections in South Africa.
I recently came cross Carol’s article on missionary photography in South Africa (click here to view). Intrigued by the topic, I decided to dig more into this fascinating, but rarely examined aspect of missionary activities in South Africa by speaking to him. The interview below is the result.
Gateways Book SA : Missionary photography forms a significant part of the history of photography in South Africa. How and why did it become so important?
Carol Hardijzer (CH): Indeed, missionary photography forms a significant part of South African history, yet the value thereof on our cultural history has still not been fully understood or exploited. Many research opportunities still exist in this field.
Within the South African context, it could be argued that the most comprehensive photographic evidence of our diverse cultural history would be those produced by the missionaries who established themselves in the vast expanses of South Africa. The key purpose for the amateur missionary photographers was to publicize their religious work with the local inhabitants in order to bring it to the attention of their principals and supporters in Europe.
We do not know how many missionary photographers have been active in South Africa since the commercialization of photography around the 1850s. Unlike commercial photographers, who focused more on studio work or scenic views, the missionary photographers, who were largely based outside the larger cities, focused their attention on the local inhabitants they interacted with. What is certain is that missionaries were natural visual recorders of their surroundings and in doing so contributed vastly to the early visual history of South Africa.
Some of the primary reasons why photographic works produced by missionaries remain important include:
Their photographic work gives the viewer an insight into the daily lives of the local inhabitants in the rural areas – something the professional photographer generally did not prioritize;
It provides for a perspective as to how the missionaries adapted to their environment;
They compiled valuable visual records – today of historical significance;
The majority of their photographs were not produced for commercial reasons;
The photographs were not staged (maybe posed yes) and therefore gives the viewer a more realistic perspective of daily life and activities that the missionaries were surrounded by;
Photographic work produced by missionaries is scarcer in that their work is not as easily identifiable compared to that of the commercial/professional photographers who made their work identifiable by applying their names to the various photographic formats during those years.
Missionaries based in South Africa were intrigued by the ethnical composition of society. Their curiosity with the indigenous African way resulted in many photographic images being taken to share with Western Society, many of them in the format of magic lantern slides in order for the images to be projected at gatherings.
Gateways Book SA : Who were the main figures behind the practice?
CH: Considering the proposed definition of Missionary Photography above, both the missionaries and travelling professional photographers. It certainly did not form part of any missionaries’ day task to photograph the local inhabitants. Those who did, did so for reasons already stated or due to their personal interest in photography – they remained amateurs. This is why for some missionary regions more photographic evidence would be found compared to other.
An interesting story: One Methodist missionary, Frederick Lewis, returned to London during 1911 due to his long list of shortcomings as a missionary. He was however complimented as “a capital photographer” by his principles who were so critical of him in the first place. In Surviving the Lens (Stevenson & Graham-Stewart) a picture taken by Lewis appears on page 119.
Gateways Book SA : What are the earliest known examples of missionary photography in South Africa?
CH: This is an aspect that still requires further research. The bulk of photographic images produced by missionaries however date from the 1880s to the 1940s. It has been suggested that South African missionary photography probably predates that of many other countries as images from around the 1860s are known to exist. This is confirmed in The Face of the Country (by Karel Schoeman) which shows an image taken by the photographer FAV York, who formed part of the Prince Albert tour. This image is of a formal group in front of the thatched buildings of the Weslyan mission station of Lesseyton (Eastern Cape – Northwest of Queenstown) (Page 50). This photograph was taken on 17 August 1860.
James Cameron, a Scotsman, has been recorded as a Cape Town based photographer during the 1850s. He left for Madagascar as an artisan missionary during 1863. It can therefore be safely assumed that he not only continued his art as photographer whilst in Madagascar, but that he also took missionary related images whilst in South Africa during the 1850s and early 1860s.
Gateways Book SA : Being an enthusiast, and having observed the evolution of missionary photography in South Africa, are there any thematic patterns that you have observed over the period in which the practice took place?
