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”.

Robert Sobukwe – The shaping of an Africanist – Fort Hare University

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Robert Sobukwe,left,student at Fort Hare University,with his mentor, lecturer and fellow Healdtown College student Proffessor Cecil Ntloko.

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.

The habitual bookworm.Sobukwe pictured next to his evergrowing book collection in his quarters on Robben Island,1965.

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.

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Mr S Caley,headmaster at Healdtown during Sobukwe`s years.He was later to be a major benefactor of Sobukwe`s tertiary education at Fort Hare University.

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.


Sobukwe on a visit to Fort Hare a few years after his graduation.

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”.

“He always carried two books for his leisure reading at any time of the week” – Mrs Scott,English teacher,Healdtown Mission Institute.


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.


“His speech at Fort Hare University proved him to be an individual of note to watch in South Africa`s political trajectory”,Godfrey Pitje, Fore Hare University lecturer and later prominent anti-apartheid lawyer.

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!”

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

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.

Sobukwe and his family on graduation at Fort Hare,1949.

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.

Sobukwe with wife Veronicah and children,from left Dalinyebo,Dini and Miliswa,after his first operation for cancer at Groote Schuur Hospital,Cape Town,1976.

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.

mandelasobukwewits (2).jpg
Robert Sobukwe`s biographer Benjamin Pogrund,left,with former state president Nelson Mandela when the author donated his Sobukwe papers to the University of the Witwatersrand`s library,September 1997.

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.

A street poster announcing Robert Sobukwe`s passing on 28 February 1978.

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:

Robert Sobukwe -The shaping of an Africanist – Healdtown Mission Institute

The father of the Pan-Africanist philosophy in South Africa,and an ardent student and scholar,Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was born on 5 December 1924 in Graff-Reinet, known as The Gem of the Karoo, in the south-east of South Africa.Sobukwe was the youngest child.As was normal at the time,he was given an English name, Robert, as well as a Xhosa name, Mangaliso – meaning “it is wonderful”.His brothers who survived were Ernest, born in 1914,and Charles, born in 1922.His sister was Eleanor.

His father,Hubert, worked for the local municipality as a maintenance officer,keeping open the furrows that supplied the town`s water.His mother, Angelinah, as well as looking after the house, worked for a number of years as a cook at the town hospital and then did domestic work for a white family.Together they earned enough to make sure that the family did not go short for food.The children were given new clothes as Christmas gifts,to be used as Sunday best,and the previous Sunday best was brought into everyday school use.

An aerial photograph of Graff-Reinet,Robert Sobukwe`s birthplace,Northern Cape.

Thus far it is a picture of a hard and simple life which could be repeated ten thousand fold throughout South Africa.An extra ingridient,however,was the emphasis placed in the home on education.Angelinah had never been to school, and her thumbprint served as her signature.Hubert had completed seven years of schooling.He had wanted to continue,but his mother was dead and a sister who was bringing him up refused to send him to school.She feared that,if he was educated,he would ignore her and the family.Hubert`s dissapointment lived with him,and it drove him to encourage his children.According to his son Ernest he had made a vow – should God give him children, he would educate them all.He determinedly fulfilled that pledge in his lifetime.

When sister Eleanor finished her eighth year of schooling she did not want to continue and went out to work.But Ernest complteted his schooling,qualified as a teacher,went on to train as a minister,and eventually was ordained a bishop in the Anglican Church.Charles also qualified as a teacher.So too did Robert,who in due course went on to complete several university degrees.

The initial stimulus for education came from books in the house.Angelinah brought books given by the young son and daughter of the white family she worked for,and Hubert brought books discarded by the town`s library.Hubert read the books and passed them onto his children.

The local Methodist church,which doubled as a school during the week,is where Sobukwe attended his first years of school.

In addition to the emphasis on reading,there was a strong religious spirit in the Sobukwe household.The family was Methodist and Hubert was a highly respected member of the location`s congregation – so much that,during his lifetime,the street in which he lived was named after him.It is still Sobukwe Street.Regular church attendance on Sunday was obligatory for the children.After the service,each child was required to repeat the text and outline the sermon.”If you didn`t know it,Daddy gave it to you”, according to Ernest,meaning that there was an immedeate infliction of Hubert`s sjambok(rawhide whip) on the backside.”He was a loving,but stern father.”Angelinah,on the other hand,was a gentle person who merely scolded the children.

