Families of three of South Africa’s most prominent struggle icons Mmakgamo Charlotte Maxeke, Mankayi Enoch Sontonga and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe will tomorrow join Rhodes University at an event to mark the renaming of three residences in honour of the icons.
The renaming of Jameson House (Mmakgamo Charlotte Maxeke House), Piet Retief House (Mankayi Enoch Sontonga) and Jan Smuts House (Robert Sobukwe House) is part of a continuing transformation agenda at the University.
Maxeke was one of South Africa’s first black female graduates; the first woman to participate in the King’s court in Thembuland; the founder and president of the Bantu Women’s League and the first black woman to become a parole officer actively questioning the administration of justice against women and children. She also founded an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg, catering to the needs of former political prisoners.
In 1901 aged 30, Maxeke received her BSc degree from Wilberforce University in the United States where she was taught by Pan-Africanists and received an education focused on developing the literacy and quality of life of the African people.
Enoch Mankayi Sontonga wrote and composed the South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” in 1897, a prayer for God’s blessing on the African land and its people. The song was originally written for his school choir.
Born in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in the late 1800s, he died at the age of 32. He was trained as a teacher at Lovedale College and went on to become a choirmaster, an amateur photographer, a distinguished poet and a composer.
“Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika” became the official song of the African National Congress (ANC), Zambia adopted it as its national anthem, and Tanzania translated it into the Swahili “Mungu ibariki Afrika” and adopted it as its national anthem. It was also widely sung in the Shona language in Zimbabwe.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was a prominent South African political dissident, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the South African apartheid system. On 21 March 1960, Sobukwe led a march to the local police station at Orlando, Soweto, in order to openly defy pass laws. He was joined en route by a few followers and, after presenting his pass to a police officer, he purposely made himself guilty under the terms of the Pass Law of being present in a region/area other than that allowed as per his papers. In a similar protest on the same day in Sharpeville, police opened fire on a crowd of Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) supporters, killing 69 in the Sharpeville Massacre.
Following his arrest, Sobukwe was charged with and convicted of incitement, and sentenced to three years in prison. After serving his sentence, he was detained on Robben Island. The new General Law Amendment Act was passed, allowing his imprisonment to be renewed annually at the discretion of the Minister of Justice. This procedure became known as the “Sobukwe clause” and went on for a further three years. Sobukwe was the only person imprisoned under this clause.
Over the past few years, 20 name changes within Rhodes University have taken place. Buildings, facilities, academic units and structures named after liberation icons include Ellen Nnoseng Kuzwayo, Walter Sisulu, Rosa Parks, Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge, Adelaide Tambo, Helen Joseph, Robert Mmangaliso Sobukwe, Chris Thembisile Hani, Miriam Zenzile Makeba, Lillian Masediba Ngoyi, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Desmond Mpilo Tutu and Steve Bantubonke Biko.
“The premise of this work is compatible with the University’s transformation project and the values of human dignity, non-racialism and non-sexism enshrined in the South African Constitution. These name changes are collective small steps to promote the redress of past imbalances and a celebration of the cultural identity and geographical location of the University,” said Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor.