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.
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!”
Her birthplace remains to be a bone of contention.But her legacy as a woman visionary is cemented in the annals of South African history. Charlotte Mmakgomo Manye was born on 7 April 1874 in either Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape,or at Botlokwa Ga-Ramokgopa, in Polokwane District, in the Limpopo Province, South Africa.
She received a missionary education at Edwards Memorial School in the Eastern Cape in the early 1880s.After the discovery of diamonds, Maxeke moved to Kimberley with her family in 1885. While in Kimberley, she became a teacher.
As a dedicated churchgoer, Maxeke and her sister, Katie joined the African Jubilee Choir in 1891. Her singing talent attracted the attention of a Mr. K. V. Bam, a local choir-master who was organizing an African choir to tour Europe. Charlotte’s rousing success after her first solo performance in Kimberley Town Hall immediately resulted in her appointment to the Europe-bound choir operation of which was taken over from Mr. Bam by a European.
The group left Kimberley in early 1896 and sang to numerous enthusiastic audiences in all of the major cities of Europe. Command royal performances, including one at Queen Victoria’s 1897 Jubilee at London’s Royal Albert Hall, added to their mounting prestige.
At the conclusion of the European tour, funds were made available to tour Canada and the United States. The results were the same, packed concert halls and delighted audiences, hearing the unique harmony of an African choir and Charlotte’s unforgetable solos, for the first time.During this time Maxeke is said to have attended suffragette speeches by women such as Emmeline Pankhurst.
At the completion of the tour of the United States, the European organizer, without paying a single member of the choir, deserted it with all the funds and travel tickets, and could not be found. Charlotte Manye and the other choir members were left stranded penniless on the streets of New York City.
The story of the stranded African singers quickly appeared in United States newspapers. Americans from many walks of life came to the choir’s financial rescue. One of them, Bishop Daniel A. Payne, of the African Methodist Church (AME) in Ohio, a former missionary in the Cape Province of South Africa, recognized Charlotte Manye’s name in the newspaper. He contacted her and offered her a church scholarship to Wilberforce University, the AME Church University in Xenia, Ohio. Charlotte gladly and wisely accepted the offer.
She excelled in all fields of academia. She was taught under the tutelage of Pan-Africanist scholar and proponent Dr W.E.B Du Bois, and received an education that was focused on developing her as a future missionary in Africa.
In the late spring of 1903, Charlotte Manye achieved two very memorable things. She became the first black South African woman to earn a university degree, and she was betrothed to a fellow countryman and graduate, Dr. Marshall Maxeke, a Xhosa born on 1 November, 1874 at Middledrift, Cape Colony.
It was while she was a student at Wilberforce that she managed to arrange opportunities for other African students to study at Wilberforce. One of the students was Charles Dube. Others were James Tantsi, Henry Msikinya and Edward Tolityi Magaya.
Upon her return to South Africa, Dr. Manye became the organizer of the Women’s Mite Missionary Society in Johannesburg , and took up a post as the first African teacher at Pietersburg in the Transvaal, while opening the local missionary field for the AME church amongst the African communities in the region.
Shortly thereafter, she and Dr. Maxeke were joined in marriage. Theirs was a union based not only upon love, but also upon mutual, intellectual and professional respect. They supported each other in all of their activities. When a son was born to them, both assumed a joint caring responsibility, unusual for an African man of that period.
Both partners labored together as dedicated missionaries, not only preaching and teaching the Gospel, but also advocating and advancing the cause of education as the only route to a prosperous and fulfilled life for the Africans of South Africa. Together, the Maxeke’s founded the Wilberforce Institute,named after their American alma mater, in Evaton,south of Johannesburg, which prospered as a primary and secondary school.The school is still in existence today. During that period, they also collaborated on the compilation and publication of the first AME Church Hymn Book in Xhosa.
Inspired by Orpheus M. McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers, the African Jubilee Choir toured Britain and North America between 1891-1893 on a fundraising drive. Maxeke is seated third from right,middle row.
Both her and her husband attended the launch of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC),the fore-runner to the African National Congress(ANC),in Bloemfontein in 1912, and although her main concerns were church-linked social issues, Charlotte also wrote in Xhosa on the social and political situation occupied by women. In the Umteteli wa Bantu newspaper, she addressed the ‘woman question’. An early opponent of passes for black women, she helped organized the anti-pass movement in Bloemfontein in 1913 and founded the Bantu Women’s League(BWL),in 1918.