Formal schooling was provided by a Methodist mission in the location,at the foot of a hill on the main road.It was actually the church in which the Sunday church services were conducted.The pews were used as desks.About a hundred children,divided into four classes,were taught at the same time.Reflecting the location`s were blacks and coloureds.The Methodist school went as far as the six grade.By then the odds were that many children would have dropped out because of the poverty of their parents.

Those who were perservering switched,for the next two years,to the Anglican school in the town where the were proper classrooms and desks.Sobukwe,then 11,was clearly a suitable candidate fo the Anglican school even though,as he said many years later,his standard of English was “not good”. Sobukwe and his brother Charles were in the same class and were the only ones to pass out of thirteen pupils.This was the limit of education provided in Graff-Reinet for blacks and coloureds.Any further schooling that was wanted had to be sought elsewhere.

The Sobukwe family`s Methodist adherence made it natural for him to be sent to Healdtown Mission Institute,even though it was some 225 kilometres from home.Healdtown was then a major instituition in black education,one of the several schools in the Eastern Cape established by British missionaries in the nineteenth century.They provided a liberal and Christian education founded on English grammar and literature which profoundly influenced generations of students.


BellTowerHealdtown (2)
The famous Bell Tower at the entrance to Healdtown Mission Institute.

In January 1940,Sobukwe arrived at Healdtown for the start of the new academic year.It was still in the “great days” of black education,as the Reverend Stanley Pitts,who was Principal from 1950,puts it.

Healdtown was a co-educational academic instituition sited on a hill looking out over a large and fertile valley.It embraced a wide range of schooling,starting with the beginners in lower primary and extending to the end-of-schooling matriculation.It also provided teacher training,specialist physical educational education training and courses in domestic science.It was,in its time,the biggest black and Methodist educational centre throughout Southern Africa, with 1 400 students,most of whom,like Sobukwe,were boarders.The majority of the staff came from Britain and were not ministers but trained teachers.

Traditionally,the teaching staff was white,but by the 1940`s,Healdtown began employing blacks,most of whom were from its teacher training school.Already in 1936 a black Methodist minister,the Reverend Seth Mokitimi,had been appointed housemaster and chaplain.By the 1950`s a 50/50 ratio had been reached in the staff racial composition.The students,however,were always all black.

The Sobukwe family`s shortage of money meant also that career aspirations were limited.Sobukwe enrolled for the NPL,the “Native Primary Lower”, a three-year course which would enable him to qualify as a primary school teacher.”Native” was the name then used for blacks,and as the name indicates,the course was designed to prepare blacks to teach in black schools.

As a newcomer,Sobukwe went into a wooden-floor dormitory of forty beds,twenty lined up along each side and with a small locker in between each one.He kept his clothes in a suitcase stored in a nearby boxroom.He could have access to it every morning,but he kept his jacket on the wall.Greater privacy came with succeeding years – a ten-bed dormitory in the second year,and sharing with four or five others in the third year,until he finally attained the status of a single room.Like other students he was provided with a bed frame and a brightly coloured mattress cover which the students filled with straw for better comfort.He brought his own sheets and blankets from home.

It was at the start of Sobukwe`s second year that one of the enduring friendships of his life began – with Dennis Siwisa,who also trained as a teacher,later becoming a journalist.In the next excerpt,Siwisa recalls many of the details to do with black schooling and Sobukwe`s existence at Healdtown.

“First bell was at 6:00 am,but Sobukwe usually slept through it,waking for the second bell at 6:30 am.He would wash his face and,at the third bell at 6:40,go to the dining hall for breakfast,to sit on a wooden bench without a back at a long wooden table.On the wooden-panelled walls were photographs of past Healdtown teachers and of George VI,the then reigning King of England,and of colonial South Africa.

