South Africa 19.9.2017 03:58 pm

Charlotte Maxeke and Enoch Sontonga honoured at Rhodes

Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Photo:  Ru.ac.za/S Smith

Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Photo: Ru.ac.za/S Smith

The Eastern Cape university has made a move to immortalise the country’s first black female graduate and the composer of ‘Nkosi Sikeleli’ Afrika’.

The Rhodes University council has approved the name change of a further two of their residences this week.

Jameson House, which was opened in 1921, will now be known as Mmakgano Charlotte Maxeke House, while Piet Retief House has been renamed Mankayi Enoch Sontonga House.

South Africa’s first black female graduate

Maxeke is 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.

During her role as a parole officer, she actively questioned 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 B.Sc. 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.

The composer of the SADC anthem – Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica

Mankayi Enoch Sontonga wrote and composed the South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica 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 had become the official song of the African National Congress (ANC), Zambia adopted it as its national anthem, Tanzania translated it into Swahili, ‘Mungu ibariki Afrika’, and adopted it as its national anthem. It was also widely sung in the Shona language in Zimbabwe.

South African struggle icons immortalised at the institution 

South African and international struggle icons who have been honoured at the university include Ellen Kuzwayo, Walter Sisulu, Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Victoria Mxenge, Adeilade Tambo, Helen Joseph, Robert Sobukwe, Chris Hani, Mirriam Makeba, Lillian Ngoyi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Mpilo Tutu and Steve Biko.

“The premise of this work is compatible with our transformation pursuits and the values of human dignity, nonracialism and nonsexism 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 Stephen Fourie, the registrar.

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