As leader of the Bantu Women`s Legue, the fore-runner to the ANC`s Women`s League, she led a delegation to Prime Minister Louis Botha in 1918 to discuss the issue of passes for women, and this was followed up by a protest the following year. She was also involved in protests on the Witwatersrand about low wages, and participated in the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Worker’s Union (ICU) in 1920.
Maxeke was also involved in multiracial movements. She addressed the Women’s Reform Club in Pretoria, which was an organization for the voting rights of women, and joined the Joint Council of Europeans and Bantus. She was also elected as president of the Women’s Missionary Society(WMS) in 1924.
In 1926, the church called the Maxeke`s to Idutywa,Eastern Cape where Marshall was appointed pastor and principal of Lota High School. Charlotte was appointed Head Teacher and there they both continued their outstanding work on behalf of the church and students.
During their stay in the Eastern Cape,the Maxekes went on to teach and evangelise in other places, including Thembuland in the Transkei under King Sabata Dalindyebo. It was here that Maxeke participated in the king’s court, a privilege unheard of for a woman. However, they finally settled in Johannesburg, where they continued their involvement in political movements, until tragedy struck in 1928. Sadly, this exciting and fruitfully enduring partnership ended with the untimely passing of the Reverend Dr. Marshall Maxeke at the age of 53.
After a period of mourning, Charlotte responded to a call by the South African Ministry of Education to testify before several government commissions in Johannesburg on matters concerning African education, another “first” for an African of any gender. Her brilliant and creative responses to the questions put to her resulted in a number of racial boundary crossing job offers, the first of their kind ever made by the white government to an African.
In 1928, she attended a AME Church conference in the USA, and also addressed the All African Convention in Bloemfontein, where she played a leading role in the establishment of the National Council of African Women(NCAW).In the early 1930`s she was increasingly becoming concerned about the plight of black youth, and deliberated and prayed long and hard about mechanisms which could be put in place to have the greatest impact on them, particularly those in trouble and those without jobs. She duly accepted a position to be the first black woman to become a Probation Officer for juvenile delinquents in the juristicial district of Johannesburg, and later propertier of the city`s first employment agency to be owned by an African.
Dr. Charlotte Manye Maxeke passed away, joining her husband and her God, on 16 October 1939 at the age of 65. At her funeral at Klipstown,on Johannesburg`s eastern periphery, her eulogy ended with the words “She was everyone’s friend and no one’s enemy”.
When Sobukwe left Healdtown Mission Institute for the next stage of his education,he found that most of the country`s universities were closed to blacks.Only the universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand gave limited access to handfuls of black students.The premeir institute for blacks was near Alice – the South African Native College at Fort Hare.
The college,founded in 1916, was originally intended for blacks,as the title indicated,but also had a small number of white students.Later,there were no white students,but there were coloured and Asian students.The year before Sobukwe enrolled,the college had 324 students – 260 blacks,29 Asians and 35 coloureds.Only 31 of the students were women,fourteen students came from Basutoland(later to be renamed Lesotho) and eighteen from other parts of Africa.The teaching staff was overwhelmingly white.
In its time,the college nurtured many blacks who later rose to leadership. Sir Seretse Khama,first president of independent Botswana,was there in 1946.Robert Mugabe,who led the struggle against white rule in Rhodesia and became first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe,graduated in 1941,as did Oliver Tambo,later the President-in-Exile of the African National Congress.And a year before him,Nelson Mandela.
Sobukwe went into the Wesley House hostel.Theoretically,it was supposed to be only for Methodists like him but,in practice,it drew and accepted students of whatever denomination who hailed from the Eastern Cape,just as Methodists and Anglicans from Johannesburg preffered to go to the Anglican Beda Hall.The Presebyterian Iona Hall tended to be for the “undetermined” like the Basotho.
The undergraduate rivalry was intense – the Wesley students would,with all due arrogance,say of their residence:”The only House amidst hostels(Iona)band halls(Beda).”Beda students would,in turn,boast that their residence had the “bright boys”;they reffered to the Wesleyans as “Barbarians.”The women students were neutral in all of this – they had their seperate residence,Ekukhanyisweni.
Physical conditions at Wesley were considerably better than at Healdtown.As a first-year student Sobukwe was in a wooden-floored dormitory of sixteen beds,with lockers and cupboards.The wake-up bell was at 6 am,and breakfast at 7:45 am.Hot water was available for showers and baths.Meals were eaten at tables,eight students to a side sitting chairs.Breakfast was mealie-meal(corn meal) porridge,milk,bread and butter.A private supply of eggs could be left with the usual kitchen “aunties” for daily frying or boiling.Luch was samp.It was soul food for Sobukwe and others raised in the Eastern Cape region.Lights out was at 11 pm,but who wanted to could stay out until later.