It could have hardly been a plainer meal – a mug of hot to lukewarm water and sugar,plus a big dry piece of bread called umqenya in Xhosa.Anyone who wanted butter and who had money could buy it and store it.After breakfast Sobukwe went back to the dormitory to wash properly.There was no hot water,except for the occasional bucket he was able to weedle from the “aunties” who worked in the kitchen.Otherwise in the cold of winter,showers were usually confined to one or two a week after playing sport.”It was a tough life,but we enjoyed it”,Siwisa remembers.

Healdtown students gathered at morning assembly in front of the dining hall building.

School began at 8:30 am,but was preceeded by “observation” – the custom for the boys to stand outside and watch the girls come from their seperated dormitories.Classes went through until 12:45 pm with a short break in-between,and then it was back to the dining hall for lunch.Tuesdays,Thursdays and Sundays were the days for meat,beans and samp – porridge made from coarsely ground maize(corn);on other days only samp and beans.

Fruit was unkown,but occasionally there were vegetables,grown in the gardens.At 2pm,Sobukwe resumed classes for another three hours,with either lessons or teaching practice.Then an hour`s relaxation,playing tennis or basking in the sun,ot walking to the nearby ravine – before supper which was a repetition of breakfast – bread and sugar-water.From 7pm there were two hours of study in his dormitory with lights out at 9:30 pm.

It wasn`t unrelieved academic toil.Wednesdays afternoons were set aside for sport and Sobukwe made full use of this.He was a good tennis player,having learnt the game back home.He played rugby,at fullback,for his Healdtown house team – Hornabrook,named after an early governer of the instituition – and is said to have been a good tackler.Friday afternoons were usually free and were used for relaxing.Saturdays meant competitive sport against others schools,with teams visiting,or Healdtown teams travelling to away games on the back of an open truck.

If not involved in sport,Saturday was the one day on which Sobukwe could ask for permission to walk the 11 kilometres to the village of Fort Beautfort.The attractions and facilities there were extremely limited,and consisting in the main of Cooper`s grocery-cum-drapery store and fish and chips shop.This was the chance to supplement Healdtown`s sparse diet and the few weets available at the small shop in the instituition,by buying fish or returning with fruit or the great luxury of tea.Once a month,Saturday night was “Bioscope”(movie) night,and occasionally a local music troupe came to give a concert.These events were held in the boys` dining hall.The girls were also admitted and this was a chance for couples to sit together,as Sobukwe did when at one time he had a girlfriend.

Saturday was also the day to catch up on chores such as washing shirts,at least for those who had more than the regular khakhi and white,which were the only  laundry accepeted.Sobukwe was already set on his lifelong pattern of dressing neatly and quitely.He did not care much for clothing and would say that he was not a “snob”.At this stage he favoured long khakhi trousers for everyday wear when no uniform was required.

Sunday,because of the church service, was the day for smart and obligatory wear – grey trousers,white shirt,Healdtown`s red and yellow striped tie and blazer complete with the school badge on the pocket – an eagle with the Latin motto “Alis velut aquilarum”(They shall rise with wings as of eagles).Naturally,it was a day of rest,but only after the obligatory srvice,a Scripture class in the morning and holy communion once a month.Indeed Healdtown`s Christian basis was constantly evident – prayers were said before supper each day and the chaplain read from scripture, and grace was said before all meals.Sobukwe was “a willing church-goer,but he was not a zealot,”Siwisa states.

Robert Sobukwe`s principal and mentor Goerge Caley,middle row third from left,with group captains and prefects.During his last year Sobukwe was elected to the Head Boy position.

His overiding memory of Sobukwe in those Healdtown days is of a “happy,contended person.”He was not given to speaking about his future hopes.He spoke to his friends about sport and girls.He was known to his fellow students for his “brilliance and for his command of the English language.”He invariably carried a library book with him and went through two or three novels a week.His early Healdtown addictions were the Scarlet Pimpernel novels by Baroness Orczy,and The Saint stories by Leslie Charteris.He devoured all he could find until his tastes widened.

Many years later,Sobukwe himself would say: “I was introduced to English literature at a very early age by my eldest brothers who had a good library.I was fortunate in the teachers I had.There was a Mrs Scott who encouraged my reading.It was a love for literature,especially poetry and drama.”