CH: With their Eurocentric masks, missionaries entered communities either as constructive participants or sometimes as antagonists, but almost always as curious observers of the indigenous ways. For reasons both practical and religious, missionaries were dedicated correspondents, diarists and record keepers.
There was significant curiosity value back home around the indigenous people. This made for good photographing opportunities. A strong underlying cultural and anthropological stance can therefore be seen in much of their work.
Gateways Book SA : In hindsight, what do you think was the major motivation for missionary photography in South Africa?
CH: Their needs for creating photographic images were diverse. From creating an argument to their principles about the scale of the evangelistic task at hand to propaganda (mostly presented from an unintended Eurocentric point of view) – or simply for personal reasons in order to communicate back to family based in the country they originated from.
Gateways Book SA : Having covered the length and breadth of the country, where was missionary photography most significant and with which denomination amongst the churches was it most prevalent?
CH: This is an aspect that still requires much research. In order to be able to determine this, missionary societies, or their libraries that hold their archives would be the ideal sources to be consulted. Images produced by, or about missionaries, from all over Europe are known to exist. Whilst much research may have been done to date on missionary activity, the photographic dimension thereof has been neglected.
Gateways Book SA : In the totality of time and space, what is the legacy of missionary photography in the larger narrative of South African photography?
CH: Photographs produced and collected by missionaries left us with a richer visual history. Without the visual evidence produced by them, both missionary and the cultural history of our local population by and large would have been based purely on documented narratives. Images that have survived fill those gaps in our knowledge base as to what “things were like” during missionary activities in South Africa, especially prior to the 1920s.
A woman of many firsts.Among these is the fact that Nokukhanya Luthuli was among the first students in the early 1900`s to attend all three of Durban`s legendary mission education schools.
As a young girl she was a pupil of Ohlange Institute,a school started by John Langalibalele Dube, a good friend to her father,who was later instrumental in the founding of the African National Congress,and who also started South Africa`s first black-owned newspaper.She went on to matriculate at Inanda Seminary, recognised for its unheralded role in black women`s education in South Africa. She then completed her teacher`s diploma at the famed Addams College, near Amanzimtoti.
It was under the sweltering heat of a Durban summer in February 1990, amongst a 150 000-strong politically charged crowd at Durban`s that the author was brought into awareness about the subject`s life. It was just after he had famously proclaimed, “Take your guns, knives and pangas, and throw them into the sea”, that Nelson Mandela requested that an unrecognisable old woman,dressed in a bright but a little oversized white summer dress, and walking with aid of a walking stick,to approach the stage.
“Ï have a present for you”, he tells the crowd. Ï have here with me the Mother of the Nation, Nokukhanya Luthuli.I want you to receive her by shouting loudly and saying “Nokukhanya”! three times. The crowd clap their hands and raise their voices high beyond the stadium’s walls and shout “Nokukhanya!” “Nokukhanya!” “Nokukhanya!”
In NOKUKHANYA – MOTHER OF LIGHT, author Peter Bruce, weaves through a tapestry to a life so remarkable,but yet virtually unknown in South African public life.This is the story of Nokukhanya Luthuli, nee Bhengu, wife of erstwhile African National Congress leader, and Africa`s first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chief Albert Luthuli. Far more than just being the wife to a celebrated struggle hero, the book demonstrates the fact that Nokukhanya`s life had impact well beyond this fact.
Personally, I was drawn to Nokukhanya`s story by her personal journey through mission education in KwaZulu-Natal province in the early twentieth century. The book touches on this in an ample and encompassing manner. For starters Nokukhanya, whose royal blood dates back to her paternal grandfather,was born and reared at a time when there was, amongst African communities, a clear distinction between Christian believers and non-believers.
Her father, Maphitha Bhengu, was one of the early Christsian converts of the Umngeni American Board Mission, and it was at the Umgeni Mission Station that a girl was born on 3 March 1904, Maphitha`s sixth and last-born child.She was christened with the name Nokukhanya – Zulu for Mother of Light.
“Our family aspired to be achievers in the civilization with which they were coming into contact through the British settlers and the missionaries in the Natal colony”she states in the book.By giving me the name Nokukhanya, my parents were”demonstrating expressing their wish that I should grow up and play my part in bringing the light to our people.The light at that time translated to education and Christianity.”
