Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Danny Massey

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Maureen Isaacson Reviews Under Protest in the Sunday Independent

From Isaacson’s Review:

Daniel Massey is both historian and journalist in this remarkable achievement, which conjures nostalgia for “traditional” and “historical” Fort Hare and delves into the complexity of its political life.

In a battered white Ford Meteor, with Siphiwo Mahala, his friend and research assistant, Massey embarked on a journey across the country, in the late 1990s, into a past that may have otherwise remained uncovered.

Read the entire review here.

Langa, Kgositsile Headline Joburg Launch of Under Protest

Keorapetse Kgositsile, Danny Massey and Friend

Under ProtestBefore a packed house at Xarra Books, Thursday night’s Joburg launch of Under Protest was moderated by Human Sciences Research Council Senior Analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana.

The audience included former Chief Justice Pius Langa, South Africa’s National Poet Laureate Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile, Competition Commission Deputy Director Tembinkosi Bonakele, Department of Arts and Culture Deputy Director of Books and Publishing Siphiwo Mahala and Xarra’s co-owners June Josephs and Kays Mguni.

Mr. Ndletyana led a lively conversation about the book that traced the transformation of Fort Hare from its roots as a conservative missionary institution to its role as a political crucible.

Justice Langa remarked that Fort Hare served as a “passport” for Africans. “It was a passport to leadership,” he said. “But it was also a passport for exile. When people wanted to go to other countries they were denied passports. But through Fort Hare that was the gateway because we knew that once the government saw you had gone to Fort Hare they would be eager to get rid of you.”

Professor Kgositsile spoke of another connection between Fort Hare and overseas. “I’d like to point out that in terms of armed struggle in efforts to liberate this country, the first group of MK guerillas trained in the Soviet Union were all from Fort Hare.”

After a debate on whether Fort Hare should be held culpable for producing figures like Kaiser Matanzima that collaborated with the apartheid regime, Professor Kgositsile said, “any institution of higher learning, Fort Hare or whatever institution of higher learning, University of Havana, University of Moscow, Beijing, it’s not like a factory where you are guaranteed of the kind of product that will emerge. As Castro might put it in dealing with people, ‘you cannot exclude questions of chance and circumstance.’ There are no guarantees.”

Fort Hare graduate Brown Maaba spoke of the importance of uplifting current-day Fort Hare, very much echoing Robert Sobukwe’s famous 1949 speech in which the first strains of the future PAC President’s Africanist thinking emerged. “Fort Hare is to us what Stellenbosch is to Afrikaners,” Mr. Maaba said.

Mr. Bonakele, who was president of the SRC at Fort Hare when I studied there in 1997 and whom I met during toyi toyis protesting against exclusion of students who couldn’t pay semester fees, recalled those times: “We made assumptions ,” he said. “We made assumptions about white students, that they would not be interested in the problems we faced. Danny struck me because I had no time for many of these students, but Danny is persistent, so I feel for the people he was pursuing interviews with. Sooner I discovered that Danny was quite steeped in humanism.”

One of the final comments from the crowd pointed out the crucial role Fort Hare played in educating people who went on to become educators, mentioning Joe Mokoena. I told of returning from Fort Hare to Brown University in 1998 and meeting Anani Dzidzienyo, a Ghanaian professor. When I told him I studied at Fort Hare, he beamed and wrapped me in a huge bear hug. Many of his teachers growing up came from Kenya and had been educated at Fort Hare.

Book details

Photos from the May 11 Launch of Under Protest in Durban

Danny Massey with Guest

Under Protest

Book details

Sobukwe, Mugabe, Brutus discussed at Durban Under Protest launch

Adv. Marumo Moerane, Judge Vuka Tshabalala and Professor Herby Govinden were among former students to attend the Durban launch of Under Protest Tuesday night at Ike’s Books and Collectables. The evening followed an informal format, with the dozen or so Fort Harians in attendance wowing the rest of the crowd with tales of their student days. Leslie Peters spoke of living next door to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. He recalled Mugabe being almost painfully quiet and shy and said there was absolutely “no indication” he would go on to any sort of leadership position. Rama Thumbadoo recalled the political prowess Robert Sobuwke exhibited as a student and told of playing on the Beda Hall cricket team with Dennis Brutus.

Adv. Moerane spoke of the devastating effects of the 1960 apartheid government takeover and Judge Tshabalala spoke, among other topics, about the students heeding the call of the ANC to participate in a potato boycott in the late 1950s.

Many of the Indian students in attendance, including Prof. Govinden and Dr. G.S. Tootla, spoke of the role Fort Hare played in smashing prejudices that had been ingrained in them about black South Africans.

More memories coming Thursday at the Joburg launch at Xarra Books.

Under Protest Book Launches

Under Protest, which tells the history of the University of Fort Hare and its role in the liberation movement through the eyes of former students of the institution, is being launched this week as part of the UNISA Press Hidden Histories series. Author Daniel Massey is in South Africa for three launch events.