As it was a white hotel,and in a country village at that,it was incoceivable that black students could use the front door,let alone the dining room.Instead they went to the kitchen door at the back carrying their own plates and pots,placed their orders – grilled steak was the favourite dish – and returned to their hostel room where primus stoves reheated the food.
Sobukwe`s college fees were 55 pounds a year.During each of his three years of study,he received a 20 pound loan bursary from the Native Trust Fund,which administered income retrieved from taxation on blacks,and 20 pounds as a Cape Merit Bursary from the pronvincial Department of Education.Not only did Mr Caley,as his headmaster at Healdtown,recomend the bursuaries,but he and his wife went on giving substantial help to him.
During his three years of study at Fort Hare,they paid the 15 pound balance of his tuition fees,and he could buy whatever books he needed at the Lovedale bookshop and send the accounts to the Caleys.They also paid for his examinations – each subject required a fee – and they met his open account at the pharmacy in Alice.
Now began a proccess of fundamental change in Sobukwe.He had just turned 23 when he started at Fort Hare.This would have been a late age for white youngsters going to university.But it was by no means unusual for blacks,who often started their initial primary school several years later than their white counterparts and then dropped out as they waited for vacancies in succeeding levels of the educational system or,as had occured with Sobukwe,until money was available.
Sobukwe was at this stage not interested in politics,but he had other pronounced views wich soon landed him in trouble.His fellow students chose him to speak at the “Fresher`s Ball” – a social function for new students – at Wesley House.He launched,in his own words,”a venomous attack” on parochialism and the frivolous attitude of students in the hostel.”B.A”(Bachelor of Arts) stood for “Blinking Ass”,he said in the speech,because invariably the students were nothing but asses.The “senior and saner” students,as they reffered to themselves,in the conservative Wesley House were incesed at this insulting brashness from a newcomer.A house meeting voted that no one should speak to him for a month.
In 1948,his second year saw the start of his political consciousness.Three influences were at work.
First,he decided to study Native Administration,as the study of laws controlling blacks was called.In this course he confronted the details of the means through which blacks were oppressed.It caused him vast shock.Suddenly he became aware of his situation and that of his fellow blacks in a way that he had never before considered.During his school years he had,of course,like all other pupils,whether black or white,been fed the standard version of South African history which potrayed white settlers engaged on a civilizing mission and bravely facing up to marauding gangs of native savages.As part of his history studies in the course he had to study about the “Kaffir Wars” of the Eastern Cape frontier during the nineteenth century.
In everyday life,Sobukwe was subject with all other blacks to the inferiority imposed on those who were not white.This means not only racial segregation,already established as a tradition in South Africa,but the poverty which went with it.It is astonishing that Sobukwe became conscious of the racial discrimination of which he was a victim only when he was close to his mid-twenties.Could it be really be possible for someone to expirience the humiliating effects of discrimination in his everydy existence and yet be as unthinking about it as Sobukwe was.As he later described his outlook,”It was just a matter of accepting things as they were.”
If the study of Native Administration opened Sobuke`s eyes and his mind,his developing views were shaped by a second major influence – his relationship with Cecil Ntloko,his lecturer in Native Administration.Ntloko had matriculated at Healdtown some years ahead of Sobukwe.He taught for a year,studied at Fort Hare and went to the University of Cape Town where he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree.He studied Native Administration,and continued these studies,as well as law,through correspondence with the University of South Africa.He went to Fort Hare in 1947,and remained until 1958.
Ntloko first met Sobukwe at the Fresher`s social when Sobukwe`s speech created such a stir amongst students.He was impressed by the newcomer but saw very little of him that year.The following year Sobukwe became one of his students.He recalls Sobukwe as a “good student,very intelligent,a scholar in every respect, a hard worker with originality.”But the real contact and stimulation came outside of the classroom.In Ntloko`s twelve years at Fort Hare there were no students with whom he spent more time than Sobukwe and his two close friends,Denis Siwisa and Galaza Stampa(who went on to become a teacher,and then a schools inspector).They were known as “The Three S`s”.
