Clarkebury

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The village of Clarkebury was established in 1830 as a station of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. James Backhouse visited it in March 1839 and made the following report :

"The station of Clarkbury was commenced about 1831. It consists of a decent, brick Mission-house with a colonnade in front, a chapel, also of brick, but plastered with mud, and having a paper-felt roof, two or three rude cottages, and numerous (Xhosa) huts. About one hundred Tambookie families resided here at this time."

 

Nelson Mandela received an excellent education by the standards for Xhosa boys of his time, but his conscience was prickled early by the imperial attitudes embedded in his missionary education.
 
Intending to gain skills needed to become a privy councillor for the Thembu royal house, Mandela began his secondary education at Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo, a Western-style institution that was the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland. Made to socialise with other students on an equal basis, he claimed that he lost his “stuck up” attitude, becoming best friends with a girl for the first time; he began playing sports and developed his lifelong love of gardening.
 
Completing his Junior Certificate in two years, in 1937 he moved to Healdtown, the Methodist college in Fort Beaufort attended by most Thembu royalty, including  Justice. The headmaster emphasised the superiority of English culture and government, but Mandela became increasingly interested in native African culture, making his first non-Xhosa friend, a Sotho language-speaker, and coming under the influence of one of his favourite teachers, a Xhosa who broke taboo by marrying a Sotho. Spending much of his spare time long-distance running and boxing, in his second year Mandela became a prefect.
 
With Jongintaba’s backing, Mandela began work on a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree at the Nelson Mandela’s Living Legacy University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution in Alice, Eastern Cape with around 150 students. There he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration and Roman Dutch law in his first year, desiring to become an interpreter or clerk in the Native Affairs Department. Mandela stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, befriending Oliver Tambo and his own kinsman, K.D. Matanzima. Continuing his interest in sport, Mandela took up ballroom dancing, and performed in a drama society play about Abraham Lincoln.
 
A member of the Students Christian Association, he gave Bible classes in the local community, and became a vocal supporter of the British war effort when the Second World War broke out. Although having friends
connected to the African National Congress (ANC) and the antiimperialist movement, Mandela avoided any involvement. Helping found a first-year students’ House Committee which challenged the dominance of the
second-years, at the end of his first year he became involved in a Students’ Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the quality of food, for which he was temporarily suspended from the university; he left in 1940 without taking a degree.
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Last updated : 03-Apr-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011