Lovedale Mission: From Soga to Mbeki
To pull herself out of the hole which she had dug with her recent colonialism tweet, Western Cape premier Helen Zille quoted Nelson Mandela:
“I was reminded of what President Nelson Mandela had said of the missionary schools, where so many African leaders of his generation were educated: ‘These schools have often been criticised for being colonialist in their attitudes and practices,’ said Mandela. ‘Yet, even with such attitudes, I believe their benefits outweighed their disadvantages.’”
To me, this sounds much like blaming God for sin because God’s goodness is capable of bringing something good even out of sin.
Or the age-old argument that had it not been for the slave masters there would have been no one to feed the slaves.
But there’s no need for further digression on the subject of Ms Zille’s tweet and the impact of colonialism on South Africa since the Southern Cross editorial on the subject, “A nation of outrage” (March 29) addressed the topic well.
Mr Mandela, in the quote above, was talking in particular about Lovedale, the missionary school where so many black intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th century—from Tiyo Soga to Thabo Mbeki to Steve Biko — went to be educated.
Lovedale was established in 1824 by John Bennie and John Ross of the Glasgow Missionary Society (GMS). It was named after the society’s secretary at the time, Dr John Love.
It first provided access for informal education and training for blacks around the Thyume Valley where the Sogas — that pivotal Xhosa family — lived and the school was situated.
Lovedale officially opened as a seminary in 1841, three years before William Chamler presented Tiyo Soga, who’d become South Africa’s first indigenous black cleric, for entrance examination.
Only two exam openings per year were allowed, the rest was paid for by missionary societies.
Tiyo by then had received only informal education through his elder brother, Festiri (of whom I wrote last month), and whatever he could pick up from the missionaries, he was still unnerved by the prospects.
Instructed by the arithmetic exam officer, Rev James Laing, to “take away the bottom line from the upper”, Tiyo literally erased the lower lines of the figures from the slate.
Needless to say, he failed the exam, but Chamler prevailed over the director of the school, Dr William Govan, to admit Tiyo based on potential. Tiyo justified Chamler’s faith in him by ending that year top in all his subjects — except arithmetic.
Lovedale was a semi-multiracial school then — nine white boys, six coloured and black in 1841. They all shared classrooms and the dining hall, and mingled together in sport; but slept apart along racial lines. Classes were taught in Xhosa and English (there were no Afrikaans teachers). Christianity and classics (Latin and Greek) were the main subjects; followed by geography and mathematics.
Pupils recited the Scottish Assembly Kirk catechism in the mornings. It had a tremendous formative influence over Tiyo.
Numerous things contributed towards Tiyo moving to Scotland to finish his elementary education: Govan, the director of the school, had been under pressure from the GMS headquarters (in turn pressured by the British colonial government) to segregate the school along racial lines. And when the 1846 Frontier War broke out, it interrupted schooling.
That war changed everything.
When Ngqika, the king and then still an ally of the British, had granted the land for Lovedale mission, he had hoped their presence would grant his tribe protection. But the British colonial government formalised and incorporated the marauding Boer mercenaries called Kommandos into the recently established Cape Mounted Rifles (we met their trooper TJ Lucas in last month’s column).
The British suffered setbacks. In one of their raids against amaNdlambe they were outsmarted by Ndlambe, Ngqika’s uncle and archrival.
The recently-arrived Lieutenant-Colonel Wilshire made a grave error which permanently turned the historical course of the Eastern Cape. Fearing revolt from the mercenary Boers within the Cape Mounted Rifles, on whom he largely depended, he turned a blind eye when they, honed by the loot of the “Kaffir Wars”, refused to go home empty-handed. So they turned and raided Ngqika’s people, whom they supposedly were in alliance with, and confiscated their cattle herds—under the cover of darkness, as was usual.
With that, the British created their most formidable and capable enemy in the Southern East Colony.
Old Soga paid a visit to warn and rebuke his missionary friend, Chamler, for failing to protect them against what they saw as government rapacious appetite for Xhosa land and cattle.
He probably saved his life also, because, as true as the sun, the Thyume mission was burnt to the ground that night. Luckily most of the inhabitants had fled, with Tiyo and his mother, to the colonial headquarters in King William’s Town, where they hid inside the fort.
Within few weeks, Tiyo, his friend John Aiken Chamler (William’s son), and Bryce, (John Ross’ son) were off to Scotland. In giving her blessing, Tiyo’s deeply religious mother put faith in God for her son whom she might never see again.
The cordial relations between the Xhosas and the missionaries didn’t really recover from the duplicity of the British, because the Xhosas now regarded them with suspicion of what they termed “the sharp end of the colonial spear.”
Meanwhile the difficulties for Tiyo, the marked man, were just beginning.
Catch up with previous columns by Mphuthumi Ntabeni at www.scross.co.za/category/perspectives/ntabeni/