Saintly Sights – Pre – 1900s Missionary Photography in South Africa – An Interview

Early photographs of missionary presence in 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.



Nokukhanya - Mother of Light.A biography on the life of Nokukhanya Luthuli
Nokukhanya – Mother of Light.A biography on the life of Nokukhanya Luthuli.

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!”

Nelson Mandela introduces the crowd to Nokukhanya Luthuli at Durban Stadium on February 26,1990.
Nelson Mandela introduces the crowd to Nokukhanya Luthuli at Durban Stadium on February 26,1990.

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.”

We who are young, salute our mothers Who have given us The heritage of their Queendom,wrote poet Gcina Mhlope in a 1989 poem in honour of Nokukhanya Luthuli.
“We who are young, salute our mothers Who have given us
The heritage of their Queendom”, wrote poet Gcina Mhlope in a 1989 poem in honour of Nokukhanya Luthuli.

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.

A dynamic couple who made their mark on South African society,and pillars to each other,Nokukhanya Luthuli and Chief Albert Luthuli.
A dynamic couple who made their mark on South African society,and pillars to each other,Nokukhanya Luthuli and Chief Albert Luthuli.

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.

The role of Mission schools in SA education

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 DUBE- A lost pioneer and patriotic heroine of missionary education in South Africa


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An early pioneer of black education in South Africa – Nokutela Dube.

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.

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In 2012 a documentary film, by Carleton College in Minnesota, USA was released on Nokutela Dube`s enduring and pioneering work and life.


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.

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A film screening poster announcing the presentation of uKukhumbula uNokutela – Remembering Nokutela in Minneapolis, USA

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.


Nokutela`s last resting place – in Brixton Cemetery, in Johannesburg. The tombstone was erected and officially commemorated by the Dube and Mdima families, and the Johannesburg City Council in 2013. It had layed bare for 90 years,with only the words “Christian Kaffir” marking it.

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:

A century on, Fort Hare must keep on liberating young minds

"To us it was Oxford,Cambridge,Yale and Harvard all rolled into one"Nelson Mandela on Fort Hare university.It is there where he met and fostered a life-long friendship.later law practice patnership and comradeship with Oliver Tambo.
“For us it was Oxford,Cambridge,Yale and Harvard all rolled into one” Nelson Mandela on Fort Hare university.He is seen here at a reunion with his fellow Fort Hare student,later law practice partner and lifelong friend Oliver Tambo.

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?

A chance meeting on the streets of Johannesburg between Sobukwe and his fellow ANC Youth League member at Fort Hare University,Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi,1958.
A chance meeting on the streets of Johannesburg between leader Robert Sobukwe,right, and his fellow ANC Youth League member at Fort Hare University,Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi,1958.

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.

After matriculating from Inanda Seminary,former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang obtained a BA degree at Fort Hare.She joined twenty eight others into exile in 1962.
After matriculating from Inanda Seminary,former health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang obtained a BA degree at Fort Hare University.She joined twenty eight others to exile in Tanzania in 1962.She returned to South Africa in 1993.

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.

What they said about missionary school pioneer Dr Charlotte Maxeke

Nelson Mandela – Former South African president and world human rights icon.
Nelson Mandela – Former South African president and world human rights icon.

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 DDT Jabavu.
Professor DDT Jabavu.

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”.

W.E. B Du Bois,American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor.
W.E. B Du Bois, African-American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, teacher and author.

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.”

Former ANC leader and University lecturer Professor Professor ZK Matthews.
Former ANC leader and University lecturer Professor Professor ZK Matthews

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).

Former ANC president Dr AB Xuma
Former ANC president Dr AB Xuma

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”.

South African President Jacob Zuma.
South African President Jacob Zuma.

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!”


Dr Chalotte Maxeke,photographed in 1923.
Dr Chalotte Maxeke,photographed in 1923.

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.

Dr Marshall Maxeke,her fellow student at Wilberforce University in the United States, and husband.
Dr Marshall Maxeke,her fellow student at Wilberforce University in the United States, and husband.

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.
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.

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.

Still standing.Charlotte Maxeke`s statue stands in Tshwane`s Memorial Park.The park was erected to commemorate ditinguished South Africans.
Charlotte Maxeke`s statue stands in Tshwane`s Memorial Garden amongst other distinguished South Africans.

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”.