Sobukwe`s academic interest was drawing increasing interest from his teachers.Not only Mrs Scott,but also from Hamish Noble,a carpentry teacher who was an assistant boarding school headmaster,and the principal and his wife,George and Helen Caley.

Once Sobukwe had completed his three-year teacher training at the end of 1942, he was encouraged by the staff not to go off and start earning a living,such as it would be as a newly-qualified teacher,but to continue his schooling.So promising was he that he was allowed to prepare for the Junior Ceritificate public examination – the halfway stage towards completing high school – in one year instead of the two,sometimes three,as normally required.The perission of the education authorities was neccesary for this.But as the Caleys explained,”he was such a clever boy.”

The athletics team in the early 1940`s.Sobukwe excelled in rugby and tennis,having learnt both sports back home in Graff-Reinet.

In the June 1943 mid-year internal examinations Sobukwe topped the class.But in August,some four months before the final examination,he began to cough up blood.He was found to have the widespread and dreaded disease tuberculosis.His father came to Healdtown to fetch him.”We had a difficult time persuading him not to take Robert home to die,but that he should go to hospital,”say the Caleys.It was,however,not easy to get him a hospital bed.Facilities were limited,especually for blacks.Mr Caley took up the matter and succeeded in getting Sobukwe to what was then the McVicar Hospital for tuberculosis in the nearby small town of Alice.

The next year,early in 1944,Sobukwe had recovered from the TB and repeated his classes.The Caleys,however,say that he did not write the examinations and was promoted to the next class despite this.Mr Caley says he wrote to the Department of Education that this was “an exceptional case.”Later in the year,only nine months after leaving the hospital,Sobukwe was so well-recovered that he was able to win the Eastern Cape tennis singles chamionship – a competition for blacks.

Now,with two years of schooling still to go,he was assured of the bursaries Headltown gave to outstanding students.In addition,the Caleys sponsored him,giving him books and pocket money,taking him to the staton at Fort Beautfort so that he could go home in the June and December long holidays,and sometimes buying a rail ticket for him.In the aftermath of his TB,they paid for patient medication – cod liver oil, Metatone tonic and Angiers emulsion to be rubbed on his chest.

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Robert Sobukwe as he appears in the book HEALDTOWN – UNDER THE EAGLES WINGS,based on the school`s heritage and impact on South African society.

He was a “group captain” – a senior prefect – and in his last year was appointed Head Boy.He was zealous in his duties.Siwisa recalls that the toilets were outside,about ten metres from the dormitories,and that the boys would sometimes not bother to go all the way, but would urinate in the open.This was viewed as a serious offence in Healdtown`s disciplinary system.Some boys were punished for it and one of them accused Sobukwe of lying on a roof to catch them in the act.The accusation was carried over a year later to university when he was called a “sellout” because of it.He stoudly defended himself,saying he would act in the same way again if he had to track down offenders.

But his academic prowess became the dorminant fact about him.His reputation was so strongly established that the Reverend Stanley Pitts,who became Healdtown`s Governor four years after Sobukwe had left,notes that he was the “brightest student we ever had.”The Caleys,speaking in 1981 when they were old and frail,still spoke of him with glowing admiration – Mr Caley`s constant phrase was that “he was so clever”;Mrs Caley said “his command of English was exceptional”.Together they remembered the farewell end-of-year speech as Headltown`s Head Boy in 1946.”It was a most remarkable speech,it was a wonderful speech,it was all about co-operation between whites and blacks”they said.

As expected,he obtained a first-class pass entitling him to go onto university.His subjects were English Higher,Physiology and Hygiene,Zoology,Geography,History and Xhosa.

The mission schoolboy- Nelson Mandela and missionary education

Nelson Mandela,top centre,in 1937,as a first-year student at Healdtown Mission Institute.