6 May University of Fort Hare, Alice Campus, Staff Centre 15:00 hours rsvp

11 May Ike’s Books and Collectibiles, 48A Florida Road, Greyville, Durban 18:00 hours rsvp

13 May Xarra Books, Jeppe Street, New Town, Johannesburg 16:30 hours rsvp

Danny Massey Invite

The Story Behind Under Protest

How did someone from the Bronx become interested in South Africa?
My most vivid childhood memory is of my parents taking me as a 10-year-old to Howard Beach in Queens, New York to protest the killing of Michael Griffith, a young black man, by a gang of whites who pummeled him with baseball bats and chased him onto a highway, where he was hit by a car and killed. As we marched through the streets, hundreds of whites lined the sidewalks screaming racist epithets. We shouted back: Howard Beach, have you heard? This is not Johannesburg!

This was 1986. The apartheid government had declared a State of Emergency and images of hippos and dogs unleashed on protesters in townships led the evening news many nights in the United States. The chant from the Queens street stuck in my mind and I remember wondering just how bad things must be in South Africa. Four years later, in 1990, I graduated from grade 8 the same day that Nelson Mandela visited the Bronx following his release from prison. I gave the speech at graduation (truth be told, my mother wrote it) and recall exhorting my classmates to fight against injustice as Mandela had done. Later that night, I went with my family to hear Mandela speak at Yankee Stadium and we chanted Amandla! over and over again.

Why did you choose to study at Fort Hare?
The first reason was its history. I knew that people like Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe, and Chris Hani had been to Fort Hare. To walk the campus that they had walked was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. But I also wanted to study at a university that didn’t primarily educate South Africa’s privileged few. Fort Hare students were the children of laborers, domestic workers, and mine workers who grew up in townships and couldn’t afford to attend the more expensive universities. I was eager to learn about their experiences, visit their homes, and hear their memories of the past and hopes for the future.

What was your experience like studying at the university?
Upon my arrival, posters of Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo adorned the walls of my Beda hostel room. Over my first few months, I was asked countless time whether I knew of the roles the two Fort Harians had played in the country’s history. Scores of students told me that my new home—a modest two-story red and white building with small single rooms on either side of a railroad hallway—once housed Tambo. It did not take long for me to become acutely aware of the prominent role the university had played in the history of the South African liberation movement.

But it also didn’t take very long for me to realize that apartheid had taken a tremendous toll on Fort Hare. One morning, less than a month after my arrival, I woke up to sounds of voices singing in harmony outside my hostel room. I joined my classmates as they sang of the heroism of Oliver Tambo and Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers, imploring the administration to allow all students to register, even if they owed fees. Over and over again, we sang ‘sizo zabalaza’, which I quickly learned means ‘we will struggle’. As I moved about campus trying to familiarize myself with the steps to the toyi toyi and the words and meanings of the accompanying songs, I was unaware that I was protesting because Ambrose Makiwane and his compatriots had been unsuccessful in walking the same route 40 years earlier. The unsettled state of affairs at Fort Hare on my arrival in 1997 could be traced back to legislation of the late 1950s that established separate universities for South Africa’s different ethnic groups. Indeed, the financial, academic, and organizational problems confronting Fort Hare on my arrival were, in large part, a result of the 1960 government takeover that systematically tore into the fabric of the university.

When I wasn’t protesting, I attended mass meetings, ate mealie meal porridge and umngqushu in the student center, and played soccer and basketball on the university teams. It was 1997 and there was a real excitement on campus, where the buzz word from the soccer pitch to the Great Hall was ‘democracy.’ When I asked a teammate why we voted on how many laps to run before practice, he said, ‘You see, this is a democracy now, we must vote on everything.’

How did you decide to return and study Fort Hare’s history?
At Brown University, I had taken an entire course on the American author and cultural critic Ralph Ellison. Ellison describes Americans as being afflicted with an illness he calls ‘historical amnesia.’ This disorder results in us ‘filing and forgetting’ certain parts of our past and thus preventing true progress from taking place. While at Fort Hare, I realized that much of the university’s history was in danger of being lost. Graduates like Govan Mbeki and Wycliffe Tsotsi were advancing in age and I knew they had stories to tell that needed to be recorded. I also wanted to find out why the university had produced so many leaders. It’s one of the questions I tried to get at in the interviews and the book. What role did Fort Hare play in the political development of its students? Did the Mandelas, Mbekis, Sobukwes, and Hanis become leaders because of their time at Fort Hare or were other factors more important?