As stated earlier, and according to the book, Nokukhanya’s place in mission education heritage is unique. She is among the students placed on record as having been in the position of having attended all three of the then Natal colony’s prestigious mission education schools in Durban.
This fact alone puts her at the centre of mission education in Natal at its most significant and pivotal period, at the turn of the twentieth century. Her attendance of John Dube’s Ohlange Mission Institute put her in touch with the “black economic independence and self-reliance” philosophy inculcated into the school ethos by Dube after his stay at Booker T Washington’s Tuskgee Institute in the United States.
At Inanda Seminary part of her routine would have been the domestic and industrial, designed to make the girls turn into productive and efficient homemakers. At Addams College, Nokukhanya certainly came into contact with men and women who would later become esteemed members of the black community, for their work in politics, education etc. Amongst these was a lecturer, and the man who would later become her husband, Chief Albert Luthuli. Interestingly enough, their time at teacher training college at Addams College was not the first time they had been in the same institution. Unbeknownst to them, they had both been primary school students in the same years at Ohlange Institute.
As in a number of other books that touch on mission education in South Africa, the book paints an elaborate picture of the stark differences between mission education and its aftermath, Bantu education. The most glaring of these differences is race. The separation of races was of crucial importance in the execution and maintenance of Bantu education. In direct contrast, the free-mixing of the various racial groupings was an objective espoused and encouraged by mission educationists. This fact is very much evident in Nokukhanya’s education, from Ohlange right up until she received her teacher’s diploma at Addams College.
Given Nokukhanya and Chief Albert’s close propinquity with mission education, it is somewhat of a conspicuous omission that this family legacy is not brought further into the twentieth century by the author. Where did the Luthuli children, largely present in the book, receive their education?
In its entirety, Nokukhanya – Mother of Light paints a comprehensive picture of how the various elements of life – roots, upbringing, joys, pain, hardships and milestones conspire to channel the life of one woman to great societal significance. Nokukhanya – Mother of Light is a worthy addition to the comprehensive study of mission education in South Africa.
For most black South Africans the process of colonization in the late 19th century that led onto the system of apartheid in the 20th century left them with a poor education, broken family structures and little hope of living the life they wished for themselves,and their children.
But there were pockets of excellence that offered black students an education at least comparable to that which their white counterparts received – the education offered by mission education schools.
View the video below on the role of mission education in South Africa. It was produced by the The National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA). It is an institution of education and learning, specializing in teaching the production and technical skills applicable to the TV, radio and broadcasting industries.
My five older siblings had all been to missionary schools and turned out exceptionally well. My parents probably chose Inanda because of the school’s reputation and the fact that family friends had sent their children there, so I would have older friends to look after me.
Missionary schools had a very good reputation and that instilled a sense of pride in us as individuals and also a sense of connectedness to children who attended other missionary schools like Ohlange, Adams Mission, and St Mary’s. Ohlange and Adams Mission had a very rich history and heritage, very similar to our own school and our school’s connection to them also meant that there was some contact with ‘good’ boys (many of whom became future spouses of Inanda girls).
My sister, Palesa, had also matriculated from Inanda, two years before I started. I started in Form 1 – which would be Grade 8 in terms of the current system, although our group was the last one that did eight years of Primary School, before proceeding to High School. It was in 1975 and I was only 12 years old.
My earliest memories of being a student at Inanda are the services in the school chapel. It was a very central part of the school’s activities. It had a very powerful and positive impact on me from
the beginning. I was mesmerised by the girls’ beautiful voices, accompanied by a grand piano. It created an unbreakable association between my spiritual life and music.
The music was diverse and spirited – hymns plus other spirituals from both Africa and America. The sermons at chapel were always profound and positive. To me this was more powerful than the kind of assembly that other schools had – about a loving God, a God who expected us to extend his love to those who did not enjoy the kind of privileges we had.