“At a time when the government took no interest whatsoever in our education,it was the church-founded schools who educated us,and conscientised us to the unjust realities of South African society”  – Nelson Mandela

When a young Thembu royal first attended school at the ripe age of 15,little did anyone know that he would go on to change his country,and the world. Upon the realization that his days were numbered, Chief Mphakanyiswa Gadla solicited his cousin, Chief Jongintaba Dalinyebo,to look after his only son.Since both chiefs of the Thembu Royal House were committed Methodists,it was inevitable that the boy would be sent to Chief Dalinyebo`s alma mater.


Students going through their exercises at Clarkebury Mission School.

Clarkebury had been founded by Methodist missionaries,along with the invading British settlers,during the Frontier wars of the early 1800`s.In its heyday it was the leading educational institute in the whole of Tembuland. Like most missionary schools,Clarkebury went into a terminal decline when the National Party introduced its Bantu education policy, and withdrew funding for church schools in 1950 When Nelson Mandela first arrived at Clarkebury in 1934 his self-confidence suffered some beating.This was because he found it uneasy to walk in the first pair of shoes he`d ever owned.The second reason for his uneasy beginings was because for the first time after the royal treatment home he`d become accustomed to at his uncle Chief Dalinyebo`s great place,at Clarkebury he was treated like any other student.There were other boys with greater royal lineages.Mandela arrived at Clarkebury alongside Chief Dalinyebo`s son,Justice.Both boys stayed in the double-story boys hostel,a large building which dominated the entire the school campus.

By his own admission he had a lot of catching up to do.Most of his classmates could outrun him on the sports field,and could out-do him in class.

The Reverend Cecil C Harris,was a tough disciplinarian who ran Clarkebury like a military instituition. Mandela got to know him and his family intimately.As the first white family that Mandela was becoming familiar with,he spent hours tending to Rev Harris` garden.He also reveled under the fact that Chief Dalinyebo had made a special request to Rev Harris to take his young nephew under his wing.Mandela would later state that he had admired the Rev Harris and the manner in which he administered Clarkebury, “with an iron hand and an abiding sense of fairness”, he stated.


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The famous Bell-Tower at the entrance to Healdtown Mission School.

Mandela spent two years as a student at Healdtown,from 1938-9.During his time at Healdtown,this elite Methodist institute epitomized an exclusive black academic instituition.He describes it so in his memoir – LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, “Located at the end of a winding road overlooking a verdant valley,Healdtown was far more beautiful and impressive than Clarkebury. It was,at the time,the largest African school south of the equator,with more than a thousand learners,both male and female.Its gracefully ivory colonial buildings and tree-shaded courtyards gave it a feeling of a privileged academic oasis,which is exactly what it was.”

Even if some students did not excel,Healdtown`s founding fathers seemed intent on ensuring that all who studied there should hold their sights high.The school motto,”Alis velut aquilarum”,Latin for “They`ll soar as if with the wings of eagles” was represented on the school emblem, by an airborne eagle.

Intending to further his education and gain skills  needed to become a privy councillor for the Thembu royal house,Mandela began his secondary education at Healdtown in 1936. Healdtown`s headmaster during Mandela`s time was the Rev Dr Arthur Wellington.The Rev Wellington was a staunch English patriot who liked to boast about his links to the Duke of Wellington,the British Army general who had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

The British world view permeated Healdtown,and an English education model provided the basis for all teaching.”Lapsing into one`s home language was a punishable offence.Walking in the grounds at Healdtown one had to communicate in English only” states anti-apartheid stalwart and Rivonia Treason trialist Raymond Mhlaba.

Sundays at Healdtown provided a vivid display of how comfortably the imperialist and missionary traditions co-existed.On the way to Sunday service,the boys and girls assembled under a Union Jack in the school yard, and accompanied by a brass band, sang the British national anthem God Save The Queen.

Thereafter they would sing the hymn “Nkosi Sikeleli Africa”. It was during these weekly parades that the soon to be an anthem  was first sung.The song was composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, an Eastern Cape-born clergyman and teacher who was educated at the nearby Lovedale Institute.It was sung in 1912 at the first meeting of the South African Native National Congress, the forerunner of the African National Congress(ANC).The song became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five Southern African countries,including Zambia,Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe at independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. The song is currently the national anthem of Tanzania, and, since 1994, a portion of the national anthem of South Africa.

