PANEL: South Africa & Europe

Title: The Fort Hare Ernest Methuen Mancoba Perambulated its Corridors– An Outline of a Citadel of Wisdom during the 1930s

copyright the speaker. To reference the talk: Professor Luvuyo Wotshela, “Ernest Mancoba – Dialogue on his Art & Words” 10 Feb 2020, A4 Foundation, Cape Town

Students in the canteen, mid-1930s

When, in 1929, a 24 year old Ernest Methuen Mancoba first applied to study matric and Bachelor of Arts degree at Fort Hare, his initial desire was journalism. Having already completed a teacher’s training course when he still was in his teen years at the Pietersburg Anglican Diocesan Training College, Mancoba had also shown notable artistry talent. The year he applied to Fort Hare, he had exhibited astonishing sculpturing, as his wood-carved ‘Bantu Madonna’ stunned the colonial creation and sent new grasp of African spirituality. Fittingly for a young man of such aptitude, Mancoba’s years at Fort Hare (1933-36) coincided with the ascent of this institute as a crucible of African intellectualism that resolutely prepared leadership expertise. Ironically, although founded with only 20 students in 1916, with imperatives of African civilization and mission agency in a segregating Union South Africa, Fort Hare had in the 1930s almost risen above those facets. By that decade ideological diversity among its students, who had also increased to 170 by 1936, had developed as a lucid force.  African nationalism ideals that had festered since the earlier years, but, gone tired by that decade, had been reinforced by the upsurge of those of Non-European Unity Movement. There were also seething communist ideas, rooted in Marxist literature. Such ideas drew Mancoba’s interest as he believed they deepened his humanitarian thoughts. Importantly Fort Hare’s reach by then had also transcended the geo-political boundaries of Union South Africa as it had become cosmopolitan, and the main institution for Africans in the Southern, Central and Eastern Africa. That trend continued for much of the first half of the 20th century in spite of the emergence of Makerere in the early 1920s. This paper provides a snapshot of social history, political and intellectual milieu of the 1930s Fort Hare, during which time Ernest Mancoba was one of the students who graced the hallways of this institution.

Luvuyo Wotshela who holds a DPhil in Modern History from, Oxford University, is Professor and Head of the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Centre (NAHECS) at the University of Fort Hare. He teaches history at the same institution, and his interest is on twentieth century South Africa, above all, the Eastern Cape. He has been researching and writing broadly on communities’ histories for over 20 years and has authored and co-authored relatable books, chapters in books, and journal articles. He is currently the President of the Southern African Historical Society and member of the African Studies Association, United Kingdom. He is also one of the founding members of the SADET History Project.