Fort Hare`s smallness and isolation helped to create a pressure-cooker enviroment.Friendships were immedeate and close,and direct personal contact was possible with lecturers,especially those who were black.Discussions which began in Ntloko`s Native Administration course during the day continued as free-wheeling debates,often heated arguments,at his house in the evenings,and would go on sometimes until early dawn.Years later,Sobukwe would often express his indebtness to Ntloko for having done more than any other single person to open his mind to the society around him.
In everyday existence,the college was relatively regimented.Each morning,students had to attend prayer, with the Principal standing at the door to check that everyone was present.On Sunday evenings,students were obliged to attend another service.But there was a great redeeming feature.As with the emphasis on learning which Sobukwe`s parents had infused in him in his earlier years,now he could revel in an exceptional enviroment which Fort Hare provided:”There was free debate and students could read what they wanted.”
He began with the main books for his course – An African Survey by Lord Hailey,the British expert on colonial policy,The History of Native Policy,by Edgar Brookes,the South African liberal historian,and Native Administration in the Union of South Africa by Howard Rogers – a practical everyday guide to administering black lives by a governmental official.This was also the year in which Edward Roux`s Time Longer than Rope was published – a vibrant history of black struggle in South Africa.The Fort Hare library had one copy and a long list of people waiting for it.The “Three S`s” booked it out overnight.They were given the book at 5 pm and flung themselves into it.They missed supper and went through the night taking turns to read the book aloud to each other.
Sobukwe also launched himself into reading anything he could find on Africa – an unusual interest in those days when only a few South Africans of any colour wanted to know what was happening further north in the continent.He subscribed to the Western African Pilot,the newspaper founded by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe,the early campaigner for Nigerian independence,and read newspapers from the Gold Coast,later to become Ghana and the leader of Africa`s rush to independence.
He was also enthralled,in his English 2 studies,by the play Strife,by John Galsworthy,first produced in London in 1909.It had an electric effect on him.The play is about the struggle between Labour and Capital,with the two leaders holding their beliefs to the end without counting the cost.Each,according to his own lights,is finally brought down by lesser men.Sobukwe identified totally with strikers` leader,David Roberts,even trying to sound like Roberts declaiming in the play.
The esteem in which Sobukwe was held by his fellow students was demonstrated at the start of the 1949 academic year.He was elected to the Students Representative Council(SRC) and also elected as its president.
In Fort Hare university folklore the night of 21 October 1949 is called “Sobukwe`s Night”.That was the night of the Completer`s Ball.Students and staff all came together for it,to bid its most recent graduates farewell.The event featured prominently in the college`s social calendar.
What distinguished the occassion in this particular year was the quality of the speeches.Ntsu Mokhehle,who later formed the Basutoland Congress Party(BCP) and campaigned for the presidency of Lesotho,gave a speech.So did Temba Hleli,who represented those who were continuing with their studies.
But it was Sobukwe`s speech,as SRC president, which stamped him as a natural-born leader and an individual to watch in future:
“Sons and daughters of Africa,harbingers of the new world order.Our college,Fort Hare,must become a centre for African studies to which students in African studies should come from all over Africa.It has always been my feeling that if indeed the intention of this college is to make it into an African college or university,as I have been informed it is,then the department of African studies must be more highly and more rapidly developed.
It has come to my understanding that it is the intention of the college`s trustees to develop and prepare a new management by Africans to eventually lead the college towards this new unmistakably African instituition.But nothing in the college`s policy points in this direction.After the college has been in existence for thirty years the ratio of European to African staff is four to one.And we are told that in ten years` time we might become an independent college or university.Are we to understand by that an African college or university guided,as in the present,by European thought and strongly influenced by European staff?
I said last year that Fort Hare must be to the African what the University of Stellenbosch is to the Afrikaner.It must be the barometer of African thought.It is interesting to note that the theory of apartheid,which is today the dominating ideology of our new rulers,the National Party(NP),was worked out and formulated at Stellenbosch,by Dr WM Eiselen and his colleagues.Its also interesting to learn that Dr Eiselen is now the Secretary for Native Affairs in the current administration.Stellenbosch is not only the expression of Afrikaner thought,it is also the embodiement of the aspirations.
In the same breath,Fort Hare must express ad lead African thought.The college has remained mute on matters deeply affecting Africans,because we learnt,it feared to annoy the Nat government.What the college governing body fails to realise is that rightly oe wrongly,the Nats believe that Fort Hare`s staff is predominantly liberal.By this fact alone,whether the college remains mute or challenges its unjust race laws,the government will continue to be hostile and target the college because it views it as a thorn in its foot.