In his second year at Healdtown Mandela took an interest in the two sports that he would hold dear to him for all his life,boxing and running. He also became a prefect.Night duty involved patrolling the front of his hostel,to apprehend fellow boy pupils who,in typical school lads fashion,insisted on reliving themselves from the verandah,instead of visiting the outdoor toilet.

The housemaster in his hostel was the Reverend Seth Mokitimi. He impressed Mandela by standing up to Dr Wellington.This made the impression on Mandela that a black man did not have to defer automatically to a white man, however senior he was.

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Reverend Seth Mokitimi,the boys` housemaster who made a lasting impression on a young Mandela.

According to his own records,Mandela`s most memorable experience at Healdtown was during one morning assembly in the dining hall.At each morning assembly,Dr Wellington always made a grand entrance through Wellington`s door,so-known because no one ever walked through that door except for Dr Wellington.

One morning,however,a black man,draped in leopard skin,and clutching two spears, led the way forward,with Dr Wellington following.He was the famous Xhosa poet S.E.K Mqhayi,whose writing was a major source of inspiration for early African nationalists.

Mandela said that when Mqhayi stood up to speak he was not particularly impressed.He said that apart from his traditional garb he was very much ordinary-looking.However,he said that he could hardly believe his ears when,in the presence of Dr Wellington and other white staff members,Mqhayi spoke of blacks having succumbed to the false gods of the white man for too long.

Xhosa poet S.E.K Mqhayi,whose writing was a major source of inspiration for early African nationalists.

Mqhayi was also renowned for his praise-singing prowess.During this particular peformance he raged against foreign cultural influence,vowing that the forces of African culture would eventually overcome it.This got the audience on their feet,cheering and clapping.

Speaking in Xhosa,he took to the stage and exclaimed,”The assegai stands for what is glorious and true in African history,it is a symbol of the African warrior and artist.The metal wire is an example of Western manufacturing,which is skillful but cold,clever but soulless.What I am talking about is not a piece of bone touching a piece of metal,or even the overlapping of one culture over another.What I am talking about is the clash between what is indigenous and good,and that which is foreign and bad.We cannot allow the foreigners,who do not care about our culture,to rule over us.”

Mandela said that Mqhayi`s performance was like a comet streaking across a night sky,and it made him begin to think about his views on colonial rule.


Originally a British fort in the wars between British settlers and the Xhosas in the 19th century,Fort Hare University College,as the current University of Fort Hare was known then,was founded by Methodist missionaries under the stewardship of Reverend James Stewart.It was begun as a school for missionaries from which at the beginning of the 20th century the university resulted. In accord with its Christian principles, fees were low and heavily subsidized. Several scholarships were also available for indigent students.

With Jongintaba’s backing, Mandela began work on a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree at Fort Hare University College in 1940. As the only black university in the country at the time,Fort Hare was an exclusive black institution situated picturesquely on the banks of the Tyume River in the small town of Alice,in the Eastern Cape. There he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration and Roman Dutch law in his first year, desiring to become an interpreter or clerk in the government`s Native Affairs Department. Mandela stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, befriending Oliver Tambo and his own kinsman, K.D. Matanzima.

Nelson Mandela and his cousin K D Matanzima,Fort Hare University College – 1940.

Continuing his interest in sport, Mandela took up ballroom dancing, and performed in a drama society play about Abraham Lincoln. As a member of the Students Christian Association, he gave Bible classes in the local community, and became a vocal supporter of the British war effort when the Second World War broke out. Although having friends connected to the African National Congress (ANC) and the anti-imperialist movement, Mandela avoided any involvement. He helped found a first-year students’ House Committee which challenged the dominance of the second-years.

At the end of his first year he became involved in a Students’ Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the quality of food, for which he was temporarily suspended from the university.He left in 1940 without taking a degree.It would take over a half-century to correct the transgression. In 1992,fifty-two years after his unceremonious departure,the University of Fort Hare bestowed an honorary LLD(Law) Degree on its most famous student renegade.


Fifty-two years in the making – Mandela, proudly draped in his Fort Hare University blazer, receives an honorary LLD(Law) Degree from the university in 2002.