Paying Homage to Fort Hare Luminaries: Professors DDT Jabavu & ZK Matthews

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The University of Fort Hare was unable to host the annual ZK Matthews Lecture on 17 October 2018, owing to the intense pressure to complete the academic programme in the aftermath of the labour dispute on campus in the course of the year. Be that as it may the Lecture will resume in 2019. The Lecture is usually scheduled in October as it coincides with ZK Matthews'(ZK) birthday on 20 October 1901. What is remarkably coincidental is that ZK's birthday is shared with that of another distinguished servant of  the  University  of Fort Hare, namely, Professor DDT Jabavu (DDT), 20 October 1885.  DDT and ZK are standout luminaries as well as being figures of significant emotive reverence in the annals of Fort Hare - DDT as the  first African lecturer in 1916, and his student, ZK,  as the first graduate in 1924.


Their academic careers at Fort Hare are similarly interconnected as Matthews succeeded Jabavu when he retired in 1944 as Professor in African Studies, which included African Languages and Native Administration.Both were quintessential organic intellectuals, as they saw their academic work as being inseparable from the struggle for liberation in South Africa. Jabavu was a highly-v isibl e member of the All African Convention, while ZK responded to his political calling within the African National Congress.


Between them they educated and mentored a generation who were to lead the struggle against segregation, apartheid, and colonialism, not only in South Africa, but in other sub-Saharan African countries. The names of their more prominent students (with dates of first registration at Fort Hare), resonates very easily with the histories of anti-coloni al struggles across the continent: from South Africa: AC Jordan (1934), WM Tsotsi (1935), Govan Mbeki (1937), Nelson Mandela (1940), OR Tambo (1941), GM Pitje (1944), Robert Sobukwe (1946), Dennis Brutus (1947), Mangosuthu Buthelezi (1950), Joe Matthews (1950); from sub-Saharan Africa: Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana) (1946), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabawe) (1951), Charles Njonjo (Kenya) (1945), Yusuf Lule (Uganda) (1940), Ntsu Mokhehle (Lesotho) (1944).


By all accounts they were both irrepressible lecturers , figures of towering intellectual and educational presence in their respective classrooms . The classroom was used not only as a site of academic excellence, but also to engender a framework of values with a sign ific ant moral and ethical platform. So through the service of Jabavu and Matthews, and t he public stature of their graduates across sub -Saharan Africa, the University of Fort Hare has rightfully earned its place as an iconic twentieth century South African institution. But history and reputation only have a limited appeal and purchase in the twenty-first century.


It is incumbent on all of us who work in the hallways of the institution today to pay homage to Jabavu and Matthews and their full cohort of illustrious alumni, to individually, and collectively, reimagine the University of Fort Hare as a responsive institution of higher education that creates new histories of excellencein the twenty-first century.