A unique and informative take on the creation of the new black elite in South Africa takes centre stage in the next Great Texts/Big Questions lecture. Oppenheimer Fellowship winner and highly respected UCT academic Abner Nyamende will discuss the role of the missionaries in the creation of the new black elite in South Africa, as modelled by legendary hero, historian and poet Isaac Wauchope.

One of the big questions normally asked about the role of the missionaries among the Xhosa people is whether they took a wise step when they exposed the latter to school education and introduced them to western culture. It is a widely-held belief that in the nineteenth century, white farmers in South Africa bitterly criticised the missionaries for developing attitudes of ‘conceit’ amongst black people by educating them in their seminary schools. Nyamende contends that “Farmers were struggling to obtain farm labour because blacks aspired to be teachers, ministers of religion and interpreters. Today it is this class of blacks that have formed a government and continue to render service in public and private offices.”

A book titled Isaac Williams Wauchope: selected writings 1874-1916 lends us an experience of the thinking and way of life of this new class of black people in South Africa. This is a class of men and women who lived before the dehumanizing onslaught of apartheid and saw themselves as equal to their white counterparts. Because of this class, South African society may have been a different and thoroughly integrated nation had there been no apartheid. Through the work they did, the missionaries were destined to be a catalyst of a new and more dignified social order. Yet when they started this work, they were ridiculed and mocked by other colonists. The endeavour by Georg Smidt, the first missionary to come to South Africa in 1737, to convert the Khoi to Christianity, was seen by the officials of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape as an impossible task and yet Smidt accomplished precisely this. In this Great Texts lecture, Nyamende will probe these writings and signal powerful precursors to the social order we have in contemporary South Africa.

Abner Nyamende comes from Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. He was a lecturer in the department of English at Walter Sisulu University from 1982 to 1989 and has been working in the department of African Languages at the University of Cape Town since joining it in 1990. Two of his most recent publications are Isaac Williams Wauchope: selected writings 1874-1916 (2008) and The life and works of Isaac Williams Wauchope (2011). He has published widely and been awarded the Oppenheimer Fellowship at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; and the African Language Association of Southern Africa award for the best article in Linguistics. His field of expertise is African Literature in English and Xhosa Literature, with research interests including Folktales and Clan names.

This event will take place at Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town (UCT) Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town on Thursday 6 October at 17:30 and is free. Refreshments will be served from 17:00. No Booking is necessary. For more information on the series, please contact 021 480 7156 or fin-gipca@uct.ac.za

Abner Nyamende audio recording available for download.

Abner Nyamende video recording:

Start: 6 Oct ’11 5:30 pm

End: 6 Oct ’11 6:30 pm

Cost: Free


Organizer: GIPCA

Email: fin-gipca@uct.ac.za

Venue: Hiddingh Hall

Phone: +27 21 480 7156 

Address: Google Map UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31-37 Orange Street, Cape Town, 8001, Cape Town, Western Cape, 8001, South Africa