Part of this extension of God’s love to others meant going into the village outside our school, worshipping at the Presbyterian Church with the villagers, visiting the sick, feeding the poor and generally maintaining a positive relationship with the community.
Being in an all-girls school was liberating. It meant we could have fun without any inhibitions. It meant we could focus on our academic work without the distraction of teen boys’ attention. It made us comfortable to take up leadership positions which would possibly have gone to boys in mixed schools.The fact that the school had a connection with St Mary’s -a private school for white girls – through sport and debates, meant that we felt comfortable to compete with white children at any level.
Because the classes were small, the entire class would be your friends. I spent most of my time with my best friend, Spelele Nkungu (who moved to the US in 1981), Tembeka Radebe, Belinda Qeqe, Andy Kawa, Nowhi Tshiki and Angelina Sithebe. We were all very far from home and we shared both class and dormitory for all those years. I was also very close to fellow athletes like Thulisiwe Nyembe and Thokozile Kweyama. Apart from Thoko, who sadly passed away, the rest of us are still connected. We might not see each other often, but when we do, it’s like we’ve never been apart.
I have vivid recollections of At Home functions, where alumni would come to the school every year in October to celebrate the school’s birthday.I treasure the sense of family and belonging which the school fostered and the quality of friendships formed. Because the principal and teachers were addressed as Baba, Ma or Nkosazana defined how we related to them.
Another special element of being at Inanda was its connection to America – which is where its founding mothers had come from – and other parts of the world. Having visitors like the Reverend Jesse Jackson made us aware of global issues and the fact that we were as good as anyone else, anywhere in the world. I recall that Rev Jackson made us repeat after him, “I may be black, I may be poor, but I am somebody.”
Nokutela Mdima was born in 1873 to Christian converts at a missionary station at Inanda, near Durban. After leaving Inanda Seminary School Mdima worked as a teacher, and married John Langalibalele Dube in 1894 in Inanda. John was the son of the Reverend James Dube, who was a minister at Inanda. The couple left South Africa in April 1896 and travelled to Britain. From there they sailed onto New York ,USA in May 1896.
While the Dubes were in the US they were inspired by the African-American educationist Booker T. Washington, who preached self-reliance – arguing black people had to make economic progress before they could make political progress. Their main training,however, came from the Union Missionary Training Institute where 30 to 45 Christian missionaries from Europe, Asia, Australia, Arabia, and Africa studied. This Brooklyn establishment was able to exist because pastors and professors would volunteer their time. While she was in America the Woman’s Board of Missions published her story, Africa – The Story of My Life, in 1898.
She was “young, with blazing black eyes, smooth brown skin and handsome regular features,” says an article first published in the New York Tribune in 1898. “She speaks good English with a deliberation that is charming and in the softest voice in the world. Her manner is grace itself.”
After returning to South Africa and teaching at Inanda they set up Ohlange Institute, becoming the first black South Africans to start a school. It was her husband who was offered the opportunity to use a farm that his cousin had bought, but it was Nokutela’s links back to Mary Edwards, who led her old school, that substantially helped the couple establish Ohlange Institute.
The Dubes returned to the US at least twice to raise funds for the school – John would speak and Nokutela would perform traditional Zulu songs and play the piano and autoharp, a hand-held wooden box with strings that are plucked.
At Ohlange Institute Nokutela taught music, cooking, housekeeping and tailoring, and also sang and played traditional instruments on fundraising tours. With her husband, she co-wrote Amagama Abantu (A Zulu Song Book), published in 1911. This book is regarded as a milestone in the creation of a new type of Zulu choral music. The Dubes described these secular songs as the first to combine Zulu and European traditions in Christian music. The first printing of this book records both John and Nokutela as joint authors in a plural form of isiZulu.
In addition to his literary works, the Dubes founded the first isiZulu/English newspaper Ilanga laseNatali (The Sun of Natal) in 1903. The Dubes are also credited with making the song “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” popular. The song was sung regularly at morning assembly by Ohlange Institute’s choir. The choir played it at the first meeting of the South African Native National Congress,(the forerunner to the African National Congress) meeting in 1912. It was sung after the closing prayer and the ANC adopted it as its official closing anthem in 1925.