How did you decide who to interview?
When I was selected for a fellowship to spend a year studying the history of Fort Hare, a professor at Brown told me to get in touch with Tom Karis, who with Gwendolyn Carter and Gail Gerhart edited the invaluable From Protest to Challenge documentary history of South Africa series. Before I had a chance to call Tom, he phoned me and invited me to lunch. When we met, I found out that he had been busy pouring over his papers in an effort to get me off on the right track. He presented me with list of about two dozen South Africans who had studied at Fort Hare, including some contact information from his records. He suggested I start with Frieda Matthews, the wife of Fort Hare’s first graduate, Z.K. Matthews. Unfortunately, she passed away before my trip, but his suggestions, which also included Fort Harians like Joe Matthews and Henry Makgothi, got me started. Though I carefully constructed a list of people I hoped to interview—comprised mostly of people who went on to lead politically active lives—many of my interviewees were not on the initial list. The best method was asking just about everyone I met that year if they had any suggestions on people I should interview. The interviewees themselves were often the best sources of information. Luck was on my side when I met with Isaac Mabindisa, who was easy to identify because he was the registrar of Fort Hare. He suggested I meet with Ambrose Makiwane, the former SRC president and a key figure on campus during the late 1950s, who had not been on my original list. When I spoke with Devi Bughwan, she put me on to Herby Govinden, beginning a string of successive recommendations that brought me into the homes of nearly a dozen Indian students across Durban—opening my eyes to an angle of Fort Hare’s history that I hadn’t planned to study.

What are some of the more memorable interview moments?
Mangosuthu Buthelezi replied to my fax requesting an interview literally seconds after I sent it, excitedly agreeing to share memories of his beloved Fort Hare. We met for tea in his Cape Town office and he talked of how important it was for the history of the university to be recorded. Along with my Fort Hare classmate Siphiwo Mahala (author of When a Man Cries and now deputy director of books and publishing at the Department of Arts and Culture), who accompanied me on many of my research trips, I had lunch with George and Kaiser Matanzima in Qamata. When we arrived, the two were wearing identical Fort Hare blazers, eager to reminisce despite their advancing age and deteriorating health. We lost a tailpipe in a 360-degree spinout on a muddy road outside of Cala, but we were able to chug along and find Ambrose Makiwane, who was retired and tending to some cows. I brought along a draft biography of him that Tom Karis had written and asked him to comment on it. He took issue with just about everything in it, saying it was sourced by those who ‘hate him and who he hates too.’ He went on to say that, yes, he had used a hose pipe to administer lashes (thus earning his nickname of mbobo) in the training camps, but that he handed out fewer lashes than others and that punishment was democratically administered. He said he’d ‘go to town’ on everyone involved if the draft were published. And I can still hear Govan Mbeki’s voice, calling out the full name of James Barry Munnik Hertzog, and explaining how his 1936 bills that disenfranchised Africans helped politicize many of the students at Fort Hare. ‘We turned around to our missionaries to find an answer,’ Mbeki told me. ‘They were afraid to come out openly against Hertzog. They wouldn’t.’ You’ve probably never heard of V.R. Govender, but meeting him was quite an experience. Before he’d consent to the interview, he grilled me on the phone for about two hours, asking question after question about Fort Hare. Did I know what students in Beda hostel were called? Did I know the importance of the Christian Union Hall? He later told me Fort Hare was so important to him that he initially didn’t feel comfortable entrusting its history to an American. But after our phone conversation, he decided to grant me honorary South African status.

What story stands out the most from all of the interviews?
There were so many, but if I had to choose one, it would be the tale of Stanley Mabizela, who was a student leader and thorn in the side of the Fort Hare administration following the government takeover in 1960. The story shows that oral history can be more valuable than documented history when the documents are written from the point of view of those in power. Mabizela was expelled after a faculty member fingered him for shouting at Kaiser Matanzima: Nantsi le nja nywhagi uMatanzima (Here is this dog, sell-out Matanzima). At least that’s what the documents say. But Mabizela actually wasn’t the student who called Matanzima, then a member of the hated post-1960 advisory council, a dog and a sell out. It was Griffiths Mxenge, a less politically active student. Mabizela accepted the blame because he knew that students would rise up and fight his expulsion. Mxenge would be spared and it would serve to rally the students against the system of separate universities. ‘The moment [I was] expelled, every student stopped school,’ he told me. ‘Not only the students went on strike, but the domestic workers stopped cooking for the people there. Everything came to a standstill.’

Mabizela wasn’t the only one expelled from Fort Hare, right?
He was actually reinstated after the students and black faculty members protested. Chris Hani was one of the students who organized the students and Andrew Masondo, who was an applied mathematics lecturer at the time, organized the staff. But yes, there’s a long and illustrious line of Fort Hare students who were expelled because of political activity. They range from Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela who clashed with missionary authorities over campus rules to Barney Pityana and Thenjiwe Mtintso who protested against government control of the university. Mangosuthu Buthelezi was expelled for soaking the bed of a student who advocated a boycott of the governor general’s visit to campus and then attended the festivities, but he was later allowed to write his examinations. Jeff Baqwa and Jerry Modisane walked away from Fort Hare, along with 40 others, in protest against university apartheid.

You also made use of documents that had not been studied before. What did you find?
I was lucky to be granted unfettered access to the Fort Hare Papers, which enabled me to examine records that included Robert Mugabe’s application to Fort Hare, Z.K. Matthews’ letter of resignation, hundreds of student files, and minutes of university Senate meetings spanning more than half a century, among other historical documents. I spent months pouring through a trove of dusty files in a cramped basement, living the history of Fort Hare through files and documents that unveiled previously unknown details of a university whose past cannot be separated from that of South Africa as a whole.