Ladies and gentlemen.The battle is on.It is a struggle between Europe and Africa.Between twentienth century desire for self-realisation and a feudal concept of authority.I know,of course,that becuae I express these sentiments I will be accusd indecency and will be branded an agitator.
People do not want to see the tenor of their lives disturbed.They do not like to be made to feel guilty.Thet do not want to be told that what they believed to be always right was wrong.And above all they resent an encroachment on what they regrd as their special province.But I make no aplogies.It is imperative that we state the truth before we die.
I said last year that our whole life in South Africa is political.This has been proven on numerous occasions in the course of this year.We can no longer pretend that there is a proper place and a proper place for politics.During the war,for instance,it was clearly demonstrated that,in South Africa at least,politics does not stop this side of the grave.A number of African soldiers were buried in the same trench with European soldiers.A few days afterwards word reached the high command of this development.An urgent instruction was relayed back to the army unit that the Africans should be removed and buried in another trench.Apartheid,seemingly,has to be maintained even on the road to eternity.
The consolation I have,however,is that Africa never forgets.These sons and daughters of the soil,these martyrs will be remembered and properly given their due honour when Africa comes into her own.
A word to those remaining behind.You have seen by now what education means to us – Education to us means service to Africa.It is a tool towards identifying ourselves with the masses.You have a mission.We all have a mission.A nation to build.A God to glorify.A contribution to make.We must be the embodiement of our people`s aspirations.And all we are required to do is to show the light and the masses will find the way.
A doctrine of hate can never take people anywhere.It is too exacting.It warps the mind.That is why we preach the doctrine of love, a love for Africa.We can never do enough for Africa,nor can we love her enough.I am certain that I speak on behalf of all of young Africa when I say that we are prepared to work with any man who is fighting for the liberation of Africa within our lifetime.
We see amongst us a new spirit of determination, a quiet confidence ,the determination of a people to be free whatever the cost.We seeing within our own day the naked brutaliy of Western imperaialism – which I term as the second rape of Africa after the colonial era of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.This time it is more subtle – operating under the guise of “developing the backwards areas of Africa,Asia and South America.”At the same time we see the rise of uncompromising nationalism in all these places,in Malaysia,Indonesia,Argentina and all over Africa.
We have made our choice.And we have chosen African nationalism.World civilisation will not be complete until the African has made his full contribution.
I wish to make it clear that we are anti-nobody.We are pro-Africa.We breathe,we dream,we live Africa.Africa is us and we are Africa,fully in tandem with the rest of the world because Africa is inseperable from her offspring.On the liberaion of the African lies the liberation of all mankind.
History has taught us that a group in power will not relinquish that power voluntarily.It has always been forced to do so.In light of this,we do not expect miracles to happen here.We have chosen the path of non-collaboration.It is neccesary not only for our freedom in South Africa,but for the liberation of all mankind.
We are the first glimmers of a new dawn.And if we are persecuted for our views,we should remember,as the African saying goes,that it is darkest before dawn,and that the dying beast kicks more furiouslt when it is about to give up its soul.Those who crucified and villified the Son of Man will appear before him on judgement day.We are what we are because the God Africa made us so.
We dare not fail in the course of our freedom.All the nations of the world take their turns at the wheels of justice.It is Africa`s turn.Africa will not retreat,nor shall she surrender.
I then plead with you,lovers of Africa,to carry with you into the world the vision of a new Africa.An Africa reborn.An Africa rejuvenated.An Africa recreated.A young Africa.Remember Africa!”
With rousing applause and ringing shouts of iAfrica! Mayibuye!,those present in the hall stood up to give Sobukwe a standing ovation.Many staff members were stunned.His status as an orator of note and a natural-born leader were instantly confirmed on that night.
Reactions to his speech came from far beyond Fort Hare`s walls.Reports came from Healdtown that his mentors,the Caleys,were unhappy about it.Thus far,the Caleys were the main contributors to Sobukwe`s financial needs,supplemented by his older brother,Ernest.His English teacher at Healdtown,Mr Hamish Noble,also made a contribution as and if there was a request.
The Caleys were driven by a sense of mission in doing this.Before Sobukwe,they had sponsored the education of two other Healdtown students at Fort Hare,namely William Kgware,who went on to become a rector of the University of the North,and Present Tshaka who later became a lecturer at the University of the Transkei.The idea was to enable a financially fluid course of study for gifted Healdtown matriculants so that they could,upon graduation from Fort Hare,return as well qualified teachers to Healdtown who could,in their view,help the school to produce better educated black leaders.
