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Danny Massey

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

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.

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