Monday, September 19, 2011

Response to Pallo Jordan article

Last Sunday, September 18, 2011, the lead on the letters page of the Sunday Times was a good one. It dealt with two articles the previous week on the Review pages of the newspaper, one of them by Pallo Jordan, the ANC cabinet minister. I submitted a letter in response to the same article, but it was not published. It is carried below.

I was pleased to note that Pallo Jordan adopted a far less virulently anti-colonial stance than usual in his article on Tiyo Soga, “The first African modernists” (September 11, 2011).

Normally, all we hear from him and other African commentators is how the European settlers “stole the people’s land” and suppressed them.

But the case of the Rev Soga tells a different tale. This was a 19th century Cape colony where the British, for all their early faults, later, through strong missionary and other humanitarian movements, promoted the advancement and integration of the Xhosa people.

That was how Soga came to be taken over to Scotland, where he trained to be a Presbyterian minister and married a local teacher, Janet Burnside, before returning to the Eastern Cape to help uplift his people.

Consider these words from Jordan: “The secular cultural impact of the movement initiated by the Christian converts [like Soga] led to the spread of literacy, modern education, technical training and the acquisition of modern skills among Africans.”

One of the reasons I have a keen interest in Soga is that, in the early 1980s, I played a small part in helping ensure that the historic hamlet of Mgwali, where Soga established a Christian mission, was not destroyed and its people forcibly removed to the Ciskei at the height of grand apartheid.

As an organiser for the Progressive Federal Party in East London at the time, I helped publicise the issue. But my role was minor compared with that of PFP MPs like Helen Suzman, Andrew Savage and Errol Moorcroft, not to mention the Legal Resources Centre under Geoff Budlender, who finally helped ensure that Mgwali, near Stutterheim, survived.

I invite readers to google my name and the word Mgwali, which will take you to a section of my blog where you can read a bit more about this fascinating place and the trauma it was subjected to under apartheid.