The Caleys were caught completely unawares by the speech,and Sobukwe`s increasing political conscientisation since his arrival at Fort Hare.They were left feeling disillusioned,rejected and hurt by him.This was,however,only the beginning of the ruffling of feathers between Sobukwe and his sponsors` plan for him to return to Healdtown as a graduate teacher.Later,in the middle of 1949,Sobukwe set of an even greater storm.
On 18 June 1949,the Governor and principal of Healdtown,Reverend CW Grant,came to Fort Hare to present a talk on current affairs in the country.He spoke of the brotherhood of man,suggesting it could be achieved between blacks and whites by greater personal contact at all levels of social interaction without changing the state`s discriminatory laws.
Sobukwe refuted this,and addressed him.”The moment I step out of your home,sir, after a show of the brotherhood of man, I will be picked up by the police for not carrying a pass”he pointed out.”But that won`t be my fault”, retorted Grant.”It will be.The mere colour of your skin makes you,unwisely,part and parcel of the favoured population in this country.You are a part of the oppresive system in this country,even though it is not of your making” Sobukwe highlighted.
Grant returned to Healdtown and told the Caleys that under no circumstances would he allow Sobukwe to return to Healdtown.”He is a troublemaker.We can`t have him here.We don`t want him here”he layed it out to them.It was not all bad blood between him and the Caleys though.He,however,never went back to Healdtown as a teacher,but only as a visitor to the Caleys and an ex-student.
Upon his graduation,and on a sterling reccomendation from the college,he took up a post as a teacher at the Jandrell Secondary School in Standerton,in the Transvaal.The offer came from his fellow student and friend at both Healdtown and Fort Hare University,WS M`cwabeni,who was principal of the school.
After three years Sobukwe moved onto Johannesburg.This is where his political career earnestly took off,with his membership of and increasing activity in the African National Congress Youth League(ANCYL).In 1955 he led a breakaway from the African National Congress and formed the Pan Africanist Congress(PAC) with a number of other Youth League members.
In 1960 the white nationalist government introduced strict laws curtailing the activities of both the ANC,PAC,SACP and other major liberation organisations.By year-end,all liberation movements campaigning against the goverment`s segregationist policies were banned from any activity,and a string of laws proclaimed it to be illegal to promote the ideals of these movements within the country`s borders.
This course of action only served to strengthen the resolve of the movements,resulting in reccuring spells of imprisonment for Sobukwe and many other liberation movement leaders and members.For Sobukwe,this ultimately gave way to the government`s final solution to his defiance – The Sobukwe Clause.The first of its kind,the cabinet approved law,made it legal for Sobukwe to be detained for a maximum period of twelve months without trial,and in isolation.He began his first term of imprisonment under the law in 1964.To keep him in prison,the law was annually extended by pearliament for a period of six years until his release in 1970.
Upon his release he was banished to the township of Galeshewe,lying on the outskirts of Northern Cape small town of Kimberly.He was joined by his family there,and for the first time in 14 years had the chance to lead a normal family life as a husband and father to his four children.It was not a wholly normal existence as yet,as he was still restricted to stringent curfews on his daily existence,overlooked by the local police.
Despite the restrictions,the everlasting yearn for knowledge and his commitment to serving his people led to Sobukwe,once more, taking up studies,this time to become a lawyer.He registered to study by correspondence with the University of South Africa(UNISA).He qualified as a lawyer in 1975,and the following year opened a small practice in Galeshewe.His focus was on the legal hurdles faced by the local community,especially with regard to the unjust laws meted out against it by the state.
By 1977,reccuring bouts of fever and influenza his led to Sobukwe being flown to Cape Town for a full medical examination.He was confirmed to be a carrier of lung cancer.In an unpreceedented series of actions by the state,all available avenues for the best treatment for him were made available,including access to the best surgeons to deal with his condition at the whites-only Groote Schuur Hospital.
The morning of Monday,27 February 1978 came with a dark cloud over the top of Table Mountain,reaching as far the dry plains of the Northern Cape,over the Limpopo river in the north,beyond the heights of the Drakensberg Mountains and the coastal borderline of the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu Natal.Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe had taken his last breath,and left an indelible mark on the struggle for human rights in South Africa.
Remember Sobukwe! is a documentary film on the freedom fighter, Robert Sobukwe, who formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959 and went on to be sentenced to solitary confinement on robben island for his political activity.Watch it below: