Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan at Adam’s College, KZN

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03 Nov 2008

Thank You programme Director,
Your Grace, Archbishop Njongo Ndugane,
The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Mr. Sbu Ndebele,
The Honourable MEC for Education of this Province, Mrs Ina Cronje,
Your Worship, the Mayor of Manzitoti,
Honoured Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s occasion marks the beginning of the public phase of an important cultural and educational project. One of the most important outcomes of this project, we hope, shall be the engendering of a renewed pride in Black South Africa’s cultural, literary, musical and pedagogic heritage. The Department of Arts and Culture has been working with his Grace, Archbishop Ndungane and a small committee of dedicated individuals for the past year to bring it to stage. We have also involved the Departments of Education and of Science and Technology, both of which are integrally involved in the realisation of its objectives.

Educational institutions, the mines and the factories were the portals through which the post-colonial African was ushered into the modern world of late 19th and 20th centuries. Our visit here to Adams College is the celebration of the emergence of this New African, forged in the fires of the wars of resistance and tempered in the crucible of South Africa’s forced march into the modern era.

Is was during the latter half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century that we saw the establishment, growth and development of a host of educational institutions inspired by a thirst for modern education and the desire to master the technologies associated with the modern world among the African people. Having experienced the immense power at the command of the industrialized nations of Europe during 100 years of war from the late 18th century onwards, African communities had come to realise that it was only by acquiring these same skills and knowledge that Africans could hope to compete with those who had conquered and dispossessed them of their land on an equal basis. The acquisition of a modern education and the proliferation of the institutions that would impart it thus in many respects became a national project, as significant for African advancement as political movements.

The establishment of the Native Educational Association, under the leadership of Rev. Elijah Makiwane in 1880, closely parallels that of the first modern political body, “Imbumba yamaNyama” among the African voters of the Eastern Cape in 1882. The emergence of a secular African languages press in the shape of “Imvo Zabantsundu” in 1884 complimented the earlier developments by offering an instrument for networking among the literate African community.

The schools built in various parts of our country in pursuance of this goal became the incubators of the first generations of Africans endowed with a modern education. In a number of instances such schools were the direct result of community endeavours, in which funds were raised to supplement a grant in land given to a missionary society to build a school. In others, missionaries took their own initiatives, and built schools primarily with the aim of proselytizing Christianity. Yet others were built on the initiative of African educators, like John Langalibalele Dube and Charlotte Maxeke, who were able to mobilise local and international resources for the purpose. By 1910, when the White populations of the four British colonies came together in a Union that excluded all Black people, a cluster of institutions stretching from the Wilberforce Institute in Evaton, to Zonnebloem College in Cape Town had grown up imparting modern science, mathematics, the European classics and a number of skills to eager African pupils drawn from as far afield as the then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia).

These historic schools were noted for their ecumenicalism, both religious and ethnic. On the campus of an institution like Lovedale, until the advent of Bantu Education and the fanatical racism of the apartheid regime, one could find African, Coloured and Indian students. At one point in the late 19th century, even White pupils had been educated at Lovedale! The ethnic origins of the student bodies at the schools was also mixed, with Xhosa-speakers being educated alongside Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Ndebele and Shona speakers. From the late 1860s there was a sizeable contingent of former slaves from the region of Lake Malawi who had been rescued from their captors by David Livingstone at Lovedale. Thrown together in the same milieu, it was perhaps inevitable that it was from amongst those first students who passed through these institutions that the earliest African Nationalist politicians came. They continued to be nurseries for activists in the fields of politics and in education well into the 20th century when the intervention of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd and his acolytes put an end to it.

These historic schools emerged as centres of academic excellence both because of the quality of education they offered but also because of the dedication and diligence of their student bodies. In celebrating these institutions we are also honouring the pioneers who established them and the reputations they acquired. Successive generations of high achievers amongst the Africans were the grandaunts of these schools, reinforcing their reputations and establishing challenging benchmarks of achievement for those who came after them. Our celebration today pays tribute to the schools and scholars whose subsequent careers rebounded to the honour of their alma maters.

Programme Director,
Honoured Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I first approached his Grace, Archbishop Ndugane, to take charge of this project, one of our earliest discussions was about what exactly we were aiming to restore? How does a Minister of Arts and Culture become the initiator of a project which is self-evidently the remit of the Minister of Education in the first instance?

One is keenly aware of the extremely ambiguous legacy of the historic schools. There are many interesting, moving and disturbing tales that have been told by those who had the experience. Because many of their founders regarded them as institutions for the acculturation of the African child, in many of these schools one was forbidden to speak an African language during the week. African languages were for the weekend or the school recess when pupils went home. Because many of the founders were themselves the products of very authoritarian British, Irish and German boarding schools, that authoritarian culture was usually imported into South Africa.

Was our objective to recreate and revive the schools in the same fashion? I must immediately disabuse anyone who thinks that is the case. Our objective is to revive these historic schools, but not in order to reinvent the authoritarian centres of acculturation to a colonial society they were conceived as, but rather to re-affirm the healthy traditions of scholarship and academic excellence these schools pioneered, but shorn of those Victorian notions of discipline and its associate racist assumptions that African languages were somehow deficient. We are very conscious of the fact that institutions such as Lovedale, Marian Hill and others were also the first publishing houses of African languages in South Africa. Apart from school textbooks that were then directly employed for teaching by the school and others, an institution like Lovedale published a very long catalogue of other materials – novels, music, hymnaries, poetry in addition to the journal, “South African Outlook,” which remains one of the best sources of Eastern Cape cultural history.

That brings me immediately to relevance of this project for the Ministry of Arts and Culture. As the incubators and nursery of the earliest literati amongst the African people, these historic schools are very significant cultural institutions. The Romanization of the African languages of our region was usually undertaken at these centres, first for purposes of evangelising the local population, but later for the varied uses that the written word can be applied. This revival is, in that sense, also an act of excavation. Through the revival of these schools we shall also be undertaking an archaeological exercise to rediscover some of the treasurers of modern African literary creativity. I am certain this will prove particularly true of an institution like Lovedale, whose entire catalogue of books and other publications deserves to be reprinted and re-published. South Africa and the world will be poorer should the works published by Lovedale in more than 100 years of literary activity be lost to us. Rescuing those materials from oblivion is one of the tasks my department will be pursuing with greater vigour during this coming year. To that end, we have already embarked on a Private/Public Partnership between the National Library and an emergent Black-owned publishing house.

Today’s celebration will therefore also be the starting point of a sustained campaign. Our intention is to actively promote a culture of reading amongst South Africans. Literature can be a source of knowledge but it can also be recreational, a source of amusement and relaxation. We, as a society will only impress this on our people by widening their access to literature in the languages they have the greatest facility in. To achieve this will require partnerships among publishers, writers' associations, our historic schools, and the Department of Arts and Culture.

The Freedom Charter, adopted 51 years ago at Kliptown, proclaims, among other things, that “The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened.” This project, to revive and resuscitate the historic schools is one further contribution towards the realisation of that ideal.

Thank You

Academic seminars and conferences, as well as school oriented projects will be embarked upon to stimulate further research and to popularise the contents of the project among school going youth, and through them, the wider population.
In addition to publications arising from the conferences, etc the DAC will generate a number of creative information tools to reinforce public awareness and participation.
The DAC envisages appointing a research coordinator, who will appoint a team of researchers, cultural historians, post-graduate students and others to implement the project. It should provide employment opportunities for unemployed graduates, students at university and lay researchers in a project that will have social and cultural significance and earn participants valuable research experience that can enhance the marketable skills they possess.