Nokutela Dube`s pioneering work amongst women inspired Lillian Tshabalala and others to found the club movement called “The Daughters of Africa”, in Natal in 1932, modelled on the African-American women’s club movement.
Nokutela and John Dube’s failure to have children was seen to reflect badly on Nokutela and John fathered a child with one of their pupils. In her own childhood, Nokutela had written of the importance and expectation that her people put on having children. A committee was set up to investigate her husband, but they took no action and Nokutela felt humiliated.The couple separated in about 1914, and Nokutela moved to the Transvaal, where she preached in rural communities before becoming ill with kidney disease.
She returned to live with her husband in Johannesburg, and died in 1917 at the age of 44. Her funeral was attended by Pixley ka Isaka Seme and other prominent members of the African National Congress.For almost a century, Nokutela Dube’s remains lay forgotten in the Brixton Cemetery, in Johannesburg, marked simply by a small plaque with the racist initials “CK” which stood for “Christian Kaffir”, and the number 2973.
An official plague was erected on her grave after it was identified by the Johannesburg Parks Service in 2009.In 2013 a headstone for Nokutela Dube was unveiled at an official ceremony in the presence of hers and John Dube`s descendants, and hosted by the Johannesburg City Council.
In 2012, the Carleton College in Minnesota, USA in conjuction with its Head of African Studies Prof Cherif Keita, made a documentary film about the life of Nokutela Dube. Named Ukukhumbula uNokutela – Remembering Nokutela, the film fullfilled the college and Prof Keita`s aim was to raise awareness of Nokutela`s pioneering deeds and work at the turn of the 20th century both in South Africa and in the United States.View the official film trailer below:
February 8 2016, is a milestone on the calendar: it marks the University of Fort Hare in Alice turning 100 years old.Originally a British fort in the wars between British settlers and the Xhosa of the 19th century, missionary activity under James Stewart led to the creation of a school for missionaries from which at the beginning of the 20th century the university resulted.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that institutions such as this, and that were cradles to so many trailblazers of the past century, were created to keep black people in check, not to empower them through knowledge and experience.
To consider the honour roll of luminaries who have been associated with Fort Hare over the decades, such as Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and ZK Matthews, to name but a few, fills one with immense pride.
It also serves as a powerful reminder of what a spectacular failure the apartheid project was in its institutionalised attempt to provide second-rate education. These luminaries — and there are many like them — succeeded despite the best designs of the oppressors.We celebrate Fort Hare’s centenary at a time when the question of access to education is once more at the top of the agenda.
The question we need to answer today is whether there are lessons from Fort Hare’s trajectory that can be applied to today’s challenges, to avoid making the mistakes of the past. What kind of institution is needed today to carry on the great traditions of Fort Hare?
The university’s Vision 2030 will see the rehabilitation of a dilapidated campus, with the building of a world-class library, great laboratories for scientific research and decent residences. However, this vision requires huge capital to restore the legacy of this fine institution.
The upgrading of the neighbouring community of Alice to attract students who, from a lifestyle perspective, would rather be in a university city such as Cape Town, is going to take some doing.Fewer and fewer students will in future want to be confined to a bush college set-up, far away from decent recreational facilities.
This raises the question of how we can undo the bush colleges of old and integrate universities into neighbouring towns as part of stimulating local economic development.But these are largely issues of infrastructure.The focus should be on the real question: has Fort Hare evolved to be a truly universal yet proudly African university that can be trusted with liberating young minds?
Have our universities’ curricula evolved since 1994 in terms of what they teach our young people and how they prepare them for an era of post-colonial reconstruction?For me, the real celebration of an institution such as Fort Hare lies in answering these questions.
My hope is that in executing Vision 2030, Fort Hare can achieve the financial support needed to build a lasting legacy that will truly honour the luminaries who strode the campus in the past.
On a different note, the question of free higher education must become a key deliberation in the educational dialogues Fort Hare is hosting to mark its centenary.As a country, we waste valuable resources on graft and on unnecessary projects, and in the process, we neglect spending that would ensure access to education.This matter is serious as it defines the kind of future we create for our young people.
So many of them may remain outside the higher education system because of poor pass rates and low-quality basic education, or because they take their university pass and waste it by prematurely entering the job market because of the prohibitive cost of education.
The University of Fort Hare’s centenary is an opportunity for the entire higher education sector to take stock of its future so that those who walked this path can have their legacy restored, and future generations can reap the rewards of true economic empowerment.
• Onkgopotse Tabane is a regular columnist for the Sunday Independent.
Former president Nelson Mandela, in his opening address at a commemoration marking the 46th year of the Women`s March on the Union Buildings, on 09 August 2001, I n Pretoria:
“I invite you to join me in my admiration of Charlotte Maxeke’s contributions and achievements in championing women’s rights, and the promotion of women in the sphere of social welfare most especially education field in South Africa.
There are many things we continue to learn from the life of Charlotte Maxeke.From her we have learned that one can be a leader and remain humble.From her we have learned that you can be a leader and still respect others in actions and deeds regardless of their status in life.
From her we have learned that one can be educated and remain sensitive to the needs of those who are less privileged.From her we have learned that that leadership is about sacrifice, selflessness and commitment.
As we celebrate this special day for women in honour of Charlotte, we must be reminded of all these values she has instilled in us.
It is human beings in the form of Charlotte Maxeke who taught us that unity must prevail amongst us, and indeed, amongst all of us as South Africans, black,white,yellow or brown. She has encouraged us to internalize the true fundamentals of leadership and Ubuntu – these are just some of the tenants of unity that she wanted us to learn.
In her interface with our people, especially women, she always urged us to uphold many values that we must internalize in our own lives, and behaviour that influences unity rather than focus on issues that divide us.
It is through her work that she cared for all – the elderly, the church, youth, the homeless, the rural poor, and ordinary folk.
Very few people can be said to have served their country and people with dedication, commitment, sacrifice, loyalty, respect, selflessness and patriotism like Charlotte. Indeed, very few can hope to attract such an outpour of applause, which demonstrates that she was unique in every respect.
Collectively, we must cherish these values our daily struggles towards creating a better future for our people.”
Professor D. D. T. Jabavu, leading New African academic scholar of the 1920`s, also made the following pertinent observation:
“Throughout all her life, she has been engaged in efforts of a patriotic character on behalf of the aboriginal races of Africa, these efforts entailing herculean tasks every time. Her social line has been the redemption of our womanhood as well as humanity in general.
The League of Bantu Women which she was responsible for starting, was a wonderful movement that stirred the imagination of our people and unmistakably infused a widened public spirit among our women-folk throughout South Africa with results still traceable right to the present time”.
Charlotte Maxeke`s contribution to the betterment of African rights was noted far beyond her own area of activity.Here she is recalled with great fondness by one of the great African-American figures of the late twentieth century, W. E. B. Du Bois:
“I have known Charlotte Manye Maxeke since 1894, when I went to Wilberforce University as a teacher. She was one of the three or four students from South Africa, and was the only woman. She was especially the friend of Nina Gomer, the student who afterwards became my wife.”
“I regard Mrs Maxeke as a pioneer in one of the greatest of human causes, working in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to lead a people, in the face of prejudice, not only against her race but against her sex. . . . I think that what Mrs Maxeke has accomplished should encourage all men, especially those of African descent.”
In one of his writings in the publication Imvo Zabantsundu,Prof ZK Matthews, one of the foremost academics and anti-apartheid leaders in the 1950s, described Mrs Maxeke as follows.
“Charlotte Maxeke was a stout lady with a striking face, with sharp penetrating eyes which could strike terror into those who crossed words with her and yet be gentle and kind to those who needed her sympathy”.
“She was an eloquent speaker and a fearless denouncer of the disabilities under which her people laboured. Soon she came to be recognised as an authority, especially in matters affecting women and juveniles. In this capacity, she often appeared before Government Commissions to give evidence on public questions affecting African women and children.”(“Mrs Charlotte M. Maxeke: Defender of Women`s Rights”, September 9, 1961).
The former President of the ANC, Dr AB Xuma coined the phrase that Dr Maxeke came to be associated with Charlotte Maxeke,”the mother of African freedom in South Africa”.
In his opening address at an occasion marking the celebration of women’s day on 09 August 2013, President Jacob Zuma said:
“Comrade Maxeke was born as Charlotte Makgomo Manye on 7 April 1872 at Ramokgopa Village in Polokwane (then Pietersburg).She grew up in an era where there was scant respect for black people in particular, and black women in general. Black women had to bear the greatest brunt and the injustices of the colonial regime`s repressive laws.
As a young girl growing up in colonial South Africa, Charlotte Maxeke did not allow herself to become discouraged by the limitations imposed on black people in general and women specifically by society and the regime.Even as a young girl, Comrade Maxeke believed that women must play a leading role in building up our movement in its struggle to defeat the enemies of the people and achieve liberation.
Other than her social work, it is Charlotte the political leader and activist that captures imagination and attention.She detested pass laws and the manner in which they sought to restrict the movement of women. She decided to organise and mobilise women against pass laws.
It was this resilience and tenacity of leaders such as Charllote Maxeke that built the principled and fearless foundation for the contribution of women in the effort to remove the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa.Comrade Maxeke is also known for having inspired other leaders within the ANC. One such leader is former ANC President the Rev Zac Mahabane.
Charlotte Maxeke is said to have been the most decisive early political influence upon the Rev Zac Mahabane.Reverend Mahabane met Charlotte Maxeke in Cape Town in 1916. Reports state that comrade Maxeke was already an influential national figure by then, in demand for speaking at a range of meetings.
It was after listening to some of Charlotte Maxeke`s speeches in Cape Town that Reverend Mahabane, some seven years her junior, decided in 1917 that his calling as a man of the cloth required also an active involvement in politics.In that year, he joined the Cape African Congress, which was the regional branch of the South African Native National Congress.
In 1919 Mahabane was chosen as President of the Cape Congress. His work in the Cape Congress was noted by African leaders elsewhere in the country, and in 1924 he was elected as the third President-General of the national body which had changed its name in 1923 to the African National Congress.
The role of Charlotte Maxeke in developing this leader of the ANC must not be forgotten.She was an eloquent speaker, a unifier and a true revolutionary. She understood that the primary function of the liberation struggle was to carry out the political tasks of the revolution and also to develop others.
In one of her popular addresses called “Social Conditions of African Women and Girls”, delivered in 1930 at the conference of European and Bantu Christian Student Association held at Fort Hare University, Comrade Maxeke said:
“If you definitely and earnestly set out to lift women and children up in the social life of the Bantu, you will find the men will benefit, and thus the whole community, both white and black…”
As we celebrate the centenary of the liberation struggle, we acknowledge and praise the contribution of this pioneer of education and founder of the ANC Women`s League.We celebrate this woman who allowed no boundaries to be set for her, as she lived her life to the fullest, in pursuit of freedom for all and personal achievement.
In honour of her memory, especially her unrelenting drive to acquire education, the ANC Women`s League named a nursery school in Morogorogo, Tanzania as the Charlotte Maxeke Child Care Centre.
The Gauteng Government also boasts a Charlotte Maxeke hospital, which is enjoined to provide as excellent a service as its namesake did in her service to humanity.
Today Maitland Street on which she led the 1913 women`s march, has been named Charlotte Maxeke Street, a befitting tribute to this great South African leader.As a collective, we must emulate the exemplary leadership of Mama Maxeke by building a national united front that strives to attain the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution.
Indeed, if you can rise, bring someone with you. Her words echo what women stand for. They develop others, they develop communities. This is a trait we will be celebrating as we mark women`s month.
Comrades,against the backdrop of celebrating Comrade Charlotte Maxeke, it is my honour and privilege to launch Women`s Month on behalf of the ANC Women`s League and indeed on behalf of the ANC as a whole.Malibongwe!Amandla!”